T.J. Reid (K) gets away from a flying Philip Mahony (W)
Like all Kilkenny people I was disappointed on Saturday, not with the overall effort from the squad, but with the result.
We were probably never in the game. The comeback nearing the end of normal time was phenomenal and underlined the character and spirit that is there rather than the hurling that was produced on the night, unfortunately.
For Kilkenny it was a struggle all the way. Their hurling was never free flowing.
They were continuously trying to force things rather than having a flow to their play.
The sweeper system as employed by Waterford can shape games like that. If you look at the two best players, they were probably Tadhg De Búrca and Cillian Buckley.
There were times when the ball was being pucked up and down the field to a free man. That can be the way games unfold.
I know from playing in the forwards you can be left chasing, chasing, chasing the whole time in situations like that. If you are not winning primary possession it can become a real battle, and that was the way it was for Kilkenny.
Kilkenny were never given the freedom to go in a 1-on-1 situation. Disappointed, but hugely proud of the players.
The general response from people was that they were very proud of the team; the fight and character shown.
Those are good signs. I remember in 2005 when Kilkenny lost to Galway in that brilliant All-Ireland semi-final, they were always chasing the game.
They could have been beaten by 10 or 12 points that day but brought it down to a three point game I think.
Then we saw what followed. We won the next four All-Irelands I am not saying that is exactly what is going to happen, but the fight shown was a good sign from the men on the field.
You have to start with fundamentals. The fundamentals are in place in Kilkenny.
We see it in the championships. We hear pundits talking about teams throwing in the towel when things go against them in games.
Kilkenny never did that, definitely not over the last 20 years or so, or probably never. That defiant attitude has always been there, and that is a great place to start with the re-building job.
Effort was never in question. Neither was it in question when we were beaten by Wexford.
The Kilkenny touch was off, which was strange. Maybe the turn around of one week was that bit too quick.
The physical effort told on a few players. The first touch wasn’t there, the usual snappiness. We probably paid a price for that.
Credit to Waterford
Having said that, we have to give credit to Waterford. When they play the extra defender game well, they play it really well.
They have been working on the sweeper system for three or four years, and they know what they are about. When they hit a short puck-out, there are three or four players moving in different areas.
That game is not natural to Kilkenny because they don’t play it. That can be another difficulty of a turn around in a week. You only have a very short window to work on a new game plan and get used to the new situation.
The way Waterford worked the ball, especially for Michael Walsh’s goal, was top class. They don’t panic. They are able to pop the ball 10 or 15 yards left or right and work it up the field when in possession.
They rarely put possession at risk.
The big change was Austin Gleeson’s play. He gave a really mature performance, shooting five points. Yet he brought others into play, which he wasn’t doing up to now. If he can continue to do that, then Waterford have a great chance.
They have drawn Wexford in the quarter-finals, and I think that is a game they can win. We could have sweepers running into each other in that match!
For Kilkenny now it is all about building for the future. People had been suggesting that because we lost the All-Ireland final last year we had the hunger back.
There was no real rest period there. This will be the first long rest period since 2013.
The county reached three All-Irelands in-a-row in 2014, 2015 and 2016. That took a mental toll on the players. This will be a good period for lads.
Go and enjoy life
I would advise the players to forget about the championship now. Don’t worry about who wins it. Get on with your lives. Go play with the club. Go on holidays.
Do stuff you don’t normally get to do during the Summer when the county is going well. Doing that would help refresh a lot of lads.
Brian (Cody) then will be keeping a close eye on the under-21 team going forward. There is a chance for a few players there to step up.
I remember in my days at that level that Martin Fogarty (the manager) would tell us it was the ‘show window’. I didn’t believe him, but I believe it now.
The step up can happen quickly. Saturday will have been a difficult and tough experience for a lot of lads, but it will have been a very good one long term as well.
Brian’s future? There is no rush about sorting that. It is only July.
People should forget things for a few weeks. I doubt if Brian will do that. I reckon he will be reviewing the match over and over.
This is a time for calm reflection.
The concentration will be on club hurling now, and the opportunity will be there for ambitious players to show what they have to offer.
Lads who might not have shown up well with Kilkenny can get things together at club level and drive on. I think we will see that.
It happened in 2013 when lads really opened up when they went back to their club, and they drove on with the county afterwards.
It will be a hugely run from now to the end of interesting the local leagues and championships. The one thing about Kilkenny is that everyone thinks they have a bit of a chance.
It is all about getting on a run at the right time.
The County Board will have to give clubs a bit of certainty now about the upcoming club match programme. It is up in the air, so certainty is called for.
The minor and under-21 teams are still chasing All-Irelands, and we would have high hopes there. But clubs will have to be told when they might be playing.
Remember, the club scene is the proving ground. Look at Paddy Deegan, for example. His rise has been quick.
He enjoyed a good season with O’Loughlin Gaels last year and he drove on strongly. His progression was exception.
It was great to see Joe Lyng get into the team as well. He has had to wait a few years, but he looked hugely impressive on Saturday. He played without fear. He was very good.
Chris Bolger is another who can now push on at club level.
If you look back over the seasons, there have been very few players who were stars in Year One outside of Henry (Shefflin), J.J. (Delaney) and Tommy (Walsh).
Most lads had to serve their time. Lads are probably getting their chance earlier now than happened previously, but that is a consequence of where Kilkenny are at the moment.
Maybe that is what happens in most counties, but things were very different in Kilkenny.
Build again! That is story in Kilkenny now.
The ‘if’ word was being used too much about Kilkenny this season - if one or two players could find a bit more form; if we could get into a bit of a run; if this that or the other.
The Qualifiers route is not easy. Kilkenny had a 100% record in it before Saturday.
The county is down - but it is far from out.
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