As I sat on the train back to Dublin as it trundled through the bleak Tipperary landscape, thoughts turned to the writing of this article. It is said that the greatest poetry is written in adversity, and surely this occasion is worthy of something more than a bland description of the game. Should I utilise the metaphor of the setting sun, a blazing orb of golden light, rising from the east every morning but doomed to sink into a fiery grave in the west, plunging the Earth into darkness? Or should I refer to Kipling, and implore Waterford to show the same restraint that his imaginary gambling man would show, and not to mention a word of our loss?
Then I thought, sod that. Just refer to the day and don’t be going off on idiotic flights of fancy. Tipperary were quite simply the better team, and to meander around in such drivel would only distract from that fact.
The day had all started so well. The weather held clear for most of the day, apart from one downpour while we were in Larry Tompkins’ pub. And Larry himself was serving. We followed the crowd down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh where we met up with fellow alumni of the GAA Discussion Board, namely DéiseGirl, spince, Vicki and seafoid. A quick perusal of the programme revealed that the Growler was playing for the Intermediates who were in the process of being stuffed by Declan Browne. What the hell was he doing there when we need him at Senior level?!
First impressions of the team were that the lineout had been only half a bluff. Dan Shanahan took up station at centre-forward but Ken McGrath was definitely playing at full-forward. None of which mattered to John Leahy who pounced on an early loose ball and smashed it straight between the posts. No matter though, for Ken was already looking like the four aces up our sleeve. When the ball came to him for the first time, he gathered the ball, pirhouetted away from Philip Maher like a ballet dancer and got fouled for his troubles. Great stuff. Paul Flynn then fluffed the easy free. Darn.
This was not the only storm cloud that was gathering on the horizon. For the moment though, Ken McGrath was looking imperious. The second time he got the ball he danced away from Maher again, scored a brilliant point and was nearly decapitated. With this in my subconscious mind, I missed what happened to him when he went down after around seven minutes. I needed Vicki to point it out to me, damn and blast her eyes! But I saw what happened the second time he went down after around fifteen minutes, twisting his ankle alarmingly.
I may seem to be harping on about Ken McGrath a bit too much – in fact I know I’m harping on about him too much – but this was the one what-might-have-been about this game. Once Ken was effectively out of the equation, our chances of winning were virtually nil. Lacking an effective replacement on the bench, Waterford made some bizarre switches, including putting Míceal White in at full-forward at one point! There would be some over-hasty substitutions in the second half, reflecting the level of chaos that Ken’s injury inflicted on the team.
But let’s get back to the first half. The wind was blustery, and this made freetaking difficult. Normally that excuse isn’t needed to explain Waterford ineptitude from the deadball, but the normally accurate Tommy Dunne was having trouble as well. This didn’t seem to faze John Leahy who at one point broke a Waterford attack down and scored a point in what seemed like one fluid movement from an absurd distance. He was having a stormer. Waterford stayed in touch until the last five minutes of the half when suddenly Tipp seemed to get added composure. Leahy, Shelley, O’Brien and O’Leary each swung over a point from play and the half-time gap was an unsettling five points.
We’d been here before though; two years ago we conceded late first half scores to go in five points adrift. Unfortunately there was to be no salvation this time. Paul Flynn tried for goal from an early second half free when a point was needed. Tipperary continued to boss the midfield and half-back tussles, and Philip Maher looked rejuvenated in the face of a succession of full-forwards, hurling with skill and composure. When Stephen Frampton and Ken McGrath limped off injured the game was up.
Waterford were living off scraps at this stage, but surprisingly Tipp failed to bury us under an avalanche of scores. The absence of their usual cockiness was typified by Brendan Cummins delaying a puckout with ten minutes to go; surely a bit early to be timewasting. For those last ten minutes Tipp sweated under the fragile support of a three point lead. They continued to hit some criminal wides, but Waterford couldn’t take advantage of them. Only Paul Flynn and Dan Shanahan remained of the original forwards at this stage but Dan was only hurling in spurts and Paul seemed unable to do much with the ball when he got it.
Late goalmouth drama came at our end, with Tom Feeney recovering after misjudging a high ball and Sean Cullinane saving brilliantly after Brendan Landers had erred. The end when it came was blissfully benign. A sideline ball for Waterford with no time to take it. The final whistle blew and that was that.
There could be no facile excuses this time, except for the aforementioned Ken McGrath blow. No moans about timekeeping, no bitching about referees being in our opponents pocket, no complaints about Tipp being a bunch of hatchetmen. They were a few percentage points better than us in every department, and had the one truly outstanding performer in Leahy. So well done to Tipperary. I believe they will go all the way as their bandwagon gathers momentum from game to game. It’s hard to see where Waterford can go from here. With Cork, Clare and Tipperary all definitively better than us, Limerick’s status indeterminate and Kerry on the way out, it’s hard to see where the next win is going to come from. We’ll stick with it though because we always have.
Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, Sean Cullinane, Brian Flannery, Stephen Frampton (James O’Connor), Fergal Hartley (0-1 free), James Murray, Tony Browne (0-1), Peter Queally (0-2), Dan Shanahan (0-1), Johnny Brenner (Seamus Prendergast), Dave Bennett (0-2; Barry Walsh), Míceal White (Billy O’Sullivan, 0-1), Ken McGrath (0-3; Anthony Kirwan), Paul Flynn (capt., 0-3, 0-2 frees)
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins, Paul Ormonde, Philip Maher, Michael Ryan, John Carroll, David Kennedy, Eamon Corcoran, Thomas Dunne (0-5, all frees), Brian O’Meara (0-1; Eddie Enright), Mark O’Leary (0-2), Declan Ryan (0-2; Eddie Tucker), John Leahy (0-3), Liam Cahill (Paul Ryan, 0-1; P. Kelly), Paul Shelley (0-2), Paddy O’Brien (0-1).
HT: Waterford 0-6 Tipperary 0-11
Referee: Dickie Murphy (Wexford)