Brian Cody’s men completed their three-in-a-row in such awe-inspiring fashion that one couldn’t help but feel sorry for outclassed Waterford

IT’S ALMOST impossible to say too many good things about this Kilkenny performance, but here’s one for a start: They’re now one of the greatest ever teams of the game. That’s not something I like to do, compare teams of the past and present, but there’s no denying the total and absolute class of this team, from number one to number 15.

This was such a hugely significant game, for Waterford as much as Kilkenny. From very early on, however, it was about one team only as Kilkenny simply blew Waterford asunder – not just in certain passages of the game, but for the whole 70 minutes of the game. I haven’t seen a performance like that for quite some time, if at all.

It was also the true coronation of this team, winning the three-in-a-row in style like this, and so deserving of it too. I said before the game the intensity they showed against Cork in the semi-final was as good as anything I’d witnessed and yet, if anything, they surpassed it here. It was just incredible to watch, even if at times you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Waterford.

Yet Waterford, it has to be said, didn’t do themselves any favours by playing well below their own standards. Kilkenny’s touch and attitude was so far ahead of Waterford’s that from very early on there was an inevitable feeling that Kilkenny were going to win in the manner and by the margin that they did.

That was there to see from the start, when Michael Kavanagh made a great interception on John Mullane. That was a clear indication of what was to come, and it was maintained right through to the finish, when Aidan Fogarty blocked down a ball to fire over the final score. That was the sort of absolute team effort from start to finish, every player doing what they needed to do, and doing it so well – without fuss, without any hint of elaboration.

There is definitely a genius element to this Kilkenny team; you only have to look at Henry Shefflin to realise that. Again, I don’t like comparing players of the past and present, but without a doubt he’s as good as any I’ve seen. I was sitting in the lower Hogan Stand and saw up close his score from play early on. You could hear the purity of the strike. I didn’t even have to follow the ball to the posts because I knew from the way he hit it that it was going over.

The players alongside him, particularly Eddie Brennan and Eoin Larkin, were just as impressive, the way they would bring down balls and approach their scores. Derek Lyng was an unstoppable engine at midfield.
JJ Delaney the same at wing back. It’s not easy to single out any one Kilkenny player, as they all contributed at such a high level.

Tommy Walsh, perhaps, was the one player I felt was a little too edgy, conceding a few too many frees to Waterford.

In the end though, Waterford’s performance has to go down as poor, disappointing. The three or four players that needed to find their peak form on the day didn’t even come close. Eoin Kelly did his best and John Mullane came into it more as it went on, but going 45 minutes without a point from play is a clear indication of just how far off they were.

And almost everything about their game was off. Their touch was off – not what you want on All-Ireland final day. They couldn’t get room to play. It was an almost complete inability to compete against a Kilkenny team that soon had them suffocated with their intensity of play.

But other things were going wrong for Waterford. Ken McGrath was mishitting shots early on, in total contrast to Kilkenny who kept things simple, not over-elaborating anything.

I don’t think James Cha Fitzpatrick did one thing wrong all afternoon, and then, as if to epitomise the whole thing, TJ Reid comes in and hits four fantastic points, absorbing the pressure to make it look as if he had the freedom of Croke Park.

Very soon then it became the worst case scenario, something I had feared, but still hoped wouldn’t happen, and that was Waterford out of it completely after only 20 minutes. There were warning signs all over the place.

At one stage I saw two Waterford defenders caught with their hurl in the wrong hand to clear a ball, in situations where no one was near them, and there’s simply no excuse for that.

The other point was Waterford needed goals early on, if they really wanted to make a contest of it, but of course it was men against boys in that department. Kilkenny were the only team creating goal chances, and knew how to finish them too.

It’s going to be a tough recovery period for Waterford, a long road back from this. It’s hard on their supporters and also all the neutrals who were drawn into this game, and it’s a big test now for Davy Fitzgerald if he gets to stay with this team going forward.

The last word on the day must go to Brian Cody. I always felt winning this three-in-a-row meant an awful lot to him, and what a way to win it.
The talk now will be of four-in-a-row or even five, and you know this team will regroup, and come back as strong again.

For Cody though. I think this already confirms his status too as one of the greatest managers of all time.

If, as I suspect, the players wanted to win this one for him then they certainly went about it in truly fitting style, a performance that, like Cody, and this team, will be recalled for a long, long time to come.

(c) 2008 The Irish Times

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