FIFTEEN minutes of razor-sharp soccer saw the Kilkenny & District League's youth team claw Waterford to shreds in their own back-yard. Ronnie Grace's Cats were very impressive, as they turned a one-goal deficit into a three-goal cushion at Ozier Park on Sunday.
Waterford & DL................1
Kilkenny & DL..................4
Kilkenny showed their hosts no mercy, slicing them apart as they set up an intriguing meeting with the TSDL to determine who finishes top of the pile.
A big part of Kilkenny's revival was how they weren't afraid to change their tactics. Chasing a one-goal game with half an hour to go they switched formation, going with three up front as they looked to put the squeeze on Waterford.
The changes had a dramatic effect. Forcing Waterford back on their heels, the visitors struck gold when defender Robert Skehan made a nuisance of himself as Ross King whipped in a corner. Waterford failed to clear their lines, and were punished when Mark Lyons slammed home the loose ball at the back post.
Things went from bad to worse for Waterford within two minutes, as a hungry Kilkenny found another big score. Once again they were caught napping at the back, as Sean Maguire accelerated past his marker and gathered a low through ball down the right flank.
Defender Anthony Fitzpatrick came from the other side of the field to try and stop the speeding striker, but he couldn't prevent Maguire from slotting a powerful shot into the far left corner of the net.
Waterford were reeling, but Kilkenny were determined to punish them further. They took a huge step towards victory when, in the 81st minute, they moved two goals clear. Once more it was Kilkenny's ability to turn defence into attack that paved the way. As soon as Sean Maguire picked up a long clearance down the right Waterford in trouble at the back. Spotting Andy Hickey speeding away down the left Maguire's pass was inch-perfect, allowing Hickey to run onto to ball and drill it past the helpless Dylan Power.
That late goal spree was just was Kilkenny deserved. Although the game was labelled a tough one for them they stuck to their task well, defending in number and shutting Waterford down before they could encroach on their goal.
Backs to the wall
It wasn't all backs to the wall stuff for the visitors though. They should have taken the lead on 20 minutes, when Ross King drove a low cross into the box. Conor Gorey was quickest to it, sliding in to connect, but Dylan Power was smartly off his line to snuff out the danger.
Waterford had their fair share of chances too, but couldn't find a way to make them count. Thomas Whitty went close when he turned Sean O'Loughlin's 27th minute cross at the target, but Skehan got in the way to make a timely block. The rebound came back to Whitty, but this time his shot was well held by Craig Cummins.
Cummins was called back into action again after the half hour, reaching high to tip Kevin Barry's inswinging corner over the crossbar. He was at it again in the 40th minute, getting behind Lee Grace's long range shot to make a fine stop.
The work was finished for Cummins just yet. He made his most vital intervention just seconds before half-time, pulling off a super save to deny Waterford the lead. Jack Gaule had the chance when he took down a long ball and stepped inside Sammy Johnson, but Cummins made a great block before Skehan mopped up the loose ball.
The goalkeeper wasn't as lucky after the break, as Waterford went ahead within seconds of kick-off. Full-back Kevin Barry sped up into the top left corner, but his attempted cross was stopped by Mark Lyons. Kilkenny failed to clear their lines fully though, and paid a heavy price when Thomas Whitty smacked a venomous shot into the top left corner of the net.
Kilkenny could have wilted after that goal; instead they upped their attacking efforts, pushing a third player up front as they searched for a way back into the game.
They almost got their reward just 11 minutes after falling behind. Waterford were split open by Sammy Johnson's excellent 57th minute ball. The delivery was just right for Ross King, who steered his shot past the outrushing Dylan Power, but the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.
King had another chance to score when Power scuffed a kick-out in the 64th minute. The ball fell straight to King, but he drilled his long-distance shot wide of the inviting goal.
Kilkenny were getting closer, but not close enough. Full-back Mark Lyons went within a whisker of levelling the game when he hammered a powerful free-kick over the Waterford wall in the 69th minute, but Power pushed the ball on to the post – then saw it run along his line before Martin Doyle's follow-up shot hit the side netting.
The game was turning Kilkenny's way – but it was that three-goal salvo that did the trick. As Waterford wilted the Cats finished on a high, bagging a fourth goal when defender Lee Grace could only turn Ross King's superb 90th minute ball into the path of Nigel Keogh. The sub couldn't miss, smashing in the loose ball with glee to wrap up an emphatic afternoon for the winners.
Kilkenny & District League: Craig Cummins, Mark Lyons, Andy Hickey, Robert Skehan, Sammy Johnson, Peter Shaw (Nigel Keogh, 77 mins), Martin Doyle (Chris Valentine, 74 mins), Declan McQuillan, Ross King, Sean Maguire, Conor Gorey (Barry Whelan, 62 mins).
Waterford & District League: Dylan Power, Anthony Fitzpatrick, Kevin Barry, Wayne Robinson (Stuart Mitchell, 81 mins), Lee Grace, Craig Keane (Rotinas Alevickis, 62 mins), Adam Potter, Mark Phelan, Jack Gaule, Sean O'Loughlin (Aaron Gilbert, 74 mins), Thomas Whitty.
Referee: Gavin Keys (Waterford & DL).