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5 talking points after Waterford finally claim Kilkenny scalp in Thurles thriller

It took extra-time but they finally got over the line.

Maurice Shanahan celebrates Waterford's success last night.
Maurice Shanahan celebrates Waterford's success last night.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

1. No shortage of Kilkenny-Waterford entertainment again

In 2013 we had a qualifier where Kilkenny triumphed by three points and in 2016 we had an All-Ireland semi-final replay that Kilkenny edged by two points. The common theme of those Saturday night games in Thurles was gripping fare under the floodlights. The 33,181 paying customers last night waited in expectation for the 7pm throw-in time to see could we witness a repeat.

We didn’t get a match that reached dizzying high standards of hurling but it was a totally absorbing contest. For much of the match the interest lay in Waterford’s command of the action and the question whether they were on the verge of a famous win. They achieved that milestone eventually but not until there had been an astonishing finale in normal time as Kilkenny recovered and a thrilling 20 odd minutes of extra-time as well.

This pair have a decent track record of serving up great occasions in Semple Stadium. This game will sit comfortably in that bracket.

2. Waterford let the game slip but respond in style

Waterford could have made life so much easier for themselves last night and prevented their supporters nerves being shredded. Minds were drifting towards the All-Ireland quarter-finals when they held a handsome eight-point advantage with 11 minutes remaining, but there was to be no easy stroll to success.

Waterford’s lead was wiped out and they must surely have been relieved not to have seen Kilkenny channel that momentum to push ahead on the scoreboard. The whistle at the end of normal time brought some respite and question marks over whether Waterford would be scarred by that late comeback?

Impressively they stood up in extra-time. They tapped into their best form again and outscored Kilkenny by 2-8 to 0-7. If Waterford had lost this game from the position they were in, it would have been a devastating blow. To survive and triumph like they did is a landmark moment.

3. Kilkenny go down in heroic fashion

They’re not the team of megawatt stars that lit up the hurling landscape over the last decade but that’s not the point when looking at Kilkenny’s display last night. The manner in which they lifted themselves and drew on their famed battling qualities was extraordinary.

With ten minutes left Kilkenny had notched 1-10 – only four points from play – but they found a way to stitch together 1-5 without reply and draw level. It was a testament to the culture Brian Cody has created, and even if it was not ultimately crowned with a victory, it was quite a feat to take this game to over 90 minutes.

With marquee men like Michael Fennelly and Riche Hogan having had their injury travails of late, this was always going to be a tall order for Kilkenny. But different players stood up. TJ Reid shot the lights out with 2-12. Lester Ryan put in a huge shift when sprung from the bench, Cillian Buckley was masterful at times in the sweeper role. Debutant Richie Leahy hit 0-2 in late cameo. They went down heroically.

4. An array of scorers in the Waterford setup

Derek McGrath’s Waterford side have regularly been accused of not being capable of posting winning totals on the scoreboard. Last night was different. 4-23 was impressive scoring, albeit the game went to extra-time, but what was striking was the different scorers in their ranks.

Pauric Mahony chipped in with 0-6 but his entire night’s scoring work was completed by the 31st minute. Then Waterford found answers elsewhere. Austin Gleeson dazzled in normal time and finished with 0-5, Jamie Barron inspired his team in extra-time and struck 1-3.

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Then there was the vital role played by Waterford’s bench, 1-6 in overall sourced from substitutes Maurice Shanahan, Patrick Curran and Tommy Ryan. Waterford needed something different to take down Kilkenny. They produced that last night.

5. A different season finale ahead without Kilkenny

The statistics have been churned out since Kilkenny’s 2017 exit last night, each one illustrating graphically the stranglehold they have had on hurling. This is only the second time in Brian Cody’s 19 seasons that they will not feature in Croke Park, 2013 the previous season. It’s the earliest they have departed the summer action since 1996 when they lost the Leinster final.

And it’s the first time since 2004-05 that we are guaranteed to have a two year spell without Kilkenny taking the Liam MacCarthy Cup home with them for the winter. Suddenly there is a massive opportunity for the remaining contenders to strike a blow – Tipperary to manage the trick of a repeat September win, Galway or Waterford to end barren spells, Cork or Wexford to launch remarkable comebacks, or Clare to return to the heights of 2013.

There’s a few fascinating weeks in store.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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