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Friday 9 December 2016

Kilkenny leave McGrath broken after second epic

Cody to take his team into his 15th All-Ireland decider

Things get heated on the sideline during last Saturday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Things get heated on the sideline during last Saturday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

As the timber cooled in the twilight in Thurles on Saturday, we began to reflect on the potentially great and colourful hurling teams the last two decades might have spawned had they not been cut off at the root by Kilkenny, in all their unyielding, indomitable brilliance.

They've broken lots of men, these Cats. And for the moment at least, Derek McGrath is one of them.

Some post-match interviews play out as more of a counselling session than a press conference and this was a classic of the genre.

McGrath hasn't so much built a highly-functioning team as a ferociously close hurling family and after two epics in which their finger tips only brushed greatness, Waterford were, he pointed out "as far away as we ever were" from an All-Ireland final.

Which given the exalted levels at which they hurled over two epic games in Croke Park and Semple Stadium, seemed plainly harsh.

"The overriding emotion is one of absolute pride but devastation because these chances don't come along too often," he said, only just about managing to hold back tears.

"I hate to be as grim but that's my honest opinion. What do you say to guys who give it everything they have? Who empty themselves?"

What indeed. Waterford scored two goals on Saturday night, the most potent and - it was confidently noted - only missing ingredient in their cocktail.

"We thought if we could get a goal it would be worth five points or six points to us," McGrath admitted, but they conceded two in between their own and in this, we got the most illustrative lesson in why Waterford probably need that sweeper.

Both Kilkenny goals, products of sharp movement, came with the creator - in both cases, Walter Walsh - having more options than just the scorer - in both cases, Colin Fennelly.

McGrath admitted that he felt that the three points Kilkenny scored in injury-time in the first-half to go three clear might ultimately cost his team and they probably did.

Skill

Waterford tracked vigorously all through the second half and came within Eoin Murphy's magnificent catch of levelling with no time remaining but it always felt like a chase.

"To get up and take it in his hand and make it so safe ... if it had gone wrong obviously there would have been consequences, it was just a great bit of skill," Brian Cody praised of his 'keeper.

"I turned to the lads and said 'lads there's going to be extra time'," the Kilkenny manager admitted afterwards but instead, and almost inevitability, his team held tough to secure a 15th All-Ireland SHC final of his extraordinary 18-year reign.

All-ireland hurling quarter-final replay: Kilkenny 2-19 Waterford 2-17

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