Hurling fans are in for a treat this weekend with two cracking semi-finals set to take place in Croke Park.
First up, reigning Leinster champions Kilkenny face an in-form Waterford side at 6pm on Saturday. Then, 2018 All-Ireland champions Limerick will do battle with 2017 Champions Galway at 4pm on Sunday.
Kilkenny vs Waterford
In what many predict will be a tight encounter between the two neighbours, Brian Cody’s Kilkenny will start the game as slight favourites amongst most hurling followers. While Kilkenny have yet to put in a complete performance in this year’s championship similar to that of their epic semi-final victory against Limerick last year, they have shown once again that anyone who writes them off does so at their peril.
The first-half performance against Dublin and the final 25 minutes in the Leinster final win over Galway prove that Kilkenny can still hit their peak throughout periods of games. If they can remain consistent for the entirety of Saturday’s showdown, they will feel as though they have the edge over Waterford.
Although the flaws have been glaringly obvious so far, maybe the most impressive aspect of Kilkenny’s performance this year has been their strength in character in both of their games. After throwing away a 16-point lead to Dublin, the Cats regrouped and got over the line with a one-point victory. This wasn’t an isolated show of character from Brian Cody’s charges, however. Having gone ahead by a solitary point following two quick fire goals from hurling legends Richie Hogan and T.J. Reid, Galway scored three unanswered points to regain the lead.
Kilkenny showed yet again that they never lie down and found a way to claim the Leinster title despite Galway seemingly having all of the momentum. This never-say-die attitude that has been inherent in all of Brian Cody’s teams along with the obvious firepower that the forwards possess will provide Kilkenny people with a certain level of confidence that they can make consecutive All-Ireland final appearances for the first time since 2016.
Waterford will be quietly confident that they can claim something of an upset on Saturday.
A team who has not come close to reaching the heights of 2017, when they narrowly lost to Galway in the All-Ireland final, finally look to be reaching those levels again.
Former U20 Tipperary manager Liam Cahill has managed to get the best out of a group of players who have undoubtedly failed to fulfil their huge potential and their performances in this year’s championship suggest that if Kilkenny are to overcome the Deise, they may have to put in their best performance of the championship to date. Impressive wins over their Munster rivals Cork and Clare were either side of a Munster final defeat to Limerick in Semple stadium.
However, it was that showing that should give them belief that their third All-Ireland final of the century is just around the corner. It was that encounter that proved they are more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with hurling’s top teams. If Waterford can build on that performance, then they will give themselves a chance of winning on Saturday.
In what will almost certainly be a close and enthralling affair between two sides who are rightfully high in confidence, Kilkenny’s experience and nous should be enough to see them over the line.
Kilkenny v Waterford is live on KCLR this Saturday evening at 6pm with thanks to Laharts Kilkenny. Listen on air, online and in the KCLR app.