Kilkenny 2-23 Waterford 3-15
Redemption may have been won by Waterford on Sunday but that will represent scant consolation to the Deisemen who suffered their seventh All-Ireland semi-final reversal in a dozen seasons.
Scoring 3-15 would win be enough to beat any team, but Kilkenny aren’t just any team. And while the gap between Kilkenny and the rest is clearly closing, their best has still remained too good for Galway, Dublin and Waterford.
That Waterford saved the best wine ‘til last was beyond dispute. This was their finest Championship display under Davy Fitzgerald’s tenure and the best they’ve played since the 2007 campaign.
As they needed to, Waterford bolted out of the blocks, with Shane Walsh slamming the ball home for the game’s opening goal in the fifth minute after excellent approach play by Kevin Moran.
Sixty seconds later, Seamus Prendergast landed a beauty between the posts, with Moran again brilliantly assisting. The Deise led by three points, and their tails were most definitely up.
The majestic Henry Shefflin had three points on the board by the eighth minute and looked like a man on a mission from the off.
When he wasn’t scoring, Ballyhale’s finest was assisting, playing the lethal Eddie Brennan in for a 13th minute goal, which put Kilkenny into a lead they were never to relinquish.
But this wasn’t last September. Waterford didn’t have stage fright this time and were never in any danger of capitulating, even when things weren’t running for them.
Kilkenny rattled off four successive points and the pessimists among the 61,000-plus attendance must have begun to fear for Davy Fitzgerald’s side by the 20-minute mark.
But Waterford stuck to their task, only letting themselves down in the shooting department on occasion, sticking balls wide that ought to have been flying over, that needed to go over.
Both teams traded three points each between the 19th and 25th minutes before Shefflin struck for Kilkenny’s second goal, three points all too easily coughed up from a Waterford perspective.
Shane O’Sullivan’s clearance fell into the path of wing back Tommy Walsh, who had no Waterford jersey within his range at the time.
The Tullaroan star returned the ball into the danger zone, dropping in front of Aidan Kearney who failed to get his body in the way of the sliothar.
The ball skidded past the Tallow man and into the path of the on-fire Shefflin who instinctively rifled the ball low beyond Clinton Hennessy. The Cats now led by six.
But back came Waterford again, refusing to die on a day one felt they were never likely to surrender.
Three Eoin Kelly frees between the 28th and 31st minutes reduced the margin to three before Kilkenny landed three in even quicker time with Eddie Brennan’s cracking point the pick of the bunch.
Waterford needed a good start to the second half and three minutes in, Shane Walsh ticked that particular box when kicking the ball into the roof of the net after Tony Browne’s free from deep.
Eoin Kelly’s 42nd minute free reduced the margin to two points and the large Waterford contingent raised their vocal encouragement even further. An intriguing match had taken another compelling turn.
But back came the resolute four-in-a-row chasers, with some magnificent fielding from John Tennyson and JJ Delaney featuring during an eight minute spell when they hit three unanswered points.
Just as Eddie Brennan’s first touch had been to score, the same fate befell Richie Hogan, who was on the field a matter of seconds before landing a 49th minute point.
Hogan linked up well in attack with fellow substitute TJ Reid, with the WIT student denied a goal by a lunging Eoin Murphy (excellent again) in the 54th minute.
Two further Shefflin points, the second of which was beauty despatched from the left flank, extended Kilkenny’s lead to seven. Surely now, the champions would hit the afterburners and send Waterford packing. Not so.
With seven minutes remaining and Dan Shanahan sent on in the hope of inspiring another Deise rescue mission, Eoin Kelly’s 65′ floated all the way into the net. The margin was once again down to four points.
Waterford, who’d never given up at any moment during a marvellous contest, were still in the hunt.
There was little doubt that they needed the next score, but that honour fell to the outstanding Shefflin, who knocked over his seventh free of the day at a critical juncture in the game.
A 65′ from Shefflin completed the scoring from the champions’ perspective, before PJ Ryan acrobatically turned a superb Eoin Kelly strike over the bar at the other end.
Full-time – Kilkenny, winners by five points and into another final. Waterford – redeemed on the game’s greatest stage but left to rue critical errors which cost them dearly.
But credit where credit is due after a tremendous 70 minutes of hurling
This was a magnificent, wholehearted, fully committed effort by a lionhearted Deise outfit who must still believe that the ultimate glory can still be achieved sooner rather than later. The 50-year wait for the McCarthy Cup enters year 51.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy; Eoin Murphy, Aidan Kearney. Noel Connors; Tony Browne, Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast; Shane O’Sullivan, Kevin Moran; Seamus Prendergast, Stephen Molumphy, Shane Walsh; John Mullane, Eoin Kelly, Eoin McGrath. Substitutes: Dan Shanahan for Seamus Prendergast (52 mins), Maurice Shanahan for Shane Walsh (60 mins), Jamie Nagle for Stephen Molumphy (60 mins), Ken McGrath for Eoin McGrath (64 mins).
Scorers: Eoin Kelly (1-10; 1-0 65′, 0-7f), Shane Walsh (2-0), John Mullane, Shane O’Sullivan, Kevin Moran, Eoin McGrath and Seamus Prendergast (0-1 each).
Kilkenny: PJ Ryan; Michael Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell; Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, John Tennyson; James Fitzpatrick, Michael Rice; Henry Shefllin, Martin Comerford; Eoin Larkin; Eddie Brennan, Richie Power, Aidan Fogarty. Substitutes: TJ Reid for Martin Comerford (41 mins), Richie Hogan for Aidan Fogarty (48 mins), Derek Lyng for Fitzpatrick (57 mins).
Scorers: Henry Shefflin (1-14; 0-7f, 0-1 65), Eddie Brennan (1-2), Eoin Larkin (0-2), Aidan Fogarty, Richie Power, James Fitzpatrick, Michael Rice and Richie Hogan (0-1 each).
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).