After consecutive seasons of failing to emerge from Munster, Waterford have emerged as the surprise package in this year’s Championship. Now, Liam Cahill’s men are just one game away from competing in the final again. The last time the Liam McCarthy Cup went back to Waterford was 1959. On the other hand, Kilkenny were this year’s Leinster Champions after fighting off a strong Galway team in the final. Brian Cody’s side were the Championship runners-up in 2019. This year, he has an opportunity to go one better, but there is still a lot of work for the Cats to do.
Waterford overcame Clare in last weekend’s quarter-final by a healthy nine points. After an opening half of breathtaking hurling, Waterford were just three points ahead thanks to Jack Fagan’s goal just before the interval. That was their third major after Dessie Hutchinson had already netted two in a scintillating individual performance. Equally as important, Waterford were successful in quenching the flaming hot Tony Kelly who hit two from play despite injuring his ankle before the game.
After the break, Waterford’s squad depth proved instrumental as Cahill put faith in his subs to finish the job. Clare managed to go point-for-point with Waterford during the third quarter but never came within the three-point deficit. Then, when Waterford went seven ahead on 55 minutes, Clare responded with a goal. The Déise ship held firm however. The introduction of the Waterford reserves yielded no fewer than five scores. By full-time, Cahill had steered his team to a well-deserved victory.
Previously, Kilkenny qualified for the semi-final by beating Galway in the Leister Final. Before the game, Galway were widely tipped to advance after their commanding win over Wexford. In fact, for much of the Leinster final it looked as if the tipsters were going to be proved correct. By the 55th minute, the Galwegians were five up and going from strength to strength. Then lightning struck twice in 40 seconds as the Cats goaled twice for a six-point swing. Firstly, Richie Hogan lit up the Dark Dublin sky with one of the most skillful goals scored on a Hurling pitch. Then, from the very next play, the same man set up TJ Reid who buried it into the Galway net. From there, Kilkenny were on top and Galway never recovered.
That was Brian Cody’s 16th Leinster title but he hasn’t won an All-Ireland since 2015. Last year, they finished runners-up to Tipperary but were demolished in the final. After a sluggish start against Dubin this year, Cody’s experience has proved influential in this Kilkenny team’s improvement. There is no doubt he has his eyes firmly set on the final. But, Waterford will make him earn a place in the showdown.
Waterford’s win over Clare was a tremendous way to bounce back from defeat in the Munster final a week earlier. They have gone from strength to strength themselves this year and will be ready to take on the Kilkenny challenge on Saturday evening. The excitement of an All-Ireland semi-final is sure to quench the fatigue of three games in three weeks.
Regardless of how both sides enter this game, it is sure to be a fascinating watch. There has already been a lot of surprises this year and no one will rule out another.
The game is live on RTÉ as well as Sky Sports Mix.
Paddy Power are fancying Kilkenny to go through. The Leinster men are 4/6. In contrast, Waterford as 13/8 and a draw is 9/1.
Kilkenny : Eoin Murphy; Conor Delaney, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, Paddy Deegan; Conor Browne, Conor Fogarty; John Donnelly, TJ Reid, Martin Keoghan; Billy Ryan, Richie Hogan, Eoin Cody.
Subs: Darren Brennan, Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Ciaran Wallace, Richie Reid, Alan Murphy, Colin Fennelly, Walter Walsh, Liam Blanchfield, Ger Aylward, Niall Brassil.
Waterford : Stephen O’Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Conor Prunty, Shane McNulty; Calum Lyons, Tadhg De Burca, Kevin Moran; Jamie Barron, Jake Dillon; Jack Fagan, Kieran Bennett, Stephen Bennett; Dessie Hutchinson, Austin Gleeson, Jack Prendergast.
Subs: Billy Nolan, Peter Hogan, Mark O’Brien, Mikey Kearney, Patrick Curran, Colin Dunford, Conor Gleeson, Darragh Lyons, Neil Montgomery, Iarlaith Daly, Billy Power.
All-Ireland Hurling Championship Semi-Final: Kilkenny vs Waterford, Saturday, 28th November, 18:00 (Croke Park).
— The GAA (@officialgaa) November 24, 2020