History suggests Kilkenny’s progression to a tenth All-Ireland Senior Hurling final in 11 years is almost inevitable but manager Brian Cody has dismissed that suggestion and expects a real battle with Waterford in Sunday’s semi-final.
The Déise have not beaten Kilkenny in the Championship since 1959 – their only victory over the Cats in 12 outings – and Cody’s men have not lost at the semi-final stage for 11 years, winning eight tiles in that time.
On the contrary, Waterford are looking to reach their first final since 2008 and Sunday’s showdown at Croke Park is a repeat of last year’s semi, when Kilkenny ran out 1-21 to 0-18 winners.
But Cody was full of praise when asked about Derek McGrath’s side as they look to book a final spot against Galway or Tipperary on September 4.
He said: “I think their skill level is massive. You look at their younger players and their skill level is top class. They are excellent players and physically strong players for their age.
“You look at the more experienced players…they have a terrific mix and I’m not just saying it because we’re playing them. I would have said it last year; I would have thought it myself before we were ever going to be playing them.”
This will be Cody’s 17th semi-final in charge of Kilkenny, with Galway the only side to deny him a title-decider, in 2013, 2005 and 2001.
For many, the idea of the Cats not making the All-Ireland final is unthinkable and if Waterford are to deny them this time around then they will need to come out of the traps quickly and look to blow the opposition away early, as Kilkenny have shown before how devastating they can be in the second half with their impressive hunger and work rate.
Waterford’s less orthodox sweeper system was smashed to pieces by Tipperary in the Munster Final in July as they were beaten by 21 points but they have shown no signs of deviating from the plan any time soon.
The challenge ahead of the Déise is an unenviable one, with bookmakers making Kilkenny 1/4 on, but full-forward Pauric Mahony insists they too will deem a semi-final defeat ‘unacceptable’.
“From a player’s perspective the pressure is still on because we want to go to an All-Ireland final,” he explained.
“Losing a semi-final is not going to be acceptable. It would be a poor year from the players’ perspective because at the end of the day you want to go to [the final in] September and go up the steps in Croke Park.
“That’s what we’re training for so we’ll be going out against Kilkenny and doing absolutely everything we can to get over the line. Anything less will be seen as a failure for us.”
But Waterford’s leading scorer did go on to add: “You have to respect Kilkenny for what they do and, as I said, we’re going to have to be at the top of our game and there’s no room for error.”