Almost immediately after their All-Ireland final win over Limerick last year, Kilkenny thoughts would have turned to rubber-stamping their place in history by claiming the three in-a-row this year, writes Séamus Leonard.
This is the seventh time the Cats have reached the decider this decade alone, but it is the elusive three consecutive successes that will set them apart from the teams that have gone before.
They could have done it in 2004, but failed to turn up as Cork ran out eight-point winners in a goalless game. They also apparently don’t win finals in years ending with the number eight (1998, 1978), though try telling that to the surviving members of the 1898 side!
The great thing from a Kilkenny point of view is that their chance at greatness is completely in their own hands. The reason their semi-final performance against Cork was so notable was that the Rebels put absolutely everything into toppling Brian Cody’s men, and yet the Noresiders still ran out nine-point winners.
Obviously they are an extremely skilled outfit, but it was the intensity they brought to Croke Park that day that had the engraver practising his ‘k’s’ and ‘l’s’.
The only worry they might have is that if they don’t kill off Waterford early the crowd, which inevitably will side with the underdogs, could spur the Déise into doing something special.
Waterford’s first All-Ireland final appearance since 1963 has banished the ill-feeling that had lingered after a players’ revolt saw Justin McCarthy left with no option but to resign after the humiliating defeat to Clare.
It mightn’t have been the most noble course of action, but the fact that Davy Fitzgerald has come in and brought them further than either Justin or Gerald McCarthy before him had means the end has already justified the means, regardless of Sunday’s result.
Their campaign does strike an uncanny resemblance to Offaly’s bizarre one in 1998 when Michael Bond replaced ‘Babs’ Keating after the Leinster final loss to Kilkenny and led the Faithful to the promised land for the second time that decade.
And, as Sunday Game analyst Anthony Daly has pointed out, you can’t help but feel that after all they’ve been through Waterford’s name just might be on the Liam MacCarthy Cup this year.
Contrary to popular belief and bookies’ odds, it can be done. Corner-forward John Mullane rightfully pointed out that Waterford have the experience of beating Kilkenny in a national final.
Granted, it was last year’s league final, but as the De La Salle clubman said himself, the Cats don’t go out to lose those games.
Mullane will be central to his side’s hopes. It has often been pointed out that the Kilkenny defence is susceptible to being run at, and there are few more direct or effective sliotar-carriers in the game than Mullane.
Likewise, Eoin Kelly’s contribution will be vital. His free-taking and goal-scoring abilities have seen him notch some huge tallies, and another 1-10 or so from him would be a major boost, especially as won’t get anything cheap with Noel Hickey in close attendance.
Waterford manager Fitzgerald will also be a huge factor. He has been there and done it all with Clare and his experience will be vital. The key will be for him to harness the emotion that will be coursing through his players’ veins.
If they can use the emotion to their advantage and keep in touch with ten or 15 minutes to go they have every chance of nicking a low-scoring game at the death. Still, and all.