Waterford minor hurlers qualified for an All-Ireland semi-final tilt against Dublin following their win over Kilkenny in Walsh Park on Saturday evening. This was a gritty and committed display by the Déise, who showed from the throw-in that they were determined to put their below-par performance in the Munster Final behind them. Their first touch was much better, they got stuck in all over the field and fought tigerishly for every ball. They were, if anything, too anxious in their approach leading to some poor decision-making and hurried and poorly-directed striking, but they were certainly the better team and fully deserved their hard-fought victory..
Waterford showed a lot of changes from the Munster final lineout, some of them enforced due to injuries. Shane Forristal came in for the injured Paddy Cooke in goal and Jamie Barron came out from the right corner (where he was replaced by Ian Kenny) to right half back, with Jim Power coming in at left half back. Shane McNulty moved to midfield with Gavin O’Brien moving to wing forward while Peter O’Keefe, Donie Breathnach and Cathal Curran all came in, at centre forward, right corner forward and left corner forward, respectively.
This victory was based mainly on excellent defending which saw only one of the starting Kilkenny forwards scoring from play. The reconstructed half back line presented a major bulwark to the Kilkenny attack, with the gifted Jamie Barron having a whale of a game (especially in the first half) with strong support from centre back Darren Foley and Jim Power who was particularly good in the second half.
With the midfield partnership of Shane McNulty and Ray Barry also performing admirably, this took a lot of the pressure off the full back line which nevertheless coped very capably whenever the ball did come through to them. Behind them, goalie Forristal proved a very able replacement for Cooke, with his lengthy puckouts and clearances giving an extra boost to the Waterford effort.
On an otherwise perfect evening for hurling, there was a significant breeze blowing towards the city end, and with this at their backs, Waterford dominated the early exchanges. However, a series of poor wides (they had seven in all in the first half) meant that they only led by a single point (0-2 to 0-1) after ten minutes, both points coming from the impressive Breathnach. On several occasions, their forwards got possession in situations where they could have run at the Kilkenny defence to either draw frees or create goal chances, but instead opted to shoot hurriedly with little result.
Waterford finally found the range to go four points in front (a free by Jake Dillon and points from play by Cathal Curran and Ray Barry). Kilkenny then fought back to leave the minimum between the sides (0-5 to 0-4) after 20 minutes but they failed to score again before the interval, with a dominant Déise adding further points from Dillon (two frees), Breathnach and O’Brien to lead at halfway 0-9 to 0-4.
Kilkenny gained control of the game on the resumption, and for a while appeared to win every ball in the middle third of the field. However, they made very poor use of their possession, repeatedly running fruitlessly at the unyielding Waterford defence. Nevertheless, by the 10th minute they had reduced the deficit to a single goal (0-10 to 0-7), the Waterford point coming from O’Brien. However, rather foolishly, the Cats at this stage went for a goal from a 20 metre free which was stopped and cleared, and this gave Waterford a great fillip as they dominated the next ten minutes, adding four more points without reply (two Dillon frees and great points from Breathnach and Barry).
Kilkenny continued to look for goals when points were there for the taking, and continued to get little change from the Waterford backs, adding just two points while O’Brien notched his third at the other end. Waterford fought tigerishly to defend their lead in the dying minutes, with three consecutive attempts by the Kilkenny full back line to clear their lines being blocked down at one stage. The Cats did come desperately close to finally breaching the Waterford citadel when a shot from the right hit either the butt of the upright or the goalie’s foot to shoot across the goal to safety. A goal at that stage would have made for a fraught final minute but Waterford eventually gained a well-deserved victory, 0-15 to 0-9.
Waterford only played Kilkenny once before in the minor hurling championship, when they beat them in the 1948 All-Ireland final, as curtain-raiser to the seniors’ first ever title when they beat Dublin. Since then, the county’s minors and seniors did not make as much progress together as they have this year, so perhaps this is a good omen for our prospects from here on. Unfortunately, the GAA in its wisdom has decreed that the two teams should play their semi-finals on different Sundays. One possible advantage of this is that it gives the injured Waterford minor players an extra week to get fit for the clash against Dublin, especially Adam O’Sullivan (the two-goal hero against Clare) and Cormac Heffernan, who showed when introduced as a substitute against Limerick how powerful his presence can be.
Waterford: Shane Forristal (Mount Sion); Ian Kenny (Ballygunner); Damien Ahearne (Ferrybank); Colin Walsh (St. Saviours); Jamie Barron (Fourmilewater); Darren Foley (Clashmore); Jim Power (Butlerstown); Shane McNulty (De La Salle); Ray Barry (Lismore) 0-2; Gavin O’Brien (Roanmore) 0-3); Peter O’Keeffe (Lismore); Jake Dillon (De La Salle) 0-5, all frees; Donal Breathnach (An Rinn) 0-4; Stephen Bennett (Ballysaggart); Cathal Curran (Dungarvan) 0-1.
Substitutes: Mícheál Harney (St. Mary’s) 55 mins; Cein Chester (Roanmore) 57 mins; Colin Dunford (St. Patrick’s) 60 minutes.
Kilkenny: Aaron Duggan (Dicksboro); Ciarán Doyle (Barrow Rangers); Jack McDowell (John Lockes); Eoin Moriarty (Emeralds); Jack McGrath (James Stephens); Eoin McGrath (John Lockes) 0-1; Diarmuid Cody (James Stephens); Chris Bolger (Clara) 0-1; David Kearns (Mooncoin); Richie Reid (Ballyhale); Kevin Kelly (St. Patricks) 0-4, all frees; James Maher (Lachtain’s); Thomas O’Hanrahan (Thomastown); Conor Martin (Emeralds); Peter Vickery (Conahy) 0-2.
Substitutes: John Hayes (Kilmacow) 0-1; Peter Kenneally (Dunamaggin); Mark Mansfield (Mullinavat); E Bergin.