Prior to the championship throw-in, there would have been little hesitation in picking a winner between Waterford and Kilkenny.

A team that reached last year's All-Ireland final against a county that hadn’t won a championship match in three years? Kilkenny all the way.

But if a week is a long time in politics, then a month is an age in a compressed hurling season.

Kilkenny are still favourites for today’s first All-Ireland hurling semi-final, but not overwhelmingly so.

They were given a second-half scare by Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, hanging on to win by a point, and there are two ways to read their provincial triumph of a fortnight ago.

The first is that they dug out victory by showing the grit and tenacity that has been the hallmark of Brian Cody’s hugely successful 22-year tenure, combined with a few spells from the magic wands of Richie 'Harry Potter’ Hogan and TJ Reid.

The second is that Galway dominated the game for an hour, only allowed Kilkenny to stay in it by conceding frees to Reid, and got loose defensively late on, whether through fatigue or Hogan’s disruptive impact.

Cody’s team selection for Saturday shows he is well aware of how the attacking game plan misfired last time and retains that ruthless disregard for reputation.

Direct threats Walter Walsh and captain Colin Fennelly - both held scoreless last time - have been dropped in favour of the guile of Hogan and Billy Ryan, who scored 1-01 against the Dubs but didn't make the 26 against Galway.

That will be a slight surprise if Kilkenny indeed line out as named, given Hogan has rarely played 70 minutes in recent years and the joy Clare got from going direct to Aron Shanagher. 

In defence, having held Galway to five points from play in the second half as Padraig Walsh dominated at centre-back, only one switch is made. 

Richie Leahy misses out with a hamstring injury and is replaced by Paddy Deegan, who was injured for the Leinster final.

It will be interesting to see how the Kilkenny backs cope with opponents who will likely run at them more than Galway did.

Waterford have been a revelation.

Fresh from leading Tipperary to back-to-back U21/U20 All-Ireland titles, manager Liam Cahill has rebuilt the confidence shattered by two winless seasons.

Cork were beaten more convincingly than the scoreline suggested and they are the only team so far to have truly tested Limerick – they led briefly before the second water break in the Munster final when the All-Ireland favourites restarted with more purpose.

Clare, admittedly with their star man Tony Kelly on one leg, were ground into the dust in the second half, having appeared to weather the early storm of two goals from Dessie Hutchinson.

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The loss of captain Pauric Mahony to a cruciate ligament injury in mid October was seen as a huge blow but Stephen Bennett has thrived with the added responsibility of being free-taker.

Tadhg de Burca and Jamie Barron are in the kind of form that saw them win All-Stars in recent years and though Austin Gleeson isn't quite having the impact that earned him the Hurler of the Year award in 2016 – an unrealistically high bar perhaps – he has still scored eight points from play in their three games.

Cahill has named the same team as started against Clare, meaning Ian Kenny coming in for the injured Shane Fives has been the only change over the four games. Four of their substitutes scored in the victory over the Banner though, so they can't be accused of a lack of depth.

Richie Hogan’s red card cost Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary, in the main because they spent most of the second half pucking the ball in towards the suddenly spare Cathal Barrett. If De Burca is allowed to sweep tomorrow, then it could be similarly expensive.

Kilkenny have had an extra week to recover but Waterford have looked up there with Limerick in the fitness stakes to date – they had a day less rest than Clare last week but lasted the pace better.


Read next: History no longer shackling Waterford as Kilkenny loom


Cody has an incredible record in semi-finals. He has lost only two of the 19 he has led Kilkenny into, both to Galway, and has been beaten by the Déise just once in the championship.

Waterford were the victims of the biggest All-Ireland final victory of his reign – the 23-point demolition job in 2008 - but the scars of that day have since healed.

The Cats needed a replay to advance when the teams met in the 2016 semis and the following year Waterford beat them in championship for the first time since 1959 after a thrilling extra-time quarter-final.

They went on to the decider that year and will do so again if they can clip the Cats claws today.

An All-Ireland semi-final at an empty Croke Park in November will be a novelty in itself but, given the close last-four ties of recent years and the reasonable weather forecast, we should also be in for a memorable battle.

Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Conor Delaney, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, Paddy Deegan; Conor Browne, Conor Fogarty; John Donnelly, TJ Reid, Martin Keoghan; Billy Ryan, Richie Hogan, Eoin Cody.

Subs: Darren Brennan, Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Ciaran Wallace, Richie Reid, Alan Murphy, Colin Fennelly (C), Walter Walsh, Liam Blanchfield, Ger Aylward, Niall Brassil.

Waterford: Stephen O'Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Conor Prunty (C), Shane McNulty; Calum Lyons, Tadhg De Burca, Kevin Moran; Jamie Barron, Jake Dillon; Jack Fagan, Kieran Bennett, Stephen Bennett; Dessie Hutchinson, Austin Gleeson, Jack Prendergast.

Subs: Billy Nolan, Peter Hogan, Mark O'Brien, Mikey Kearney, Patrick Curran, Colin Dunford, Billy Power, Darragh Lyons, Neil Montgomery, Iarlaith Daly, Conor Gleeson.

LAST FIVE CHAMPIONSHIP MEETINGS
2017: Waterford 4-23 Kilkenny 2-22 AET (All-Ireland qualifier)
2016: Kilkenny 2-19 Waterford 2-17 (All-Ireland semi-final replay)
2016: Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-24 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2015: Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-18 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2013: Kilkenny 1-22 Waterford 2-16 AET (Round 3 qualifiers)

Watch Waterford v Kilkenny (6pm Saturday) and Limerick v Galway (4pm Sunday) live on RTÉ2, listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 or follow our live blog on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app. Highlights on The Sunday Game (9.30pm RTÉ2)