One of the pretenders to Limerick’s crown will head into this year’s hurling championship with a national title under their belts after Waterford booked an Allianz HL Division 1 final clash with Cork.
After the Rebels’ 1-27 to 2-20 victory over Kilkenny at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday evening, the Déise saw off Wexford at UPMC Nowlan Park on Sunday, 5-20 to 0-16 the final score in favour of Liam Cahill’s side.
The game next Saturday night at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles (7.15pm) will pit the last two beaten All-Ireland finalists against one another. Having opened their championship campaign with defeat to Clare last year, Waterford bounced back in the qualifiers and reached the semi-finals, losing out to Limerick before the Shannonsiders beat Cork in the decider.
After falling 1-4 to 0-1 behind early on against Kilkenny, Cork came good in the second half to win by four points and stay on course for a first leage title since 1998 - when they beat Waterford. Manager Kieran Kingston felt it reflected well on his squad’s character.
“The way to sum up the game would be that they got out of the blocks quicker than us.
“We spoke about that, after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final with Kilkenny coming down and their record in the league and the way they were going this year. We knew it was going to be a difficult start and that’s how it turned out and we were six points down.
“The key thing was that we stuck to it and worked our way back into the game coming towards half-time and had a really good third quarter. We kicked on then towards the end, the goal was obviously hugely important.
“For us, it showed the character of the group in a knockout game, to go from six points down to win by four. That was important and I think the depth of our squad was hugely important as well tonight.
“We made a few changes at half-time and the team took those on positively.
“We had a good third quarter and that was important, it gave us a good launching pad for the second half and we kicked on from there.”
In terms of a championship tune-up three weeks out from the Munster opener against Limerick, Kilkenny were ideal opponents for Cork.
“We’re playing against a top team here,” Kingston said.
“We were extremely lucky last year to win after extra time in the All-Ireland semi-final. Kilkenny weren’t coming down here for a challenge game, we knew that. They’re a top, top team and we’re delighted to get one over them at home.
“In a game like this, you’re always gong to need your 20 players and we found that tonight, fresh legs coming in were hugely important. In that intensity against a team like that, you need a strong squad.”
Now the task is prepare for the final with the knowledge that there will be a big outing a fortnight later but Kingston isn’t getting too bogged down.
“A lot is spoken about league versus championship and what will managers do,” he said.
“This is a different season – it’s my first time being involved in a league campaign where you’ve a round-robin championship two weeks after the final.
“If you weren’t in the league, you’d be looking for challenge games to replicate games like this. From our point of view, we set out at the start of the league with the view that every game was going to be treated on its own merits.
“We were going to try to be as competitive as we could and put in the best performance we could, get game-time and experience into younger lads and see where it took us.
“We’re delighted with where we are, obviously knowing that there’s another match to be played again next weekend.”