It's the All-Ireland semi final that dare not speak its name. The number of words expended on covering the game on Friday was as follows: The Irish Times- 28; The Evening Herald- 0. Now whilst both papers are metropolitan affairs, it does to a large extent sum up feeling abroad. Waterford, after being written off summarily ( but not in this parish ) before the Galway game are now suffering the same fate again. The mood of resignation is such that the thought of yet another semi-final defeat only seems to elicit an collective shrug from the Deise faithful. Indeed it is not necessarily an insult to today's underdogs to point out that a bit of forward thinking by the GAA ( no laughing at the back at the notion ) back in the spring might have put the two semis on the same bill as per pre-1997 and ensured a bumper day out. As it is what are we left with: Bar matters such as an opportunity to see sublime young talents such as Tony Kelly on the undercard.
Well with Kilkenny as unquestioned favourites obviously. Their assumed position in the pecking order has veered alarmingly all season. Favourites for the league final despite the heart being sucked out of the team by injury. Now, with Shefflin, Power, Fennelly and Walsh restored, they are unbackable. This despite Wexford cutting a swathe through their full back line, and Dublin being shorn of likely 5 of their most talented 15 when Joey Boland went off early in the Leinster final. Certainly though Kilkenny appear to have a hungry visage from midfield up. Michael Fennelly is on the verge of taking midfield play to new levels after the age of the lar na pairce flyer like Kenny and O'Connor. Their ability to create space and plunder goals against Dublin showed that Enda McEvoy's ( otherwise apposite ) quip that 'Kilkenny murder space, Tipp liberate it' didn't tell the whole story. Brian Cody must also be praised on the leopard spot changing front. The evidence, thus far, of the last two seasons indicates that unleashing blitzkrieg in league matches needlessly is not high on the agenda anymore.
But you could have some grumbles, albeit mostly compared to previous halcyon days. There isn't quite the same interchangeability in the forward line. JJ Delaney has yet to show anywhere near his best form. As for the fullback line, we now have seen, as per Wexford Park, what can be achieved by a three man full forward line keeping decent spacing.
Cody thus is having a decent run of generous opponents. Davy Fitz, like his former team mate Anthony Daly, isn't that inclined to seek the wide open spaces close to an opponents goal. In fairness to the Sixmilebridge man though Peter may have to be burgled to pay Paul. There's much talk in the run up to the game about Waterford needed to eschew tactics and play their neighbours hip to hip and man to man: Likely some of this criticism comes from the same people who will tear strips off the diminutive general if he leaves Liam Lawlor ( as he essentially did in last year's All-Ireland semi ) isolated at the edge of the square. Like with his former captain next week the temptation has to be to shut up shop and let Kilkenny win the game with point scoring out the field if they are good enough.
Doubtless most things need to go right for Waterford. But they will at least compete physically. The notion that Kilkenny blew Dublin away with brawn ( rather than brain ) is balderdash. The Deise will cope in that department, albeit they need Kevin Moran and Shane O'Sullivan to build on the last day. Seamus Prendergast and Eoin Kelly throwing back the years would also be handy. The notion, as postulated by Daithi Regan this week, that Kilkenny have all the brio of yore, whilst Waterford will find it hard to lift it to quarter final levels is, to these ears, curious. Our, possibly brave, punt is that the cats are somewhere between where they were reckoned to be after the league final and where they are deigned to be now. We have a hunch they are beatable by an upwardly mobile outfit, for whom the sliotar runs kindly. A side like we, ( and many other people ) to our shame, imagined Galway could be. Unfortunately Waterford are probably a smidgen short of that level. But they may give supporters a more exciting day out than is being bargained for.