The first of this years All Ireland Hurling Semi-Finals takes place on Sunday in Croke Park in what should be a fascinating encounter.
The big thing for Waterford coming into this game is will they play the sweeper yet again or will they go for broke and go man to man. Personally, I can’t see them changing their tactics now as the season is becoming to the end, but maybe they will. Waterford haven’t beat their near neighbours in championship hurling in 56 years now and it’s fully expected by neutrals such as this writer that this will extend to 57 years.
Kilkenny as we know have been dominating the hurling world for the last 10-15 years. They seem to just keep going and going when people expect them to fail. Many people thought that when the likes of Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan left the inter county scene that was the end of Kilkenny, but as the Cats so often they prove their critics wrong and come back just as good in previous seasons. In relation to Waterford, Derek McGrath has a strong side mixed with youth and experience. The experience of course coming from De la Salle man Kevin Moran and Stradbally club man Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh.
To the game itself last year Waterford put it up to Kilkenny in the first half, but Kilkenny pulled away in the second and won on a score line of 1-21 to 0-18, with TJ Reid picking up 1-09 and Richie Hogan grabbing 0-05 from play. In fact, Hogan who came on for his first appearance in this year’s championship against Galway in the Leinster Final hit 0-05 from play as well. I personally feel that if Hogan and Reid reach that form they did like last year against Waterford that they will come out on top with a bit to spare. Waterford will need to curtail their influences should they have any sort of chance but that’s easier said than done, because if these lads are not playing one of the other forwards will step up like Jonjo Farrell or Eoin Larkin who has been very quiet this in the championship to date.
Waterford, will be coming into the game on the back of a U-21 Munster Final win which many of the senior side are a part of. Additionally they played Wexford in the quarter final and beat them by 11 points, but they didn’t play well and a bigger performance is needed if they are to stop the Cats on Sunday afternoon. Austin Gleeson has been terrific this year and a big game is needed from him yet again. However, other players will also need to step up to the plate Maurice Shanahan, Shane Bennett, Pauric Mahoney will all need to have big games for Waterford to have a chance in this game. In defence, Tadgh De Burca will be key if he is to play the sweeper role, while Noel Connors and Barry Coughlan will be tested in the full back line.
Kilkenny, as they always have talent in every line on the field. In defence Paul Murphy has been inspirational and is surely in running for Hurler of the Year, while Cillian Buckley is not far behind him. Padraig Walsh has been quite but a big day and big performance is expected from him. In midfield Michael Fennelly and Conor Fogarty are formidable and have an excellent work ethic, Fogarty going back into the defence to grab the loose ball and Fennelly storming through the middle with his powering runs. In attack TJ Reid and Jonjo Farrell have been the standout attackers, while Richie Hogan who was introduced in the Leinster Final will now be at full fitness. Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin also pose massive threats in a lethal forward line.
So the question is who is going to win the game? In my opinion Kilkenny will come out on top by 5 or 6 points. I can’t see Waterford getting any closer than that in all honesty. I expect Richie Hogan to have a massive game for Kilkenny on Sundayand him to be the difference between the sides.
Betting Predictions ( Odds taken from Coral.ie):
Richie Hogan RTE Man of the Match 6/1
Kilkenny to win by 4-6 points 4/1
First Goalscorer: Jonjo Farrell 11/2
Waterford (SHC v Kilkenny): Stephen O’Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Tadgh de Burca, Austin Gleeson, Philip Mahony; Jamie Barron, Darragh Fives; Kevin Moran, Shane Bennett, Michael Walsh; Pauric Mahony, Jake Dillon, Colin Dunford.
Kilkenny (SHC v Waterford): Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast; Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley; Conor Fogarty, Michael Fennelly; Walter Walsh, TJ Reid, John Power; Jonjo Farrell, Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan.
Subs: Richie Reid, Jackie Tyrrell, Robert Lennon, Conor O’Shea, Lester Ryan, Eoin Larkin, Conor Martin, Kevin Kelly, Mark Bergin, Liam Blanchfield, Michael Malone.