Having seen his side go from eight points up with 12 minutes remaining, to bobbing on the ropes in injury-time, the Deise manager knew the significance of that dressing room atmosphere, and how he and his selectors had to carry themselves. Cometh the hour and what not.
“We all needed to lift ourselves; body language and the overall approach, a heads-down approach, it was probably a mirror image of four years ago in Michael Ryan’s last game in charge of Waterford whereby, in the dressing room we were saying that the lads had referenced the fact that, four years ago they said to each other that we had the legs on Kilkenny and then Kilkenny came out and blew them away. So we said we won’t even reference having the legs on them, etc, and that we just go play by play again and I think the pleasing thing from our point of view is that the Maurices, the Brian O’Hallorans, the Tommy Ryans (contributed); we spoke about the strength of our panel and the testing of our panel and that this would be the biggest test and I think any modicum of doubt there was at the end of normal time, in those three minutes, was put to bed by the performance of the subs in extra time, which is very pleasing from everyone’s point of view.”
Paying tribute to his players’ psychological resolve, Derek McGrath said the sight of Pauric Mahony on crutches swiftly dispelled any thoughts about whether he should still have been on the field when that 74th minute free was awarded. “Our minds were eased a small bit so we just moved on straight away to the overall process of lifting the boys but talk is cheap; when fellas go out and do it, it’s a different scenario. I could quite easily have been talking here about the panel underperforming in extra-time, but I think we’re good value for the win overall, albeit (won) the hard way.”
Was this the performance one that Waterford had been aiming to produce all year, albeit one which didn’t manifest itself against Cork a fortnight previously? “Well, it’s easy to say that. I think there were elements of our performance where we definitely just stuck to what we were good at and I think the principal nature of what we’re good at is actually an attacking philosophy, believe it or not – you can attack from inconsistent and unpredictable areas.”
Derek McGrath added: “We got lost a small bit (against Cork) in terms of what was supposed to be done, and everyone was to blame, if you like. We weren’t reverting to type. I think the lads planned well and implemented everything that was supposed to be done exceptionally well.”
As for what he felt transpired in that extraordinary finish to the 70 minutes, he stated: “I think it was a case of chasing the line again; a direct parallel to last year’s first semi-final, and I think there was a little bit of fatigue, to be honest. It just needed freshness; and I think Cillian Buckley powered into it as well; if he was to free himself as their sixth defender, or (if it went) six against five, we were to get pressure on him if we could because we’d rather someone that’s more uncomfortable with ball in hand than Cillian, and I think Cillian stormed into it. So as much as we were chasing it, I think it was Kilkenny’s forceful approach – it was just the natural course of a game – unfortunately for us it comes with 10 minutes left and we’ve eight point leads.”
So what does this win mean for Waterford, in his view? “The pressure was building on all of us, as management and players, to take the next step and we’re not even at the next step now, we’re in a quarter-final but I suppose we’re advanced in terms of the opposition we’ve beaten and I think the challenge for us now is to take it on again and that’s the reality of it…there’s going to be nothing easy when we consider what lies ahead of us but we’d be hoping there’s some confidence gained from what happened today but I know those lads in there; they’ll be down to earth as soon as possible…and we’ll celebrate tonight without going cracked.”
As for Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, his voice somewhat strained after a night of high drama: “The last thing we needed was a break and what they needed more than anything was a break, for them to regroup; our lads were really driving at that stage, but that’s the game. The final whistle came and it went to extra-time; they regrouped well and they were able to rediscover their momentum and they produced some very good hurling. They were more consistent over the 90 minutes than we were. The resilience we showed and the determination we showed are the hallmarks that every team has to have…
“They (Waterford) dominated longer periods of the game than we did but what our lads put into the comeback was just phenomenal really. You know, everybody was just waiting for the final whistle to blow and the game was over.
“Waterford had it won but our lads just refused to lie down and showed tremendous character and tremendous spirit. And, everything that’s good about a team – they showed it tonight and I’ve terrific respect for the way they did it.”
When talk of injuries and a transitional phase entered the post-match discussion, the Cats boss replied: “I’m not even going to discuss injuries because that doesn’t come into it. If you start talking about injuries it’s like you have a reason for losing. The only reason you ever have for losing is because the other team is better than you.
“I mean we had 15 players starting, they had 15 players starting so it’s not a question of who we might have had or who we didn’t have – Waterford played Kilkenny…and they beat us and that’s it.”