(I include this image first because I’m pretty darn chuffed with it. So there.)
In a geeky moment a number of years back when in a job with a lot of down time (God be with the good old days), I compiled a spreadsheet showing Liverpool’s results as a function of how they did against the same opposition the season before, or the equivalent in the case of promoted / relegated teams. So it was particularly crushing on Saturday when the Reds went down to Middlesbrough – a poor result last season was followed up by an even worse result this season and the Spreadsheet of Doom tells me that Liverpool are now a point worse off than at the same stage in 2007/8.
I mention all this because a) beating Kilkenny was just what the doctor ordered after that debacle on Teeside, and b) the never-ending question about the League performances, while not about to be answered here (it is, after all, never-ending) can be given a fresh spin by the notion that in the corresponding match in 2008 Kilkenny cruised to an 11 point win. And before entertaining any guff about Kilkenny not being bothered, remember that a) Kilkenny love to beat down on Waterford and b) Kilkenny players are always under pressure to perform what with the talent waiting in the wings and the thunderstorm awaiting them in the dressing room after the game. Kilkenny gave their best today – and lost. Let’s be happy.
Especially seeing as it looked like deja vu all over again when Kilkenny roared out of the blocks rattling over three points in the first two minutes, all of which could be attributed to careless play on the part of Waterford whether it be coughing the ball up to their opposite number or poor attempts at a clearance. It was an immense relief when the Cats actually managed a wide – that’s fully 50% of what they managed in September. Waterford even managed to get few scores but there was a sense in those early exchanges that Kilkenny were far more potent, their points been smacked over the black spot rather than tap-over frees or slurping apologetically over the bar. This was until Eoin Kelly came on for the unfortunate Shane Walsh – perhaps punished for losing the ball after a mazy run in the Kilkenny 45 that was the exemplar of the jennet express – and scored a wonder point, twisting and turning on the uncovered side of the ground then rattling the ball between the posts from what must have been a good 70 metres out as the crow flies.
It was uplifting stuff, and perhaps Kelly might have struck some great heights had he not been the victim / perpetrator (delete as per bias) of some striking himself. Kelly got into a tussle with Tommy Walsh and before you could squeeze the shutter on the camera a dozen players were piling in. When the dust had settled Kelly, Walsh, Seamus Prendergast and Jackie Tyrrell had gone . . . well, until the latter pair had gone off I didn’t realise the import of the new yellow card rule. Is there any limit on how many yellows you can get? Could you run out of players? Despite the loss of Eoin Kelly and his swashbuckling scores, you felt at the time that Kilkenny were worse off. Stripping them of two of their Triple A defenders when they already had a few new faces back there meant they had to be worse off.
And as it happened, Waterford had another player determined to take on Kilkenny singlehanded. While Kilkenny continued to behave as if every point had to come with a go-faster stripe painted on it, Ken McGrath was calmly keeping Waterford in touch, slotting over long range frees with splendid monotony. His period in the backs had made me forget just what a sensational forward he is. It’s not just his scoring, it’s the manner in which he ties down opponents like a WWE wrestler being tied down by midgets. Early in the second half he chased a lost ball and flung himself full length to rattle in a shot that PJ Ryan did brilliantly to save – then knocked over the 65. wellboy has been banging the drum for ages about playing Michael Walsh at centre back so as to free Ken up for the forwards. On the basis of this performance, he is entitled to feel smug (although surely not this smug).
With Kilkenny – dare I say it – in danger of overelaborating and Ken keeping the scoreboard ticking over, Waterford had incredibly ghosted in front when they then dared to score a goal, Stephen Molumphy benefitting from an impulsive charge off his line by Ryan to kick the ball to the net.
It beggared belief. Waterford were now five points ahead and you could imagine Brian Cody going puce on the sidelines. It was a figurative battle of Cannae, the smaller army retreating before the massed hordes then catching them in a double envelopment movement – guess who has been watching too much of the History Channel recently? A three point half time lead almost felt disappointing, which demonstrated the gap between the pre-match expectations and the half time reality.
After a ridiculously long talking-to from Davy Fitz, Waterford emerged and were . . . pretty flat, actually. Maybe it was the rain but after the hammer-and-tongs first half typified by the brawl, the early second half clashes were more handbags than Hannibal. Only a handful of points were exchanged in the third quarter with a lot of players struggling to keep their feet on the now slick surface. It would take an another – ahem – coming-together to stoke the fires of the match. I’ve dealt with this elsewhere so I’ll just add that something must have happened off camera to have caused the umpire to intervene. It doesn’t excuse Declan Prendergast’s behaviour, and his reward will surely be to miss out on a National League should Waterford win it – at best.
The tempo seemed to lift after this and Waterford struck what should have been the killer blow when the rangy substitute took the opportunity to make a name for himself. Of all the moments that would have caused the perfectionist Cody to detonate – and if it seems I’m labouring the point, it’s because it’s both wise and true – the manner of Waterford’s second goal will surely be the worst. Maurice Shanahan showed good composure to steady himself for a shot but the shot itself was poor, more being lucky to hit the post while going wide than being unlucky in missing a point. But Molumphy was first to the ball (Vesuvius) then a second Kilkenny defender charged towards him leaving Dan all alone on the edge of the square (Krakatoa),who showed Fowler-in-his-pomp vision to make the space. Molumphy coolly picked him out and Shanahan Sr coolly slotted it home.
Matches cannot be subdivided into little pieces where if you can just prevent a goal for thirty seconds then multiply that by 140 you need never concede a goal. So the idea that Waterford might save us all a lot of grief if they could just stop conceding goal straight after scoring them is fanciful. Stuff happens. Still, you can’t help but grind your teeth when watching Richie Power pounce on the loose ball and cut across the goal into an unstoppable position. Kilkenny were bound to close the gap now. But Waterford held their nerve, keeping Kilkenny scoreless for the last five minutes and even getting the insurance scores to make it much less traumatic than it might have been.
It was a deserved win. We’re always told how Kilkenny have battalions waiting in reserve who could beat any team in the country. On the basis of this there is one team they can’t beat. And while Shefflin, Fitzpatrick and their ilk are still to come back, Mullane, Kelly (only ten minutes today) and Browne will be present come the summer. And never forget that winning the NHL, which this result would contribute to – watch as Kilkenny take out all our other rivals! – is result worth acheiving in itself and sod the summer. In the day that Man United landed the League Cup, just ask Liverpool fans.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors, Richie Foley, Michael Walsh, James Murray, Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle (0-1), Gary Hurney, Ken McGrath (0-9, 0-6f, 0-2 65), Stephen Molumphy (1-0), Jack Kennedy, Seamus Prendergast (0-4, 0-3f; Pat Hurney; Maurice Shanahan), Shane Walsh (0-1; Eoin Kelly, 0-1; Dan Shanahan, 1-1)
Kilkenny: PJ Ryan, John Dalton, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell (Canice Hickey), Tommy Walsh (TJ Reid), Brian Hogan, James Ryall (0-1), John Tennyson (0-2), Michael Rice (0-1), Eddie Brennan (0-2, 0-1 65), Willie O’Dwyer, Eoin Larkin (0-1), Michael Grace (0-1), Richie Power (1-7, 0-4f), Aidan Fogarty (0-1; Richie Hogan)
HT: Waterford 1-11 (14) Kilkenny 0-11 (11)
Referee: Anthony Stapleton (Laois)