No criticism of the Waterford hurlers is meant when I say their hearts weren’t really in it during the second half of today’s heavy defeat to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. Really. There was nothing in the first half to suggest Kilkenny were going to accelerate away until Michael Walsh was sent off. With Waterford down to 14 men, we saw two stark contrasts in hurling:
- You may be able to get the blood up in the heat of the Championship when you’ve had a man sent off, much like the raging bull performance in the 2004 Munster final after John Mullane had had his marching orders. But in front of a few thousand people in a match which Waterford don’t have to win to get to the business end of the League, forget about it.
- While there’s a lot of blarney from Kilkenny folk about the intensity of their will to win under the winning-is-habit-forming regime of Brian Cody, there’s no doubt that everyone from 1 to 15 on the Kilkenny team is acutely aware of the need to keep their performance levels up for fear of some whippersnapper taking their place.
The difference was demonstrated midway through the second half when Kilkenny’s wing-back – it might have been Tommy Walsh [Edit: according to ‘Micheál’, the point was scored by Michael Rice; see Comments below] – advanced into the Waterford 45 down the right-hand side of the pitch. Ken McGrath put in a relatively half-hearted shoulder charge, one which Walsh rebuffed with ease before knocking over a fine point. Again, no criticism of Ken is intended with that, he’s put his body on the line for well over a decade now and has nothing to prove. But even Tommy Walsh can’t be complacent, and it showed today.
Dublin are up next Sunday, and Waterford are worse off than they were this time last year, when they could afford to lose to an inferior team and still make the knockout stages. A win would be enough for Waterford to reach the quarter-finals, but it’s not confidence inspiring.