Waterford 0-21 (21) Tipperary 2-12 (18)

Billy O'Sullivan, Tipperary, 1998

“Days like these are worth the wait”

So thundered the News & Star in the issue after this game. How right they were. The pitch invasion at the end of this game represented not the victory in itself, nor the Munster final appearance, nor the guaranteed journey to Croke Park. This represented the fulfillment of dreams. We expected to win, not go down fighting and those expectations were fulfilled in the most nerve-jangling of manners.

Certainly this is the game most vivid in my mind. Watching the match on video about seven hundred times has burned the images onto my retina. There were so many great moments in the summer. But this was the day to beat all days. A welter of thrilling moments bubble to the surface when I think of that glorious day by the banks of the Lee.

The match itself lived up to any hype that accompanied it. A strong breeze at their back, Tipp lorded the first half putting the Waterford full-back line under fierce pressure. They held out admirably for the first thirty minutes, even if they required the woodwork to intervene on two occasions to prevent Declan Ryan and Michael Kennedy goals. They should have been more accurate…

In the last five minutes of the half when it seemed like we had weathered the storm Tipp pounced. A couple of nice points saw them take a three point lead then Eugene O’Neill got to a breaking ball first to bundle it past Brendan Landers. Damn. A late Paul Flynn free which might have been a goal had the ref played advantage kept the gap down to five points. Still, at half-time I couldn’t help wondering had we been exposed at last.

The Boys in White emerged for the second half looking ready to chew granite. Flynn and Kirwan had divested themselves of helmets making them difficult to distinguish but there was no mistaking the whiff of sulphur in Waterford’s play. The first ten minutes of the half were the most outstanding ten minutes you might ever hope to see. Seven points without reply turned a five point deficit into a two point lead. Tipp didn’t know what to do. Tony Browne was everywhere, Stephen Frampton was crushing the Tipp forwards – including one memorable moment when he clocked John Leahy, regained the lost posession, drove it up the field then had a “word” with the flattened Leahy as he passed him; he was my Man of the Match – and Paul Flynn was punishing every loose piece of Tipp play. It certainly shut Wide-Load Shelly up. His incessant mouthing at Paul Flynn was being answered in the best manner possible.

It was at this point, with their opponents at their mercy that Waterford froze. Chances were spurned, wides were collected and we just couldn’t bury them. Only three points seperated the teams with eight minutes to go when the Premier struck back. An attempted Waterford clearance ricocheted to Brian O’Meara who got to the ball ahead of the goalie. Goal. The Tipp fans went mad. Heads hung in the Waterford camp. All the hope was going to be for nothing. The Old Order was about to re-assert itself.

But what’s this? Billy O’Sullivan puts Paul Flynn in with a goal scoring chance. The ball flashes over the bar. Initial dismay is soon replaced by relief. We’re back in front. Two points from Ken McGrath and the three point cushion is back. Blow the flipping whistle ref!

The last three minutes were Hell on Earth. Gaps began to appear at the back. Michael Kennedy swooped on a dropping ball and sent it arrowing towards the net. Brendan Landers was there to bat it way somehow. A great save, matched by an equally impressive block from Liam Cahill’s follow up. The danger wasn’t clear yet. The sideline cut that came next fell to Declan Ryan who turned and hit a shot that bobbled along the ground. The net billowed…wide. The frantic arm-waving of the fans behind the goal told us before the umpire did. How much time was left?!?

Cracks were appearing everywhere now. Every clearance resulted in a foul by a desperate Waterford player. The free would then put us on the back foot again. Brian Flannery fouled about 25 metres out. Tommy Dunne put the free over the bar. What the hell? He later claimed the ref said there was more time. I think he chickened out. As the ad says, if he went for goal and missed, he would be remembered forever.

Brendan Landers sent the puck-out right. Dan Shanahan leapt like a salmon to gather the ball. Getting the damn thing dead would be the best option. But why let Tipp have the last word? Three steps, the strike and the sliothar sails between the posts. Out of the corner of my eye I see Ken McGrath, arms aloft, willing the ball on it’s way. We had it won.

Cue pandemonium in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I hugged everyone around me. Family, friends, complete strangers. In that moment we were all the one. A friend had wanted to go to the match with me. I’m glad she had not gone because she would have seen me make a total arse of myself, yelling and screaming. How often does this happen after all? The first time in all the ’90’s. Pitch invasion, reluctance to leave, grins all round and not one Tipp fan begrudged us our moment in the sun (none I met anyway). Yes indeed, days like these are worth the wait.

Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, Sean Cullinane, Brian Flannery, Stephen Frampton (capt,), Fergal Hartley, Brian Greene, Tony Browne (0-2, 0-2 frees). Peter Queally, Dan Shanahan (0-2), Ken McGrath (0-4, 0-2 frees), Dave Bennett, Billy O’Sullivan (0-2), Anthony Kirwan (0-1), Paul Flynn (0-10, 0-5 frees)

Tipperary: Brendan Cummins, Paul Shelly, Michael Ryan, Liam Sheedy, B. Hogan. Aidan Butler, Conal Bonner (Conor Gleeson), Colm Bonnar (Brian O’Meara, 1-0), Thomas Dunne (0-2, 0-1 free), Liam Cahill (0-3), Liam McGrath (0-1; P. Kelly), John Leahy (0-1), Eugene O’Neill (1-3, 0-2 frees), Declan Ryan (capt.) (0-1), Michael Kennedy (0-1)

HT: Waterford 0-7 Tipperary 1-10

Referee: Pat O’Connor (Limerick)

Post Scriptum: I can’t say that it is the aftermath of the game that is always best; I don’t have enough experience of victory to say that. But it was the aftermath that was best this day. The hawkers outside yelling “get yer winnin’ colours” to cheers from every passing Waterford fan. The trip home through Cork with people out waving as we passed, the oul’ woman in Youghal who had been out to salute us as we went up was there in her White and Blue as we went back. The convoy of cars with everyone punching the air as you drove past. And, best of all, the roar that engulfed Cork city when Dan Shanahan’s winning point was replayed on RTE radio. They probably heard it in Thurles. Truly one of the best days of my life.

Post Post Scriptum: I have to say the coverage on the Sunday Game that night was top class. I never thought much of Jim Carney as a football commentator but on hurling he was superb. And seeing Pete Finnerty and co. trying to dig themselves out of a hole . . . put that in your pipe and smoke it!