WATERFORD proved through their stunning victory over Galway in the All-Ireland hurling quarter-final that they have the essential qualities to win any match at any level.
Kilkenny didn’t need reminding about the Suirsiders capabilities, but the annihilation of Galway was a timely reminder of the dangers and Brian Cody and his charges will be on their guard in the semi-final in Croke Park on Sunday.
“We face a phenomenal challenge against Waterford,” the Kilkenny manager suggested. “They showed against Galway the last day that they are a class act. They are in really good shape.
“The character and resilience they showed was of the highest order. The way they recovered so quickly after the setback against Tipperary in the Munster final was tremendous.”
The bounce back effort prompted Mr Cody to suggest: “A team with that kind of mentality would be tough opposition for anyone at any level of competition.”
The Kilkenny boss said it was great to be looking towards to another All-Ireland semi-final. This is where Kilkenny want to be. They wanted to win the Leinster championship.
Sights on making final
“We are in the semis now,” he added. “It is a situation we are used to being in and we know the difficulties involved in it and the effort it will take to win. Now the sights are set on being in the All-Ireland final.”
The popular belief was that after the Tipp game, Waterford’s season was as good as over. Opinion was that they didn’t have enough time to deal with the huge setback they had suffered. Mr Cody was never a member of that camp.
“They defied all of that kind of thinking and proved they had what every team wanting to be winners needs – great resilience, character and mental toughness, “ the James Stephens man insisted. “Waterford are an excellent team with excellent hurlers throughout the field.
“I have been saying that for years. They have proven that many, many times over the years. Some of the players are recognised as among the greatest the game has produced, and they have some lovely young hurlers as well.
“Kilkenny have never found it easy against Waterford in the championship. They won’t on Sunday either.”
The one notable exception was the All-Ireland final of 2008, which Kilkenny won in a canter. That was a freak day, a “great day that you won’t hit again” was the way Mr Cody put it.
“Every other game against Waterford has taken every ounce out of us to cope,” he continued. “They beat us in the National League final a few years ago. We scraped through a few other matches against them.
“The rivalry has always been great. This semi-final has all the signs of being a massive battle again.”
Mr Cody said he was pleased with the progress being made by Kilkenny. They turned in a good solid start performance against Wexford. A different type of game plan was employed against Dublin in the Leinster final.
“We were decent in the Leinster final,” was his summary. “We said after the Leinster semi-final against Wexford that we would have to improve a good bit to win the final. Now we will have to improve again to win the All-Ireland semi-final.
Step up on previous performance
“That is the nature of championship hurling. You have to step up the performance each step of the way. Teams are hitting a higher level as you go through the year.
“Waterford proved that in the quarter-finals. They stepped up on their showing in the Munster final. They will want to do the same again. We want to improve our performance too. It is game on now. There will be no holding back.”
When reminded that this was Kilkenny’s 13th consecutive semi-final under his reign, Mr Cody said he hadn’t a clue. Things like that didn’t matter to him.
“I am never aware of those statistics,” he replied. “I don’t think about those things. I deal in the present all the time. We have had good players who have had a good time out of the whole thing. They have reaped good rewards.
“This semi-final is about the present, Sunday’s game. That is the only thing that matters. It doesn’t matter how things have gone in the past, they mean nothing now.”
But was last year’s All-Ireland final defeat an incentive now, a driving force?
“If you do think of the past, from my perspective, you would be more inclined to think about the games you didn’t win rather than the ones you won,” he opened. “The winning feeling is superb at the time. It is a great thing for a few days.
“But the pain of defeat sticks with you much longer. I would think that would be the same with all sports people. At the same time you are not hurling the past. You are playing in the present. You are playing for what is there at the moment.
“Different people will get motivation from different things and different events. Essentially motivation comes from the desire to be as good as you can be; to get on the starting XV and to ensure you are producing quality at all times for your team.”
He said there was a root and branch review of things in the Kilkenny camp after last year’s final. There was nothing new in that.
“If you are doing the job properly you do that every year,” was the way he put that in context. “That is part and parcel of what you have to do all the time.”
Things ticking over nicely
He was pleased that things were ticking over nicely within the squad. As ever new players brought a new energy, new life to things.
“Standards have to be set and they have to be met,” he continued. “That is the situation for all teams. Waterford at the moment are living proof of the importance of injecting new blood into a team.
“Criticism was aimed at management for introducing too many new players, but now they have a wonderful mix of youth and experience. What they have is a seriously strong panel.
“What happened in Munster means nothing now. Provincial champions don’t always make or win the All-Ireland final. We are Leinster champions.
“If we don’t win the All-Ireland final, not everyone in Kilkenny will be satisfied with being Leinster champions. The same goes for Tipperary. They are the Munster champions and their ambition goes further than that, just like us after winning in Leinster.”