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croker blitz Waterford's whirlwind second-half show leaves Cody's Cats chasing their tails

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 Austin Gleeson, left, and Jack Fagan of Waterford celebrate their win over Kilkenny

Austin Gleeson, left, and Jack Fagan of Waterford celebrate their win over Kilkenny

Austin Gleeson, left, and Jack Fagan of Waterford celebrate their win over Kilkenny

Waterford 2-27 Kilkenny 2-23

Waterford continued their remarkable renaissance under Liam Cahill last night by beating Kilkenny for only the third time in championship hurling to reach next month’s All-Ireland final in which they face the winners of today’s semi-final between Limerick and Galway.

Liam Cahill’s side staged a remarkable second-half recovery, outscoring the Leinster championships 2-17 to 0-12 after the break to overturn a seven-point interval deficit and secure a place in next month’s decider for only the eighth time in their history.

At the start of this year’s campaign, Waterford hadn’t won a championship game since beating Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final three years ago. But everything changed this winter. Though they lost to Limerick in the Munster final, they are now back in their second All-Ireland decider in four years.

It was a watershed evening for Leinster champions Kilkenny and their long-time boss Brian Cody. It was the first time under his tenure that they had suffered successive losses to their neighbours in championship hurling – Waterford also beat them in the 2017 qualifiers.

It was only the third time – and the first since 2005 – that Kilkenny had lost a semi-final under Cody. And the loss means that the Cats will have to wait at least six seasons before winning an All-Ireland – their longest spell without the Liam MacCarthy Cup since before the Cody era.

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Darragh Lyons of Waterford in action against Kilkenny

Darragh Lyons of Waterford in action against Kilkenny

Darragh Lyons of Waterford in action against Kilkenny

Waterford handed the task of marking the Cats’ chief marksmen Richie Hogan and TJ Reid to Conor Prunty and Shane Nulty as the Leinster champions opted for a two-man full-forward line.

Right from the throw-in, Cody’s side targeted the Waterford’s full-back line, exposing weakness in the sector as they created space in the danger zone by withdrawing their half-forwards to the midfield sector. As always, the work-rate of every Kilkenny player was second to none, whereas Waterford’s first touch was suspect.

Kilkenny’s were 0-3 up before Calum Lyons opened Waterford’s account in the seventh minute. It was 4-2 for Kilkenny before they struck for the game’s first goal. A monster puck-out from Eoin Murphy hopped into no man’s land in front of Stephen O’Keeffe. The goalkeeper opted not to advance, and Hogan beat Conor Prunty in the race for possession.

O’Keeffe brilliantly parried Hogan’s piledriver, but Martin Keoghan scooped the rebound to the net. It was 1-5 to 0-3 at the first water-break. Waterford reacted by withdrawing midfielder Jake Dillon, with Niall Montgomery coming on – and they did improve marginally.

But the constant movement of the Kilkenny forwards and their ability elsewhere to win the key individual battles was forcing errors with Austin Gleeson hitting three of his side’s nine first-half wides. Other errors were proving even more costly.

Conor Prunty allowed a puck-out from Eoin Murphy to drop from his hand in the danger zone, and TJ Reid was quick to react – and he doesn’t miss from close range.

With Kilkenny eight points in front (2-7 to 0-5), the game was allowing slipping from Waterford’s grasp. It was a measure of Kilkenny’s dominance, but Waterford’s go-to forward Dessie Hutchinson didn’t have his first chance until the 26th minute.

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It was a nine-point game after 31 minutes, but Waterford gave themselves a flicker of hope, outscoring their opponents 3-1 during the remainder of the period.

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A dejected Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and selector James McGarry

A dejected Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and selector James McGarry

A dejected Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and selector James McGarry

Kevin Moran and Stephen Bennett, who scored a brilliant individual point in the 33rd minute, were leading the Waterford charge, but they needed their colleagues to step up to the plate – and they ended the half seven adrift (2-11 to 0-10).

Eoin Cody increased Kilkenny’s lead on the resumption, but Waterford hit a purple patch with man-of-the-match Stephen Bennett leading the charge. His 36th-minute goal after an assist from Jack Fagan set the comeback in motion – and during the first seven minutes of the half they outscored Kilkenny 1-4 to 0-1.

Suddenly, it was a two-point game and all the momentum was with Waterford. Cillian Buckley and Richie Hogan did snatch points for Kilkenny, but they were being over-run in midfield with Jamie Barron and first-half replacement Neil Montgomery scoring 0-3 between them.

Austin Gleeson’s 51st-minute point levelled the tie and just for good measure they hit the next three points to complete a third quarter rout which saw them outscore Kilkenny 1-11 to 0-4 and lead by three.

Kilkenny were becoming totally reliant on TJ Reid’s frees to stay in touch. But there was no stopping Waterford at this stage and Jack Fagan’s super catch from a puck-out set up substitute Darragh Lyons for the Déise’s second goal just short of a the hour mark.

From a position in which they were eight points down, they were five clear. But Kilkenny, as it their wont, hung in grimly and, inevitably, it was TJ Reid who kept them ticking over with a brace of points as Waterford’s energy levels dropped slightly.

As the game ticked over its allocated four minutes of injury time and the tension became almost unbearable, Reid looked as if he might single-handedly save the Cats, but Waterford’s brilliantly held their nerve to score three of the last four points, with two of their key figures on the night Tadhg de Burca and Austin Gleeson hitting late points to seal one of the county’s most famous ever wins.

It was some game.

Scorers: Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-14 (13f); M Keoghan 1-1, J Donnelly, R Hogan, E Cody 0-2 each, C Buckley, P Deegan 0-1 each. Waterford: S Bennett 1-10 (6f), A Gleeson 0-4, D Lyons 1-0, C Lyons D Hutchinson, J Prendergast, N Montgomery 0-2 each, S McNulty, J Barron, T de Burca, J Fagan I Daly 0-1 each.

Kilkenny: E Murphy; C Delaney, H Lawlor, T Walsh; P Walsh, C Buckley, P Deegan; C Browne, C Fogarty; J Donnelly, TJ Reid, M Keoghan; B Ryan, R Hogan, E Cody. Subs: N Montgomery for Dillon (17), W Walsh for Keoghegan (38), C Fennelly for Ryan (49), N Brassil for Hogan (56), G Aylward for Cody (58)

Waterford: S O’Keeffe; I Kenny, C Prunty, S McNulty; C Lyons, T de Búrca, K Moran; J Barron, K Bennett; J Fagan J Dillon, S Bennett; D Hutchinson, A Gleeson, J Prendergast. Subs: D Lyons for K Bennett (48), I Daly for Moran (60), C Gleeson for Prendergast (60), P Curran for Fagan (62)

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)

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