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Waterford's amazing comeback, Bennett stands tall and another super TJ Reid show

A look at three key areas in yesterday’s game.

Kilkenny's Conor Delaney with Waterford's Dessie Hutchinson and Austin Gleeson.
Kilkenny's Conor Delaney with Waterford's Dessie Hutchinson and Austin Gleeson.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. Waterford’s amazing comeback

We know comebacks should always be factored in during these high-octane hurling nights. Waterford’s production last night was the latest, nine points down in the 30th minute before moving in front by the 51st minute and never subsequently relinquishing that advantage. But this turnaround felt more staggering.

That was due to the nature of Waterford’s first-half display and the stunning transformation after half-time. Early on they struggled desperately, their touch was poor, decision-making on the ball was off and they couldn’t tune in their radar in front of goal.

Five different players hit wides early on. In different ways Conor Prunty and Stephen O’Keeffe could have been more decisive in the build-up to Kilkenny’s goals. Inside danger man Dessie Hutchinson received a minimal supply of decent deliveries, the only exception yielded a tidy 26th minute point.

stephen-okeeffe-and-conor-prunty-celebrate-after-the-game Waterford players Stephen O'Keeffe and Conor Prunty celebrate after the game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

And yet from scoring only 0-5 from play in the first half, Waterford struck 2-16 in the same fashion after the break. They had fired nine wides in the opening period, just the four thereafter. Austin Gleeson’s shooting was dreadful at the start with a trio of wides but he shot over four in the latter half in a magnificent showing that was full of energy and battling qualities.

It is all a microcosm of Waterford’s wider return to form. The team that lost seven and drew one game in the two seasons preceding this have thundered into the 2020 exchanges to now be only a victory away from ending the county’s drought that extends back to 1959.

2. Bennett is Waterford’s new attacking leader

11 days before Waterford commenced their championship campaign, the news emerged that they would be without their captain, chief free-taker and a vital attacking component. Pauric Mahony’s hopes for the year were wrecked by a knee injury, the question fell to who would fill that void? Right from the first evening against Cork, Stephen Bennett has stepped up to willingly assume the responsibility.

His tallies before last night – 0-12, 0-12 and 0-10 – indicated he was in strong form but he raised that to a new level last night as he ransacked the Kilkenny defence for 1-10. He struck 1-4 of that from play. After being held scoreless in that area against Cork, he hit 0-5 combined in the last two games from play before exploding to life in this match.

paddy-deegan-with-stephen-bennett Stephen Bennett is chased by Paddy Deegan.

Like his team-mates, he was not in blistering form at the start of this game but as Liam Cahill pointed out afterwards, mistakes do not instil the personal doubt they used to. Bennett set the tone with a marvellous run as he weaved through the rearguard in the 33rd minute before flicking over a point.

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Better was to come in the 37th minute, again accelerating clear and this time showing the awareness to evade the chasing cover to fire in a low shot. That was the goal Waterford desperately needed and Bennett was the inspirational figure they needed. 

He is now a live Hurler of the Year contender.

3. TJ Reid still stars on a difficult night for Kilkenny

TJ Reid’s year began in Croke Park with glory on the club stage, it concluded at the same stadium with a different outcome in the county colours. If there was a contrast in the results, there was a familiarity in another scoring masterclass from the 33-year-old. He shot 0-8 in that club victory in January with Ballyhale, the numbers had swelled to 1-14 here as Kilkenny bowed out.

Frees were a major contributory factor, he knocked over 12 placed balls last night and his 3-34 tally from three championship matches has contained 0-28 from that source. But that cannot overlook his capacity to win hard ball himself in the half-forward line, his reliability in potting shots in those instances and how his accuracy kept Kilkenny in the hunt as they tried to launch a late revival.

There was also the usual energy levels, the spraying of passes to pick out team-mates for points and his record of netting in every championship game this year stands. The timing of the run to snatch a break in the 25th minute was excellent and the finish clinical past Stephen O’Keeffe. Even in defeat, this was yet another reminder of Reid’s value to the Kilkenny cause.

tj-reid-dejected-at-the-end-of-the-game A dejected TJ Reid after the game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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