A day of double delight for Tipperary hurling; the minors set the tone and the seniors amplified it.
Then again perhaps the music metaphor isn’t the most appropriate. The main contest was more prosaic that poetic. It was a day of high attrition where the physical and mental investment was intense. Small margins separated the teams in both contests with Tipp holding the surplus in each.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the win for the seniors. Rarely has a team more deserved a break after all of the near misses in recent years. You can’t keep taking hits in finals, league and championship, without shipping some collateral damage. To finally get up the steps to collect a trophy renews faith and must surely re-energise everyone for the challenges ahead.
Rewarding too is the fact that this final had to be won while playing an untypical Tipperary game. As a team the present crew is tailor-made for open expressive hurling with plenty of flashy scores. This victory, however, had to be cut from a different cloth.
Approaching twenty minutes into the action the score line showed Tipperary seven-three in command. It had been an encouraging opening from the home team. The shape of the game developed as expected with sweepers patrolling at either end and much congestion in the middle third. Niall O’Meara had escaped detection in those opening phases and whipped over two smart points as part of Tipperary’s opening thrust.
It was looking pleasing for Tipperary at that stage and I’m sure there was some trepidation on the Waterford side that this might all drift pear-shaped too early. It didn’t. For whatever reason, Tipperary got the wobbles. Indecision and over-elaboration in defence seemed to be part of it. Paudie Maher got caught a few times and there were mis-directed clearances, missed passes and an intercepted puck-out. Waterford took advantage with four unanswered strikes tying-up the game at seven-all.
Even when ‘Bubbles’ edged us back in front with a long-ranger from a free, it took a mighty one from corner back, Shane Fives, to level the game again and then a rousing score down the left wing from Kevin Moran had the Deise in front. Any concerns about Waterford brittleness were surely gone by now.
Encouragingly Tipperary had the final two points of the half, the first from Michael Breen, now at corner forward after an unprofitable spell outfield, and a Callanan free supplying the second.
Ten to nine at half time left it all very open and undecided; this battle had still to be lost and won. And therein lies Tipperary’s greatest satisfaction from this game. There was no critical turning point which opened the gap. Instead it required sustained, concentrated effort, both mental and physical. Waterford weren’t going away; the game was still a very compressed affair with few openings and slavish work needed for every score.
Ultimately, I suppose, a few factors tipped the delicate balance Tipperary’s way. The switch of Brendan Maher to police Kevin Moran dampened one of Waterford’s most inspirational players. He’d struck two points in the first half, the second a real rabble-rouser, the type that lifts players and fans alike. Preventing a second half reprise was crucial.
And then there were the few individual items of magic from the likes of ‘Bubbles’ off both play and frees. Jason Forde chipped in with two precious points, ‘Bonner’ did likewise and Lar Corbett introduced yet another distraction for the Deise defence. Gradually, piecemeal, torturously even, we dragged ourselves ahead, inch by precious inch. There was to be no dam-burst, no comfort zone until Shane Bourke split the posts deep into added time to close out a five-point win.
It was sweet because it was precisely the type of contest some suggested Tipperary would never be up for. Eamon O’Shea doesn’t usually address criticisms of the team and one sensed there was something of a Freudian slip on Sunday when he referenced the questioning of the team’s work ethic. That criticism had stung and just briefly it broke the surface in that interview.
You can talk all you like about the silkier skills of this Tipperary team – Derek McGrath certainly pumped up our attack in the days before the game – but this was a match, which needed hard toil and graft and relentlessness for the full duration. In that respect it was a day of deliverance for the entire team.
In the overall context of the win then perhaps the collective was far more critical than the individual though there were still specifics worth isolating. Cathal Barrett’s return to the game was spectacular. Some worried about his selection after such a lay-off but obviously the evidence of training convinced the management and they got it spot on. Defensively in general there was little one could criticise apart from that lax spell in the second quarter. On other occasions Paudie Maher was his powerful self.
Darren Gleeson had one significant save to make in the second period and was up to the task – a goal at either end would have been a critical item in this contest. The work rate of the likes of Kieran Bergin and James Woodlock typified the entire team and when you looked at the attack it was high octane stuff too.
All bar Brendan Maher of the listed forwards got on the score sheet and it was probably that slightly greater scoring threat, which got us over the line. Attacks were operating off scraps in this game and we had slightly more to scrap with when it really mattered.
As for Waterford the game proved beyond doubt that their progress this season has been truly spectacular and they’re very much in the mix at this stage. They’ll be fancied to take Dublin in the quarter final and wouldn’t it be an interesting semi against Kilkenny. They have one issue though, it’s getting that correct balance between defence and attack. They have the defensive structure mastered but to win critical games they’ll have to push more forward for scores. It’s a balancing act that they haven’t quite mastered yet. I was surprised that they didn’t push forward in the final minutes on Sunday last to try and rescue the game; instead they stuck rigidly to the structure.
It’s a structure that I suspect will be tweaked as they develop. In Maurice Shanahan they have a real star and let’s not forget what Paraic Mahony would bring to the effort too. Besides the so-called structure is often over-played; individually they have a lot of really impressive players and ultimately hurling is about the quality of those individuals.
Anyway with the visa to the semi-finals now secured we can enjoy the ‘quarters’ which have been fixed for the Stadium. The clash of Cork and Galway is a fascinating one. After some very difficult days the rebels seem to have recovered impressively. As ever with Galway you’re not sure what you’ll get. Perhaps a Munster double in those ‘quarters’ though I wouldn’t be putting my house on it.
Finally our minors deserve honourable mention after a thrilling win over a fancied Limerick side it what I felt was quite an absorbing contest. It certainly fluctuated with each side enjoying spells of supremacy though when it mattered most Tipperary found the extra gear.
It was a pity that it ended in controversy with the referee blowing up some forty seconds short of the announced two minutes of extra time. The Tipperary defensive wall kept out a late Limerick free but the official immediately blew it off on the save. Mind you Tipperary followers were aggrieved by a lot of earlier refereeing calls including probably the worst of the lot against Brian McGrath in the first half following a spectacular catch. They still moan about the hawk eye decision from a few years back so we can probably expect more noise from Limerick this time.
On balance I thought Tipperary deserved the call on this one. Interestingly all six starting forwards and the midfield pair scored from play whereas a major proportion of the Limerick score came from the excellent free-taking of Peter Casey. Lyndon Fairbrother especially caught the eye in that Tipp attack and I thought David Gleeson looked tricky too. For a team that wasn’t highly rated they’ve certainly gone further than expected and can now set their sights on an All Ireland semi.
Limerick felt they played below potential and will have a chance to prove their point through the back door.
Elsewhere it’s back to local business this weekend with that relegation clash fixed for Dundrum on Friday night. With Cathal Barrett back in harness Holycross will be fancied to end Cappawhite’s status.