All-Ireland hurling semi-final preview: Kilkenny v Waterford

Colin Fennelly and Kevin Moran during the 2013 Qualifier match between the sides
Colin Fennelly and Kevin Moran during the 2013 Qualifier match between the sides

Who will make it through to the September showdown for Liam?

Will it be Waterford, the breath of fresh air in this year's Championship, or the reigning champions Kilkenny.

Our man Sean McGoldrick breaks down the first semi-final of 2015.

All-Ireland SHC Semi-Final: Kilkenny v Waterford, Croke Park, 3.30 Live on RTE 2 and Sky Sports 3

History, tradition and form all point to Kilkenny winning an unprecedented fourteenth semi-final since 1999. This is the eleventh time the counties have clashed in the championship and Waterford has only won two of those clashes – in 1959 and 1957.

Form wise Kilkenny go into the contest as Leinster title holders whereas Waterford has arrived at this stage of the series via the back door. But they did win the League title whereas the Cats had to beat Clare in a relegation play off to keep their place in the top flight.

And just to cap it all the Deise has a woeful record in semi-finals – they have won just won (2008) in their last five attempts. So can Derek McGrath convince his players that things will be different on this occasion?

Michael Walsh and Kevin Moran featured in the ill-fated 2008 All-Ireland final in which Kilkenny chalked up a massive 3-30 against the Deise. But the encouraging news for Waterford is that the younger players on the team won’t fear Kilkenny.

Austin Gleeson, the Bennett brothers Stephen and Shane and Tom Devine all featured on the Waterford minor team that beat Kilkenny in the semi-final on route to winning the All-Ireland minor title in 2013.

Furthermore, the majority of the squad play on the Waterford De La Salle college teams trained by Derek McGrath which won back to back All-Ireland titles in 2007 and 2008 – they beat Kilkenny CBS in one of the deciders.

Much has been written about Waterford’s defensive system – though it ought to be noted that they used an orthodox formation in the first half against Dublin in the quarter final. It is amusing to hear suggestions that this will be the first time Kilkenny has faced a defensively orientated team.

Clare, Dublin and Galway have all deployed various defensive systems against Kilkenny with mixed results over the years. It is equally nonsensical to suggest that Kilkenny don’t deploy tactics.

For most of the Brian Cody era they have protected their full back line by positioning their half back line closer to their last line of defence which means every other lines is pulled back. This has the added benefit of giving their forwards extra space.

Kilkenny will not fall into the trap of following the Waterford forwards when they retreat into their own defence thus creating space for the penetrating runs of Colin Dunford and Kevin Moran.

Instead the Kilkenny defenders will hold their positions and if given enough freedom will punish Waterford with long range points and there is a possibility that Kilkenny will push up on Waterford sweeper Tadhg de Burca thus reducing his influence.

There has been a lot of speculation about the fitness of three of Kilkenny’s three key players, Richie Hogan, TJ Reid and Michael Fennelly. The latter didn’t play in the Leinster final but with Jackie Tyrrell and Richie Power already ruled out, the potential loss of five front line players would tip the balance in the Deise’s favour.

The chances are, however, that Reid and Hogan will play. Waterford will be tempted to man-mark Hogan who is on target to win Hurler of the Year for the second year in a row.

Even though Waterford has scored five goals in their three championship matches to date they never really looked like getting one past Tipp’s Darren Gleeson in the Munster final.

Kilkenny has an edge in the goal scoring department - they have scored six so far in their two matches.

Waterford missed a great chance of beating Kilkenny in their last championship encounter in the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2013 – they lost in extra time.

It is likely to be tight again today but absolutely everything will have to go right for Waterford if they are to beat the Cats for the first time in championship hurling in over half a century.

Verdict: Kilkenny.