All-Ireland SHC Qualifier: Waterford defeat Kilkenny after extra-time
All-Ireland SHC Round 2 Qualifier
WATERFORD 4-23 KILKENNY 2-22
By John Harrington at Semple Stadium
Waterford finally laid their Kilkenny ghost to rest at Semple Stadium tonight, but they had to overcome one hell of a fright first.
They were always going to have to dig deep to defeat the Cats in Championship hurling for the first time since 1959, but you could still have never written a script so dramatic.
The Deise looked set for a comfortable enough win when they led by 2-15 to 1-10 with ten minutes to play, but Kilkenny summoned an incredible comeback that saw them score an unanswered salvo of 1-5 to bring the match into extra-time.
Waterford supporters must have felt haunted at that moment, but when their team needed moral courage most they proved they had it in spades.
They refused to be dismayed by their late collapse in normal time, and instead emerged for extra-time with renewed vigour and goals from man-of-the-match Jamie Barron and Maurice Shanahan sealed a famous win.
For much of the contest you would never have expected the match would explode into the sensory overload it eventually did.
The terms of engagement were set by Waterford’s system with Tadhg De Búrca sweeping between his full-back and half-back line.
Kilkenny opted to simply mirror the Waterford formation, and gave Cillian Buckley the responsibility to be their sweeper.
From early on both men carried out their brief diligently, which mean space for forwards was at a premium and free-flowing hurling was a rarity.
Waterford are more well-versed in this type of hurling than Kilkenny, so perhaps it was inevitable that they seemed more comfortable with how the battle-lines had been drawn.
Although both sides were guilty of some poor long-range passing out of defence, Waterford were having better luck than Kilkenny in terms of getting the ball to their inside forwards in promising positions.
Shane Bennett and Jake Dillon were buzzing around the place to good effect, and the longer the first-half progressed the more Austin Gleeson came into the game.
The Kilkenny defence looked vulnerable whenever the Waterford players ran at them, and by conceding frees they were effectively conceding points because Pauric Mahony was flawless from placed balls.
Four frees from him had helped Waterford into a 0-6 to 0-2 lead by the 17th minute, and in a match like this even a four point margin was a significant one.
Austin Gleeson then scored a wonder-point on the right win that franked Waterford’s growing dominance, and further points from Dillon and Mahony (f) and the Deise in front by 0-9 to 0-4 by the 32nd minute.
Kilkenny looked like they were slowing drowning, but they were handed a life-line when Colin Fennelly tore through the Waterford defence and passed to Richie Hogan who was felled for a penalty.
TJ Reid once again showed why he’s the best penalty-taker in the business as he drove the ball hard and low past Stephen O’Keeffe to the right-hand corner of the net.
Waterford hit back with another brilliant individual score from Gleeson who flew down the right-wing and left his marker Rob Lennon for dust before firing over.
Kevin Kelly then hit a fine point for Kilkenny but it was Waterford who landed the last heavy blow of the half when they struck for a vital goal.
De Búrca left his sweeping role for the first time in the match to raid down the left wing and he picked out Shane Bennett on the 21 yard line with a well-judged cross-field pass.
Bennett was fouled and had his hurley pulled from his grasp but referee James Owens played advantage and Bennett had the presence of mind to pick out Michael Walsh with a hand-pass.
‘Brick’ held his nerve to drill the ball to the net past Eoin Murphy to give Waterford the massive fillip of a 1-10 to 1-5 half-time lead.
Kilkenny made two changes at half-time bringing on Lester Ryan and Ger Aylward for Paddy Deegan and Jonjo Farrell and showed a renewed zest for the battle.
It was Ryan who scored the first point of the half, and when TJ Reid followed it up with his first of the day from play the noise from the Kilkenny supporters told you they felt their team was still in the fight.
They very nearly drew level when wing-back Conor Fogarty got forward and let fly with a rasper from a tight angle, but Waterford custodian O’Keeffe did brilliantly to turn it around the post.
Kilkenny had the consolation of a converted TJ Reid ’65, so now the gap was down to two, 1-10 to 1-8.
Waterford were struggling to make any sort of headway in attack, but when they needed inspiration most Jamie Barron provided it by wriggling through a couple of Kilkenny tacklers to somehow shoot a point.
Inspired by his team-mate, Austin Gleeson then decided to go into turbo-mode as the fired over two monstrous points from long range to push Waterford’s advantage out to five points again.
A TJ Reid free briefly staunched the flow, but then Kilkenny were cut wide open when Waterford struck for their second goal of the match.
It was a beauty too, as ‘Brick’ Walsh passed to Shane Bennett and the corner-forward fired a spectacular shot to the top corner of the net from 20 yards.
Kilkenny nearly struck back immediately a minute later when they created a goal chance of their own, but Lester Ryan’s fiercely struck shot whistled narrowly past the wrong side of the post.
It looked like Waterford were sailing towards victory when two more special points from Kevin Moran and Gleeson put them 2-15 to 1-10 ahead, but then Kilkenny summoned that dramatic late comeback than nearly pulled the game from the fire.
Waterford supporters probably didn’t worry when Reid and Ryan knocked over a point each, but they most definitely did when Reid then bundled home a goal from close range after a bullocking run from Colin Fennelly caused consternation in the Deise defence.
Suddenly Waterford were in panic mode and Kilkenny had the bit between their teeth.
Points from Ger Aylward and substitute Richie Leahy left the minimum between the teams, and then Colin Fennelly levelled the game in injury-time with a composed finish from the right-hand side.
Then more drama. Waterford were given a last-gasp chance to win the game when Stephen Bennett was fouled 65 yards from goal by TJ Reid, but their free-taker Pauric Mahony had been subbed a minute earlier.
That left the responsibility to Maurice Shanahan, but his effort sailed right and wide and so now we had extra-time on our hands.
You figured Kilkenny would surely be the team with the psychological advantage in extra-time, but Waterford proved they were made of stern mental stuff.
Jamie Barron nudged them ahead again in the first minute of extra-time, but the Fourmilewater man was only just beginning.
He hit another tremendous point from play before he struck for what ultimately proved to be the game-breaking goal.
Credit to Conor Gleeson who picked him out with a great pass, but after that it was all Barron.
He drove straight for goal and dummied a hand-pass for Maurice Shanahan before driving the ball low and hard past Eoin Murphy for a brilliant goal.
Kilkenny poured forward at the start of the second period of extra-time but were then floored by a sucker punch when Maurice Shanahan somehow won the ball among five Kilkenny players, drove for goal, and batted the ball brilliantly past Murphy for Waterford’s fourth goal.
There was no way back now for Kilkenny. They showed tremendous courage to bring the game to extra-time, but in the end Waterford’s superior quality won through.
Winning in such a manner could yet be a defining moment for this Waterford team.
The 2017 All-Ireland Hurling Championship has yet another genuine contender.
Scorers for Waterford: Jamie Barron 1-3, Pauric Mahony 0-6 (6f), Austin Gleeson 0-5, Maurice Shanahan 1-3 (3f), Shane Bennett 1-0, Michael Walsh 1-0, Kevin Moran 0-2, Tommy Ryan 0-2, Patrick Curran 0-1, Jake Dillon 0-1.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 2-12 (1 pen, 10f, ‘65), Lester Ryan 0-3, Richie Leahy 0-2, Richie Hogan 0-1, Eoin Murphy 0-1, Kevin Kelly 0-1, Ger Aylward 0-1, Colin Fennelly 0-1
*WATERFORD: *Stephen O’Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Darragh Fives, Tadhg De Burca, Philip Mahony; Jamie Barron, Conor Gleeson; Kevin Moran, Austin Gleeson, Michael Walsh; Shane Bennett, Jake Dillon, Pauric Mahony.
Subs: Patrick Curran for Jake Dillon, 49; Stephen Bennett for Shane Bennett, 61; Maurice Shanahan for Michael Walsh, 69; Brian O’Halloran for Pauric Mahony, 72; Tommy Ryan for Stephen Bennett, 79; Colin Dunford for Patrick Curran, 84; Shane McNulty for Noel Connors, 86.
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Pádraig Walsh, Robert Lennon; Conor Fogarty, Cillian Buckley, Joe Lyng; Michael Fennelly, Paddy Deegan; Kevin Kelly, Walter Walsh, TJ Reid; Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly, Jonjo Farrell.
Subs: Lester Ryan for Paddy Deegan, ht; Ger Aylward for Jonjo Farrell, ht; Chris Bolger for Kevin Kelly, 49; Richie Leahy for Richie Hogan, 63; Liam Blanchfield for Michael Fennelly, 74; Richie Hogan for Ger Aylward, 85.
*Ref: *James Owens (Wexford)