With this morning’s qualifier draw pairing Kilkenny against Waterford the Cats are in the standout fixture for the second week in a row. Amazingly however, the Déise haven’t beaten Kilkenny since 1959 in championship.
Brian Cody will be the first to acknowledge that should he get his hands on Liam MacCarthy this year, it would be his greatest ever achievement. The Cats have seriously struggled for form, but do have a few things in their favour.
For a starter, the Cats have never lost a qualifier game. Secondly, the Marble county haven’t lost to the Déise in championship hurling for almost 60 years.
Derek McGrath will be emphasising the point to his side that history counts for nothing. And he’d be right, Kilkenny are struggling hugely in 2017.
Here are five reasons we feel the Déise will believe this could be the year to finally take down the Cats.
Eleven months ago, Waterford were a whisker away from causing the shock of the 2016 hurling championship. Only for a Walter Walsh goal, Derek McGrath might have been heading for an All-Ireland final. In the subsequent replay, Kilkenny were sharper and exited Thurles victorious by two points.
Ever since then, it must have been a desire of all Déise players to gain a chance for revenge. If Waterford needed a spark to revive them, then this is surely it. Have no doubt that last year’s semi-final will have been eating away at Derek McGrath’s side over the winter.
Expect the Déise to rise their game that extra 5/10% for this one. With that extra kick, perhaps Derek McGrath’s side could see themselves past the line.
2. Unorthodox style
Most Kilkenny supporters will argue against this. But Brian Cody has struggled at times with sides who do not set-up conventionally.
If we have learned one thing about Derek McGrath over the past three years, it’s that he will not go 15 on 15. Expect to see one/two man full-forward lines, sweepers, third and fourth midfielders this weekend. At no point will Kilkenny defenders be settled into their usual positions this weekend.
We’ve seen with Wexford this year that setting up unconventionally can cause Kilkenny issues. Clare also ran riot against the Cats both this year and last in the league. Could this be a factor in a potential Waterford victory?
TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Michael Fennelly etc. all of these men have been on the road for quite some time now. Clearly building up a lot of mileage over the years, have these men got it in them to go to the well once more?
Back in 2013, Kilkenny were in a similar position. Trekking through the qualifiers, the Cats were involved in a series of tight affairs. Waterford took Kilkenny to extra time that year. What must be noted however is that this was a far weaker Déise side. The 2017 side bears very little resemblance to the 2013 outfit.
Should Kilkenny struggle this Saturday, Derek McGrath’s side would be far better equipped to put them to the sword.
4. Fearlessness of youth
As mentioned above, the Déise fell short in 2013. This side contains a number of young hurlers who have grown up defeating the Cats however, and they will have no fear of the black and amber.
Austin Gleeson, Colin Dunford, the Bennetts, they’ve all grown up gathering victories over the Cats.
The same aura doesn’t surround Kilkenny nowadays. The appearance of invincibility has worn away, Waterford will not look at this as Kilkenny, rather a side who have struggled for form so far this year.
Derek McGrath’s side are still a young side, they will enter this clash with enthusiasm and excitement.
5. Last weekend’s game
Waterford were far too strong for Offaly last weekend and could afford to relax. Meanwhile Kilkenny faced a highly tense affair with Limerick.
A number of questions remain about this. Admittedly should Kilkenny beat Waterford, it will be pointed to that they had the tougher game. However, is Michael Fennelly at a place where he can last two full championship games in seven days? If he isn’t, we’ve all seen how Kilkenny struggle in his absence.
The Déise were afforded a nice opportunity to regain form this past weekend. Confidence was restored and they now prepare for a Kilkenny side they will be fully convinced they can beat.
One thing’s for sure this Saturday’s game is sure to be a thriller.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
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