Waterford and Kilkenny played out a thrilling draw at Croke Park yesterday in what was a game that set the hurling championship alight.
Waterford lead for the majority of yesterday’s classic but in the end, the Déise were pegged back and had to settle for a draw. However, Derek McGrath’s team illustrated fantastic traits and in one sense, they came of age. They now know they can match the Cats and will look for a repeat performance next Saturday evening.
If one was to take a look back at Waterford’s championship campaign to date, one would say it was a disappointing campaign for the Déise. A comprehensive and impressive win over Clare was followed by the well-documented Munster final horror show, which saw the Déise come out on the end of a 21 point hammering.
Derek McGrath’s side bounced back to beat Wexford comprehensively. However, it was a lacklustre display marred by the amount of wides that Waterford totalled. Heading in to yesterday’s clash, many people thought there was a sense of inevitability about the Déise’s clash with Kilkenny.
The thought of it being similar to last year’s semi-final was the norm. Twelve months ag0, Kilkenny beat Waterford by six points in a game that Waterford never went for completely. With Derek McGrath sticking to the same system that was employed last year, many people thought that Waterford would fall at the hands of Kilkenny once again.
If this had been the case yesterday, Waterford would arguably have taken a step back. The likelihood of the Waterford public calling for the players to be able to express themselves more was certainly there too, if the Déise had lost the game.
However, this was not the case. Yesterday, Derek McGrath’s young side came of age.
The matched Kilkenny for work-rate, intensity and aggression. They were composed and controlled on the ball and almost always took the right option in possession. They played with abandon and freedom and we really saw what this talented bunch of Waterford hurlers are made of.
Three of Waterford’s younger players, Austin Gleeson, Tadhg de Búrca and Jake Dillon gave huge performances at Croker yesterday. They, along with the rest of the team certainly came of age and there is no doubt about it, this was Waterford’s finest display under Derek McGrath.
Furthermore, the confidence displayed by the whole team is a testament to Derek McGrath’s set-up. Conor Gleeson started his first championship game yesterday and gave a monstrous performance at the back.
An All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny at Croke Park is a daunting task to be faced with on your championship debut. However, Gleeson passed with flying colours.
The blend of youth and experience is a crucial aspect to Waterford’s successful performances. Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and Kevin Moran were simply superb for Waterford yesterday and it was clear to see that they were to the forefront in terms of leading and guiding the younger generation.
Next week’s semi-final replay is a massive match for Waterford. A win would give McGrath’s side would set up a date with destiny on the first Sunday in September. A loss by a close margin would still be progress from last year. A comprehensive defeat and the question of consistency could come to light. However, going on yesterday’s display, the latter potential outcome won’t be the case.
Waterford are here to stay and the hurling world should rejoice.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena