I cannot believe it is August already, while I dread the thought of summer almost finishing, It is now time for the hurling championship to enter its most important time The first port of call being the All Ireland semi final between Kilkenny and Waterford. Kilkenny are overwhelming favourites, and this isn’t always a tag worn well by champions. They will have get out of the blocks quickly on Sunday to avoid getting sucked into any stalemate with Waterford. I predict a Kilkenny victory, but not by much, maybe a point or two. I am not the only one who has views, on how the game will go, See below to view Richard’s verdict.
until next time,
ALL-IRELAND SEMI FINAL PREVIEW – Richard Holden
This Sunday, Kilkenny and Waterford meet in the All-Ireland semifinal, their fifth meeting at this stage in the Cody era. The Cats have won the five previous semi-finals between the pair and also beat the Deise in the 2008 All-Ireland Final. They are strong favourites to emerge victorious again but Waterford will be fully determined to create their own bit of history and claim a first championship win over their neighbours since the 1959 All-Ireland Final.
So, what can we expect in this latest instalment? Both sides have been consistent all season bar two surprising heavy defeats – a League semi final reverse for the Cats when shorn of a number of regulars while the Deise endured a Munster Final thrashingat the hands of Tipperary. Since then, however, Waterford beat Wexford by ten points while the Under-21’s, featuring a trio of senior starters, claimed the Munster title, defeating Tipp in the Final.
Their confidence will have risen considerably from a month ago and Derek McGrath’s troops will relish a crack at the Cats. There is little expectation of them winning, from the outside, and that has to be a further help to them – in contrast, they were widely tipped to win the Munster Final. The experience gained from playing Kilkenny at the same stage last year should also stand to this relatively young team.
The return of Pauric Mahoney and the emergence of Conor Gleeson has strengthened their hand and there is a greater depth now to their panel than last season. The former is slowly regaining his best form, understandable after such a long absence from injury, while the latter is certainly a viable option for the backs. Daragh Fives knee injury is a blow and it will be interesting to see what change is made now at midfield.
The main issue for the Deise concerns their style of play, and the associated lack of goalscoring opportunities. In the likes of Patrick Curran, Maurice Shanahan and the Bennetts, they certainly have forwards who can rattle the net if given enough ball. The Deise hit 3-22 and 2-19 in the League play-offs against Limerick and Clare (Final replay) but in their three Championship games to date, they have hit totals of 1-21, 0-13 and 0-21 with a high wide count also a major concern.
Their best tactic might be to direct quick low ball into the forwards, and test the Kilkenny full-back line. It would be unusual if points alone were good enough on Sunday. In the aftermath of their quarter-final win, John Mullane raised doubts about the team’s energy reserves running out due to their prolonged League campaign. I think this won’t be an issue though, as they will enjoy the challenge of playing the Cats in Croke Park and they have age on their side.
The Suirsiders will also take some comfort from their League win over the Cats last February while some of the panel have sampled victory over a Kilkenny team at headquarters – the 2013 All-Ireland minor semi-final. This might not seem that relevant now but it may empower them with the feeling that Kilkenny are not an unattainable target.
Meanwhile, Kilkenny powered to a third successive Leinster title with comprehensive victories over Dublin and Galway, though the latter put up stern resistance before fading in the second-half. The return to full fitness of both Shane Prendergast and Richie Hogan is an added bonus and I expect both to start on Sunday.
The champions will aim for a more settled and assured start than the Leinster Final when they looked out of sorts with misplaced passes and some sloppy clearances. Waterford will hope to try and get an early march on the Cats and defend any lead by maintaining a high intensity and workrate.
An area of concern for Kilkenny might lie in the overall depth to their panel as the subs bench lacks in championship experience, with the obvious exception of Jackie Tyrell. However, Kevin Kelly has had some good outings in the League when called upon and he should definitely be a live option off the bench on Sunday.
I think this could turn out to be the better of the two semi-finals – Waterford will be determined to prove the Munster Final defeat was just ‘one of those days’ and to go a step further than last year but I think Kilkenny have enough to withstand a fierce challenge and advance to their tenth Final in eleven seasons.
One final point, is there a case to be made to hold one of the hurling semi-finals in Semple Stadium. Last year, the Kilkenny v Waterford semi-final drew 41,000 to headquarters but Thurles is capable of holding up to 46,000. Families are not going to games in the same droves due to the ticket prices, travel costs etc. It is a pity to see one of the finest grounds for hurling closed on such a momentous day.