1963 All-Ireland final: Kilkenny 4-17, Waterford 6-8
The defeat that signalled the end of Waterford hurling's golden era. Boasting players such as Phil Grimes, Tom Cheasty and Frankie Walsh, Waterford entered the final as favourites, four years after the 1959 final in which they had needed a replay to see off Kilkenny. But a Kilkenny team containing Eddie Keher was never going to be a pushover. It was Keher who proved to be the difference between the sides with a magnificent display in which he scored 14 points. Despite a hattrick of goals from Waterford's Séamus Power, Kilkenny's superior points total ultimately sealed their victory and gained a degree of revenge for their defeat in 1959.
1998 All-Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 1-11, Waterford 1-10
(A short clip of this match begins at 1:15 in the above video.)
It would be 35 years before Kilkenny and Waterford met in the Championship again. Waterford had spent the intervening years in hurling wilderness while Kilkenny had won another 10 titles to add to their previous fifteen. But this Waterford team featured the likes of Tony Browne and Paul Flynn at the peak of their powers; Tony Browne in particular was enjoying his best year at intercounty level. What followed was an incredibly tight affair, if not a high-scoring one. Just two points separated the sides at half-time, before PJ Delaney extended Kilkenny's lead with a crucial goal. Waterford nearly clawed back a seven-point defecit thanks to a goal from Tony Browne, but the referee blew the final whistle just 27 seconds into stoppage time and with Kilkenny ahead by a point. It was the first of what would become a familar sense of semi-final heartbreak for Waterford fans and players alike.
2004 All-Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 3-12, Waterford 0-18
(Unfortunately, I was unable to find any clips from this match on YouTube. Given that all of the matches featured in this article end in Déise defeat, I think it's only fair that I include a very positive memory from the year of this semi-final instead: Waterford v Cork in the Munster hurling final.)
Hopes of a Waterford victory were high going into this game, even without the suspended John Mullane. Kilkenny, meanwhile, had been defeated by Wexford in the Leinster semi-final and were forced to take an unfamiliar back-door route to reach this stage. Regular Waterford goalkeeper Stevie Brenner was dropped after his howler in the Munster final in favour of Mount Sion's Ian O'Regan. The decision proved to be a costly one; O'Regan's nerves seemed to get the better of him as Kilkenny scored the three goals that ultimately booked their place in the final. For Waterford, it was their third semi-final defeat in three appearances.
2008 All-Ireland hurling final: Kilkenny 3-30, Waterford 1-13
(If anyone has ever doubted that there is a desperate lack of hurling videos on YouTube, they need only know that the very short video above is the lone clip of what many regard as the finest team performance of all time.)
The 2008 final is a match Waterford and Kilkenny fans remember for two very different reasons. It was the first time Waterford had reached the final since the aforementioned 1963 campaign, while Kilkenny were looking to win their third All-Ireland title in succession. We all know what happened next. Waterford, apparently frozen by the scale of the occasion, were ripped apart by a merciless Kilkenny team. Kilkenny's forwards were simply unstoppable. Waterford's forwards, in contrast, found themselves swarmed by Kilkenny players whenever they got the ball. It was a truly defining performance by Brian Cody's Kilkenny team and demonstrates above all other matches why they are regarded by many as the greatest team in the game's long history.
2009 All-Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 2-23, Waterford 3-15
(Part two of this game, including post-match interviews and analysis, can be viewed here.)
Less than a year after that annihilation, the two teams met each other in yet another semi-final. Waterford were given virtually no chance in the build-up to the game, perhaps understandably given Kilkenny's formidable performances. The match began ominously for Waterford when Henry Shefflin pointed within the first 60 seconds, but an early goal by Shane Walsh gave Waterford an unlikely lead. But Shefflin was in imperious form. His tally of 1-14, 1-7 of which were from play, highlighted a breathtaking performance as good as any Croke Park has seen in recent years. Shane Walsh and Eoin Kelly did manage to score two further goals for Waterford but, impressive as their spirited display was, they were simply no match for the genius of Shefflin.
While these five results do make somewhat grim reading for Waterford, there is nothing to suggest they will have any significant influence on Sunday's match. There are, however, certain things to be learned from these games that may be of some benefit if we are to beat Kilkenny in the Championship for the first time since 1959.
- It goes without saying at this level, but Waterford must not concede needless frees. Like Eddie Keher in the 1963 encounter, Henry Shefflin will be sure to punish any fouls committed with his trademark clinical accuracy.
- All signs indicate that Davy Fitzgerald will name an unchanged side from the one that beat Galway in the quarter-final. The shaky performance of Ian O'Regan in 2004, a player selected to play for the first time, suggests that this will be a wise move.
- Waterford must not be cowed by occasion. This happened to them earlier this year against Tipperary, and most notably against Kilkenny in that 2008 final.
- Finally, the influence of Henry Shefflin must be curbed. If Waterford are to have any chance of victory on Sunday, they cannot afford to let Shefflin have the time and space to play like he did in the semi-final of 2009.
Like that 2009 clash, Waterford enter the match as complete underdogs. This seems to be when they play at their very best, evident most recently in that victory against Galway. While anything more than cautious optimism of victory against Kilkenny would be foolish in the extreme, there is nothing to suggest that Waterford can't mount a serious challenge to Kilkenny's stranglehold on this fixture in recent times.