Thursday, March 16, 2023

Waterford’s Darragh Lyons with Kilkenny’s Richie Reid during last year’s NHL clash between the sides in Nowlan Park. They meet again on Sunday. Photo: Inpho.

Sunday Next – Nowlan Park 1.45 pm. Allianz N.H.L. Waterford V Kilkenny.

Waterford’s defence of their Allianz League title, won in such impressive fashion last year, is on the line in Nowlan Park on Sunday next where only an outright win over Kilkenny will be enough to keep hopes of retaining the title alive with a semi-final to be played the following weekend. Both Waterford and Kilkenny suffered their only defeats of the League at the hands of Tipperary but Waterford’s draw with Dublin in their opening round clash gives Kilkenny the advantage here, needing at least a draw to advance to the knockout games.
The work in Walsh Park has seen Waterford playing their earlier home games in Fraher Field with the attendances limited to 3,600 but with the last home meeting against Kilkenny in 2018 bringing a crowd of 6,000 to Walsh Park it was decided to concede home venue on Sunday next with the next two league games between the teams to be played in Walsh Park.
Last year Waterford suffered their only defeat in the league to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park before a crowd of almost 8,000 on a day when there was nothing at stake for the home side and with a place in the league semi-final to play for on Sunday a big crowd can be expected which will justify the decision to play in Nowlan Park.

Much has changed since last year’s clash between the teams in Nowlan Park, not least the fact that new managers are in charge on both sides. At the same venue on Sunday last Kilkenny scored an emphatic eleven point win over Dublin fielding just five of last year’s starting fifteen against Waterford as well as three subs from that game. Against Tipperary on Saturday last Waterford started eleven of the side beaten by Kilkenny last year. While Waterford went on to win the league in impressive style Kilkenny had the better championship going on to the All Ireland final where they put it up to the now three in a row champions Limerick.
New Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng will be seeking to go one better at the end of this year and will see a good run in the league as a platform from which to launch his championship effort as was often the case with Brian Cody’s sides. Thus far he has been seeking replacements in defence for O’Loughlin Gaels trio Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan as well as Michael Carey from last year’s All Ireland Final side. To fill the gaps he has brought Padraig Walsh back from his run in attack to back up Tommy Walsh and Richie Reid, while moving Deegan to the attack, with Conor Delaney settling in well at fullback against Dublin. With Ballyhale duo Adrian Mullen and T. J. Reid due to come on board as further back up for team mate Eoin Cody in attack Kilkenny look set to be big players in the coming months. The jury is still out on Waterford.
Davy Fitzgerald has the bones of a strong panel at his disposal but has been beset by injuries from the outset, long term and recent. Last weekend saw the return to action of Iarlaith Daly and Tadh de Burca but the loss of Conor Prunty and Austin Gleeson who now, we are told, along with three goal Fitzgibbon Cup hero Michael Kiely, will face a race to be ready for the championship tie with Limerick on April 23rd next. With Jamie Barron ruled out of Sunday’s game and Shane McNulty being injured for the second game in a row against Tipperary it is anyone’s guess as to what the Waterford line out will be on Sunday.

The defeat by Tipperary on Saturday last and the injury situation will, I feel, see attention turning more to the upcoming championship. It is understood that a warm weather training session has been pencilled in for Portugal from Tuesday next to the weekend and a win on Sunday would make it a hectic run in to the championship with a league semi-final on Sunday week and a possible final two weeks later. While Waterford will certainly be going all out for victory on Sunday the game will be approached with some caution where selection is concerned given the injury situation.
It is likely that the rotation of goalkeepers will still apply with Shaun O’Brien coming on board while, in the absence of Conor Prunty, Tadhg de Burca may line out at fullback or take up the role of sweeper as he did in the second half last Saturday with Mark Fitzgerald, Iarlaith Daly, Conor Gleeson and Conor Ryan in contention for the three fullback line places. Calum Lyons has been Waterford’s most consistent performer to date and would be likely to be joined in the halfback line by Jack Fagan if not rested at this stage. Carthach Daly remains an option at halfback or midfield while the absence of Jamie Barron could see Paddy Leavey back in action.

Jack Prendergast was most effective in attack on Saturday and should be allowed to settle into that role. The attacking options are not as plentiful as they might have looked earlier with Gleeson and Kiely ruled out while Patrick Curran and Dessie Hutchinson were very much on the fringes against Tipperary though the latter should benefit from more game time. Neil Montgomery’s physical presence is needed while the time could be right to see how the Fitzgerald’s, Padraig and Patrick perform in a starting line up against top class opposition.
A win over Tipperary on Saturday last would have made things much clearer going into this game. One would suspect that by now the selectors know the fifteen they would like to see taking the field against Limerick and will be working towards that objective. Sunday’s game could be a last chance for players to stake their claim to places and those selected will give their all. Kilkenny, on form, must be considered favourites here.
• This preview was written before the team was named.

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