Liam Cahill's revival of Waterford offers a few lessons for the Cork hurlers

Liam Cahill's revival of Waterford offers a few lessons for the Cork hurlers

Austin Gleeson of Waterford is back hurling at his best again. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

WATERFORD entered the championship as underdogs in the Munster semi-final against Cork, without a championship victory since 2017; now they're one win away from a first All-Ireland in 61 years.

What a season they've had, hurling brilliantly, defiantly, working ferociously on and off the ball and topping it off with stunning scores. Stephen Bennett and Austin Gleeson produced a highlight reel worth of them on Jones Road.

They'll have to defy the odds again on December 12, as they did in stunning Kilkenny in the second half at Croke Park on Saturday night to win 2-27 to 2-23, but that won't bother them. Trailing 2-11 to 0-10 at half-time to the Leinster champions they looked in serious bother. Instead of accepting their fate, they tore into the third quarter with renewed purpose, crowded the midfield to secure more primary possession and supported their forwards with dynamic running.

They hit a stunning 1-11 to move three points ahead at the second water-break. That could have broken Waterford's momentum, and remember they failed to fire in the fourth quarter of the Munster final after giving Limerick a real fright, but they held their nerve this time.

TJ Reid, unsurprisingly, led the Kilkenny fightback in the last 10 minutes before booming points from de Burca and Gleeson sealed the deal. Their subs contributed hugely, UCC's Neil Montgomery added heft at midfield and clipped over two points, Darragh Lyons buried the critical second goal after a soaring Jack Fagan catch, and Iarlaith Daly, former Christians Harty Cup player, split the posts in the closing stages.

Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Waterford pulled down a succession of balls from the air and their ability to create scoring chances from play was in stark contrast to Brian Cody's charges, 38 to 23. Kilkenny's forwards were suffocated by Waterford's swarm tackling, while they moved the sliotar out of defence at pace on the counter.

Manager Liam Cahill and coach Mikey Bevans have transformed this group. They failed to secure a win in the Munster round-robin series in 2018 and '19, when Gleeson, Jamie Barron and de Burca couldn't replicate the form that saw Waterford reach three All-Ireland semi-finals in a row from 2015 to '17. 

Now, with Dessie Hutchinson, Calum Lyons, Fagan and Jack Prendergast adding fresh impetus to the squad, they're simply a joy to watch.

Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tipp duo Cahill and Bevans are familiar to Leesiders, having guided the Premier to minor, U21 and U20 All-Ireland, breaking Cork hearts along the way. You can't underestimate their impact on Waterford. They've demanded intensity and attitude from their squad, and made some big calls before the season, cutting the likes of Maurice Shanahan and Noel Connors loose.

A few lessons for the Cork management perhaps...

Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

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