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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Time for Waterford to step out from Kilkenny's long shadow

SHC Qualifier: Waterford v Kilkenny (Thurles Tonight 7.0, Live Sky Sports 3)

Michael Fennelly is key to Kilkenny’s hopes this evening. Pic: Sportsfile
Michael Fennelly is key to Kilkenny’s hopes this evening. Pic: Sportsfile

If this is to be a repeat of 2013, the aberration of a season when Kilkenny shuffled mutedly out of the Championship, then their victory over Limerick last time out was surely the equivalent of their win over Waterford that year.

A gutsy patchwork of a win that didn't so much hide the cracks as put them on view for everyone to see while the team won anyway.

Were it not for Limerick's horrible collection of wides last Saturday at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny could be out now at the earliest possible juncture.

Indeed, were it not for the unexpected comeback of Michael Fennelly, Limerick might have squeezed through anyway, regardless of their wastefulness.

As it is, Kilkenny are still there.

And while they're alive, they're dangerous.

What should be giving Brian Cody hope this week is that although he hasn't enjoyed a competitive match wherein the majority of his players have performed simultaneously, many have found form in isolation.

If, say, you mixed Colin Fennelly's performance against Wexford with Walter Walsh's versus Limerick with TJ Reid's in Thurles in Kilkenny's League match with Tipperary, you'd have yourself quite the exhibition.

As yet, however, there is no sign of Ger Aylward returning to his 2015 levels or Richie Hogan to the form of most of the past decade.

Cody's defence did look the more secure for the reinstatement of Joey Holden.

The installation of Cillian Buckley at centre-back may not have seemed the most obvious one to make but his tidiness as a hurler and his ability to make simple, accurate passes under intense pressure makes him a serious asset in the role too.

It is Michael Fennelly, however, that makes this team look like those awesome sides of the recent past again.

Last year, in the All-Ireland semi-final replay in Thurles, Cody pushed him high on top of Tadhg De Burca for Kilkenny's puck outs, neutralising Waterford's sweeper and completely eradicating a huge source of Deise strength in the drawn game.

It also left Colin Fennelly in a one-on-one situation with Barry Coughlan, a scenario from which the Kilkenny man scored two excellent goals.

Then the elder Fennelly's Achilles snapped and Kilkenny lost their engine, their towering, powering midfield enforcer. Waterford's current lull is harder to fathom, albeit it's based around that one performance against Cork.

Perhaps the lingering certainty that this will be Derek McGrath's final year, that the hurling world expect them to make that final push into an All-Ireland is beginning to play with their previously free-wheeling psyche.

They used Offaly for shooting practice the last day and normally teams that emerge from the sort of scrap Kilkenny won tend to be at the pitch of these games a little earlier than those who spent their previous Saturday shooting turkeys.

There's a bit more unpredictability about Waterford, though, and tonight should be the occasion they emerge from Kilkenny's shadow.

ODDS: Kilkenny 10/11, Draw 9/1, Waterford 11/10

VERDICT: Waterford

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