Waterford came back from a nine-point deficit to stun Kilkenny and reach the All-Ireland final in an epic game at Croke Park.
The Déise have tried and failed in the most heroic ways over the 61 years since their last All-Ireland title. Wouldn’t it be typical if they ended their drought in this most unusual of years?
Liam Cahill has stirred the waters on Suir-side. The Tipperary native has rejuvenated this Déise team, and has overseen their way back to the big-time.
Before this season, Waterford had not won a championship game since the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final. More-so than anyone, Waterford know just how hard it is to reach the final. And they will be gunning to finally get over the line this time around.
The Cats set up defensively initially, looking to swarm the Waterford attack. And it worked a treat, as Dessie Hutchinson and Co were starved of the space which they craved.
Up front, the Cats were far more efficient, playing a smart passing game, and working their way into an early lead. Up the other end, Waterford were getting frustrated, amassing nine first-half wide, in no small part thanks to poor shot selection.
Kilkenny’s work-rate was summed up in the 19th minute, as Calum Lyons was forced to battle his way out of defence. The Ballyduff Lower man eventually opened his shoulders to drive it over the bar for a long-range point, but the pressure under which he was put was indicative of the effort applied by the Kilkenny forwards throughout.
The cracks began to appear in the Waterford defence.
First it was Richie Hogan who won a long ball and ran in on goal. His fierce shot was straight at Stephen O’Keeffe who stood up well. But Martin Keoghan was on-hand to pull on it into the net.
In the 25th minute, TJ Reid added a second. The Ballyhale star poached a ball from under the nose from Conor Prunty, after the Abbeyside man failed to catch the sliotar clean from the sky. The former Hurler of the Year ran in and buried it into a net, to help his side into a 2-11 to 0-10 advantage at the break.
Waterford looked rattled, and it appeared playing three weekends in succession was proving too great an ask.
Waterford had trailed by nine during the first-half, but it was as if a switch was flicked at the break. They re-appeared rejuvenated. Whatever Liam Cahill said at half-time, it certainly had its desired effect.
A string of points from Bennett, Dessie Hutchinson and Austin Gleeson hauled them back into contention. And a Bennett goal flipped the contest on its head.
Neil Montgomery’s long-range point in the 52nd minute then put the Déise into the lead.
Remarkably, Waterford led by three when the second-half water break was called. And it was a pause badly needed by the Cats, who were in disarray.
Although Waterford’s momentum had momentarily stalled, they quickly got back on track. 2016 Hurler of the Year Gleeson had found his groove and was causing havoc up front, with Tadhg de Búrca putting over an inspirational score.
When substitute Darragh Lyons rattled the net in the 59th minute, the fat lady was clearing her throat.
Kilkenny were unable to claw it back, as Waterford held out for a famous victory.
But they have enjoyed some big wins in Croke Park down through the years and come away with nothing. Waterford are coming back to Jones’ Road for All-Ireland final day, intent on finally landing the biggest prize of the lot.
Kilkenny: TJ Reid (1-14 – 0-13 frees), Martin Keoghan (1-1), Richie Hogan (0-2), Eoin Cody (0-2), John Donnelly (0-2), Cillian Buckley (0-1), Paddy Deegan (0-1).
Waterford: Stephen Bennett (1-10 – 0-6 frees), Austin Gleeson (0-4), Conor Gleeson (1-0), Jack Prendergast (0-2), Calum Lyons (0-2), Dessie Hutchinson (0-2), Neil Montgomery (0-2), Shane McNulty (0-1), Iarlaith Daly (0-1), Tadhg de Búrca (0-1), Jamie Barron (0-1), Jack Fagan (0-1).
1. Stephen O’Keeffe
2. Ian Kenny
3. Conor Prunty
4. Shane McNulty
5. Calum Lyons
6. Tadhg de Búrca
7. Kevin Moran
8. Jamie Barron
9. Jake Dillon
10. Stephen Bennett
11. Kieran Bennett
12. Jack Fagan
13. Dessie Hutchinson
14. Austin Gleeson
15. Jack Prendergast
Neil Montgomery for Jake Dillon (18th minute)
Darragh Lyons for Kieran Bennett (49th minute)
Iarlaith Daly for Kevin Moran (61st minute)
Conor Gleeson for Jack Prendergast (61st minute)
Patrick Curran for Jack Fagan (68th minute)
1. Eoin Murphy
2. Conor Delaney
3. Huw Lawlor
4. Tommy Walsh
5. Padraig Walsh
6. Cillian Buckley
7. Paddy Deegan
8. Conor Browne
9. Conor Fogarty
10. John Donnelly
11. TJ Reid
12. Martin Keoghan
13. Billy Ryan
14. Richie Hogan
15. Eoin Cody
Walter Walsh for Martin Keoghan (39th minute)
Colin Fennelly for Billy Ryan (48th minute)
Alan Murphy for Conor Browne (temporary 49th-52nd minute)
Nialll Brassil for Richie Hogan (57th minute)
Ger Aylward for Eoin Cody (58th minute)
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