Hot on the heels of the stumble against Dublin came reassurance in abundance, and a place in the Allianz National Hurling League quarter-finals.
And this victory brings Kilkenny into bonus territory when they travel to Wexford Park on Sunday(3.30pm) for a last eight game against the home side. That is winnable tie for a panel that is unfolding its wares with the elegance of a proud peacock unfurling the plumage of its fanlike tail.
Nine times All-Ireland medal winner, Henry Shefflin took flight with the team from early in the pre-season Walsh Cup. Eoin Larkin, Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell, Brain Hogan et al joined the ranks shortly afterwards.
Richie Power stepped back on to the stage last weekend.
On Sunday at Spring like Nowlan Park elegant defender, J.J. Delaney stood back in line. The opposition tried to run and drag the eight times McCarthy Cup winner into all sorts of difficult place. The Fenians (Johnstown) man short circuited it all. He starred!
Another ace in Kilkenny’s unfolding hand of cards.
And former Hurler of the Year, Michael Fennelly and Michel Rice are all but ready to march up the comeback trail. Yes, things are coming together nicely for Kilkenny, the defending League champions.
Let ‘coming together’ be the cautious, adopted phrase of the moment. It is only March. It is only the League, as manager Brian Cody whispered in the ear of Colin Fennelly after a 3-5 blitz in a recent match.
The faithful are liking what they see, and the mood is one of encouragement and hope if we are to gauge by the generous and loud responses from the terraces to Kilkenny’s good and finest deeds.
Sunday’s walloping of Waterford was a fair day’s work after a wobbly opening on a high pressure occasion when the right result brought the joy of making the quarter-finals or the dread of relegation, as now faces the Suirsiders.
Winning the League? Who knows! Kilkenny are up for it....if it is to happens. They won’t burst a gut to make it happen. Neither will they shy away from putting in a decent effort to claim what would be a 17th title.
“We are satisfied that there is good depth to the panel,” was the summary from manager, Brian Cody after Sunday’s high level performance.
Waterford we allowed a strong entry into the match. They scored the opening three points through Shane O’Sullivan (two frees) and Jamie Barron. The wind assisted home sides was fidgety, willing, but uncertain.
The opening five attempts at goal were all wide. Even Henry Shefflin was afflicted by the malaise, as he missed three decent enough chances from frees. The Ballyhale Shamrocks man showed gumption though. After two misses he was nearby when Richie Hogan was fouled on midfield. Shefflin walked straight to the ball. There was no hesitation. Real players react like that!
Shefflin missed again, but in Kilkenny’s next big play in the 15th minute he delivered an inch perfect, hurley driven pass from deep in the left corner at the country end into the middle for Colin Fennelly to open the winners account. Within 90 seconds a Waterford defender knocked down a Kilkenny puck-out to Hogan, who flashed the ball to Shefflin. Point!
A neck high tackle on Eoin Larkin earned Kilkenny another free, and Shefflin a point. It was 0-3 each. Cautious Waterford were crowding midfield and their own ‘40’, but they had retreated from their early boldness. Caution didn’t favour them. Kilkenny won most of their own puck-outs on the opposing ‘40’, with Walter Walsh the outstanding fielder.
On 20 minutes Kilkenny got in front, and there they stayed. Richie Hogan started the move short of midfield. Eoin Larkin, who enjoyed an inspired afternoon, ripped an avenue up the right. Inside the 20-metre line he cut inside and got the ball to Mark Kelly, who pumped it forward from near the edge of the square. Goalie Stephen O’Keeffe blocked the sliotar out. Jonjo Farrell turned a save into a goal by sending the ball on a reverse course (1-3 to 0-3).
The winners kept pushing ahead. When half-time was reached they showed 1-7 to 0-8 in front. It wasn’t a great lead. There was a storm on the horizon, however.
Within 12 minutes of the restart both counties knew the entry in their diary for next weekend. Kilkenny were on fire. They were going to the quarter-finals.
The Cats were working like dogs, hunting down opponents and possession everywhere. Whoosh, whoosh the green and white flag flapped. The scoreboard whizzed to 3-13 to 0-11. Contest over.
Eoin Larkin scored Kilkenny’s second goal in the 38th minute, a real net lifter and tested after Richie Power put him clear near the target. The third big score from Mark Kelly from the edge of the square in the 47th minute had the pre-signature of Larkin and Colin Fennelly on the move. Richie Power added a quick point after that.
The next score from Richie Hogan, a brilliant effort from 55 metres virtually on the right sideline, caught the mood of Kilkenny. A Waterford defender actually had possession of the ball, but he was hunted down and robbed by the marauding Hogan and Kelly. Kilkenny’s game in a nutshell! Their discipline was tops too.
Larkin was tremendous, the best of the lot; Delaney was very good; Buckley, Kennedy and Padraig Walsh all made further progress; Richie Hogan played a fine match too; likewise Walter Walsh and Colin Fennelly’s decision making, in terms of when to chase goals or take points, was a street ahead of what it had been the previous week.
A good day at the office for Kilkenny, despite the best from Michael Walsh, Noel Connors, Ray Barry, Paurice Mahony (in the first half) and Kevin Moran for the losers.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Henry Shefflin (0-7, five frees); Mark Kelly (2-0); Eoin Larkin (1-2); Colin Fennelly (0-4); Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan (0-3 each); Jonjo Farrell (1-0); Richie Power (0-2); Brian Kennedy (0-1). Waterford - Pauric Mahony (0-5, frees); Ray Barry (0-4); Brian O’Sullivan (0-2); Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Barron, Austin Gleeson (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Joey Holden, Brian Kennedy, Jackie Tyrrell, Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, Richie Hogan, Walter Walsh, Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin, Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, Eoin Larkin. Subs - Richie Power for Farrell 27th min; Kieran Joyce for Kennedy 51st min; Lester Ryan for P. Walsh 55th min; T.J. Reid for Hogan, inj (61st min).
Waterford - Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadgh de Burca, Shane Fives, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michel Woods, Philip Mahony, Kevin Moran, Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Barron, Pauric Mahony, Stephen Molumphy, Maurice Shanahan, Brian O’Sullivan, Austin Gleeson. Subs - Barry Coughlan Nagle 31st min; Ray Barry for Shanahan 33rd min; Seamus Prendergast for Gleeson 41st min; Ryan Donnelly for Barron 59th min.
Referee - James Owens (Wexford).
Attendance - 8,883.