By Ciarán McLoughlin
Stephen Bennett was the stand out man for Waterford, scoring a goal and eleven points to guide his Waterford side to a 2-27 vs 2-23 win over Kilkenny and send his side to the All Ireland Final.
Kilkenny burst into the game early on and took advantage of Waterford’s poor finishing in front of goal, as well as their discipline and questionable handling to take a seven point lead into the break thanks mainly because of goals from Martin Keoghan and TJ Reid.
The second half was a hugely entertaining affair, with Waterford putting on an incredible display, including scoring two goals of their own through Bennett and Darragh Lyons, making a remarkable comeback from nine points down, to clinch victory.
The win means the Deise County are one win away from winning the Liam McCarthy with either Galway or Limerick the team standing in their way on the 13th December, back at Croke Park.
Kilkenny reached this stage after winning the Leinster Championship Final against Galway, while Waterford defeated Clare, in the Quarter Finals, in what was a dramatic game.
The last time these sides met in the Championship was back in 2017 when Waterford ended a 58 year wait to clinch victory over their neighbours, winning in a high scoring contest at Semple Stadium in an All-Ireland Qualifier.
However, it was the Cats who would start the brighter this time around, going three points ahead, courtesy of two frees from Reid and a point from play via Martin Keoghan.
Waterford managed to get points of their own through Calum Lyons and Jack Preudergast reducing the gap between the sides to just two points. But, they knew they could easily be ahead themselves, racking up a number of wides which should have really been easy points.
The Leinster champions certainly made them pay for these missed opportunities when they scored their first goal of the game, on eleven minutes. Richie Hogan had initially shot from close range, only for his fierce shot to be saved by Stephen O’Keefe, but Keoghan was there to put it away.
Both sides scored a point each before the first water break meaning Kilkenny were leading by five, but also had five wides, emphaising their growing dominace in the game.
Just over five minutes later it got even worse for the Deise County when a loose ball from them, allowed Reid to smash it past O’Keefe and push his side eight points clear.
Waterford were becoming their own worst enemy with a number of poor decisions, especially in regards to first touches and finding their man, possibly owing to fatigue, with Kilkenny having the longer rest break since their last respective games.
The game was becoming one defined by frees as the first half came to a close, with Bennett adding a few to his own personal tally as well as Reid, but the Cats remained fully in control when the teams headed into the dressing rooms for half time.
It would be the 36 times winners who would get the first score of the second half, thanks to Eoin Cody.
Nevertheless, the game was turned on its head when Bennett who had scored six points, before the break, grabbed himself a goal, before adding another point, to bring Waterford within four points of Kilkenny.
A Reid free managed to maintain some order for the Cats, but this was followed by three Waterford points from Bennett and Austin Gleeson to make it a one point game.
Waterford continued to pick out score after score before eventually equalising, nine minutes after being nine behind, through Gleeson and quickly putting the game in their favour with scores from Neil Montgomery and Dessie Hutchinson putting them three ahead.
Kilkenny were having no time to do a thing, relying heavily on scores from Reid through frees.
With just over ten minutes of ordinary time to go, Waterford pushed themselves five points in front with a fabulous goal from Lyons to put his side in the driving seat.
Kilkenny pucked over some points from John Donnelly and Reid, to keep their side on Waterford’s tails.
As the game entered stoppage time, both sides were exchanging scores and with a minute to go the Cats were a score from levelling the game, but some quality play from the Munster outfit saw Tadhg de Burca and Gleeson give their side a five point advantage and send Waterford to their second final in three years.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Conor Delaney, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley (0-1), Paddy Deegan (0-1), Conor Browne, Conor Fogarty, John Donnelly (0-2), TJ Reid (1-14, 13f), Martin Keoghan (1-1), Billy Ryan, Richie Hogan (0-2), Eoin Cody (0-2)
Subs: Walter Walsh for Martin Keoghan, Colin Fennelly for Conor Browne, Niall Brassil for Richie Hogan, Ger Aylward for Eoin Cody
Waterford: Stephen O’Keefe, Ian Kenny, Conor Prunty, Shane McNulty, Calum Lyons (0-2), Tadhg De Burca (0-1), Kevin Moran, Jamie Barron (0-1), Jake Dillon, Jack Fagan (0-1), Kieran Bennett, Stephen Bennett (1-11, 6f), Dessie Hutchinson (0-2), Austin Gleeson (0-4), Jack Prendergast (0-2)
Subs: Neil Montgomery (0-2) for Jake Dillon, Darragh Lyons (1-0) for Kieran Bennett, Conor Gleeson for Jack Prendergast, Iarlaith Daly (0-1) for Kevin Moran, Patrick Curran for Jack Fagan
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)