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Cats restoring the old order; TRADITIONAL POWERS SHOWING THEIR CLAWS IN LEINSTER.

THE traditional counties of Leinster have hit back at the knockers - and how.

Last week it was Offaly who overturned the form book and almost beat All-Ireland champions Clare. Yesterday the proud players clad in the Black and Amber of Kilkenny did their bit by defeating hotly-fancied Waterford in a Croke Park thriller.

In reality there was more at stake yesterday afternoon than a prized place in this year's Guinness All-Ireland final.

This one-point victory was a face-saving exercise for Kilkenny - and for Leinster, just as Offaly had restored pride the previous week by earning a draw in a nerve-jangling finale with the Banner.

Since Clare captured the McCarthy Cup back in 1995, the traditional hurling powers have taken a buffeting. A year later Wexford upset the odds to triumph, and this summer Waterford have been the emerging force to get pulses racing around the country.

And just when we thought Munster was the new centre of power, after a summer of fermenting passion on the pitches of the province, Offaly and Kilkenny have come out fighting like wounded animals.

It hurt the players to be dismissed as second best after years of being in the ascendancy, of always being in contention for the big prize in September.

It hurt the players that attention was being firmly placed elsewhere after years of hogging the spotlight.

Yesterday we witnessed the reaction to that. But to be fair there was no indication that either Kilkenny or Offaly were capable of matching Waterford or Clare.

Munster had grabbed all the attention, and rightly so. Cork and Clare clashed in an absorbing encounter, as did Waterford and Tipperary - both games were mere preparations for the fireworks that went off in the Munster final and replay between the Decies and Clare.

Meanwhile, in Leinster, fears justifiably were growing that the superpowers were becoming more weak as time went on.

Offaly looked nothing like championship contenders against Wexford, but a late Johnny Dooley goal rescued that semi-final for the Faithful County.

Kilkenny, on the other hand, were imperious in their opener against Dublin - but they struggled when faced with the eager challenge of Laois, and then in a listless final against Offaly they required a couple of second- half goals from DJ Carey to give them victory.

It all came right for the Cats yesterday, though. DJ didn't have a great game, and although Charlie Carter was kept quiet, Kilkenny still prospered.

Perhaps the amount of high-intensity games finally affected Gerald McCarthy's Waterford. They seemed to be set up nicely for a grandstand second-half, with the wind at their backs, and with only a two-point deficit to make up the Decies had to be favourites.

THE feeling was that although Kilkenny had created the majority of chances in the first half, they had still blown their chance.

But we had come to such a conclusion without figuring on this team's indomitable fighting spirit. They showed it to a degree against Offaly - yesterday they displayed it by the bucketload at headquarters.

Playing into the breeze in the second half, players like Liam Keoghan, Pat O'Neill, Philly Larkin and Canice Brennan were giants. Joe Dermody reminded us of his invaluable presence between the posts.

And with one instinctive flick, Niall Maloney made the telling point that he should have been on at the start of the game when he cracked home that important goal early in the second half.

It took Waterford 20 minutes to score after half-time. Twenty minutes without a score of any kind...that's where they lost the game. After 35 years, the brilliance on midfield of Tony Browne - again - wasn't enough.

Paul Flynn showed for the ball whenever possible but he wasn't at his flashy best when it was needed. And, while Waterford's half-back line shone once more, the forward line proved the weak link in this fine side.

That has been the case more often than not this year and will have to be addressed if Waterford are to progress in the years to come.

However his was Kilkenny's day, both at senior and minor level. And most of us have been thought a lesson over the past couple of Sundays. Never, ever, write off the chances of Kilkenny and Offaly.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:SCULLY, Michael
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 17, 1998
Words:708
Previous Article:Cool Cats force way through to final by a whisker; Decies' dream shattered.
Next Article:Murray's flurry is cool for the Cats.


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