Murray Walker once commented that “I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong”. After this match with Tipperary, I know how he felt. Over the years I’ve winged these match reports to a degree that would make Hunter S Thompson blush. With a new fangled website and a new audience – that’s you, dear reader – I decided to take a more journalistic approach to this one, like keeping notes in shorthand (read: scribble thoughts in my abominable handwriting). Throughout the game I jotted down thoughts on who was playing well. And aprés M Walker, every time the rug would be pulled out from under my feet as said player would drop a clanger or be hauled ashore as Davy Fitz disagreed with my assessment. It showed me what I know. Or perhaps it shows you what he knows . . .
This was the first away League game I’d been to since we played Tipperary in the 2001 competition, and I’d forgotten what it was like to be an away fan. It’s not that stressful to be surrounded by Tipperary fans in a crowd as modest as the 4,947 – how’s that for some rigorous journalism? – souls at this game, but the chances of experiencing the kind of aggravation from being close to an opposition supporter that gives Mrs d such gas rises exponentially. And so it proved in this game. He wasn’t the worst sort, the man we sat in front of. He was capable of seeing when one of his players had committed a foul, which puts him in the top 1% of fair minded men on planet Earth. But on the flip side a) he never shut up, b) he never shut up swearing in front of his young son, and c) he didn’t seem to care that his son knew naff all about the game, never bothering to correct his (ahem) confused understanding of the game. It was frustrating listening to such wackiness for 70 minutes and not feeling able to say anything about it. It’s three points for a goal, three! Then again, if this is the future of Tipperary hurling then it can only be good for Waterford.
But the present is theirs, and the same devestating firepower that overwhelmed us in August would soon manifest itself. To start with though the game was curiously bloodless. Pa Bourke and Richie Foley swapped points, the latter from a free after Maurice Shanahan had drawn the foul. Shanahan then spurned a potential goal opportunity to take an easy point. A loose pass by a Waterford back was pounced on by Noel McGrath to level matters. Bourke was then fortunate to get away with what looked like overcarrying, eventually drawing the free which was slotted over to put Tipp back in front, only for Shanahan to draw a free of his own at the other end from not-very-much which was put over from a tricky angle from Richie Foley. Five minutes in and it was already three points apiece.
It had been a low-key opening to the game with some decent performances from Jamie Nagle and Shanahan. I also felt confident enough at this stage to note a poor sideline cut from Tipperary, something that would prove to be the first of many Murray Walkerisms – you didn’t think I’d forgotten that little piece of whimsy, did you? In the meantime, Stephen Molumphy went on an impressive gallop down the sideline, passed inside to Pauric Mahony whose ball into the mix was only half-cleared as far as Shane O’Sullivan. He was fouled as he attempted to restore Waterford’s lead and Foley did the needful. Then Noel McGrath set off on a similar run only for the ref to call it back for a free-in to Tipp, something that led the man behind us to demand the ref “PLAY THE F***IN’ ADVANTAGE!!” and led his son further down the path of iniquity. Bourke pointed well from the free but Waterford were quickly back in front, the referee doing well to spot the holding of Molumphy’s hurley and Foley fired over an excellent point from distance. Then came the goal. A sideline cut under the New Stand and, invoking the karma I had so carelessly stored moments earlier, the ball broke in the middle to Paul Kelly who swung an inelegant haymaker at it past Clinton Hennessy.
Not good, and it soon looked like it was going to get worse as Padraig Maher boosted Tipperary spirits with a breathtakingly brilliant catch and drive into the Waterford half. Thankfully Patrick Maher took completely the wrong line from his pass and the danger was averted. Seamus Prendergast tried to rally the troops with a round-them-all-twice effort but his eventual shot from an acute angle drifted wide. Noel McGrath had no such worries as he gathered the puckout, turned and on the run smacked it over the bar then was given the freedom of the park on the next play to slot over another point. I noted that he, along with Pa Bourke, was having a great game. This was about the only observation that would prove absolutely right, more’s the pity.
Another player having a good game was Padraig Maher, and Waterford were fortunate that another galloping run of his ended in him drilling a low ball into the danger area wide but not before he had been drilled by a Waterford back, something that went unnoticed by the ref. Some good interaction between the Waterford forwards saw Seamus Prendergast get on the scoresheet and then we got a free from seemingly nothing in the middle of the park that was put over by Foley to trim the gap to two. Then Maurice Shanahan and Eamonn Murphy combined to give Foley the space to reduce the gap to the minimum. Murphy looking ‘neat’ said the notes. The kiss of death.
With the exception of a couple of Tipp players who were head and shoulders above everyone else, it was a tight game. Those Tipp players were there though and making a huge contribution. Maher set up a point with an impressive burst through the middle, combined with McGrath to get another, Bourke was given acres of room to tack on a third score, then he turned provider as Tipp showed the kind of scoring burst that has made them All-Ireland champions. It was Waterford’s good fortune that Foley was having a good day with the dead ball, pointing another long range one after Shane O’Sullivan had been fouled. It was Waterford’s bad fortune that Shane Fives got way too close to Bourke who was able to pivot with ease and restore the five point gap. In a frenetic close to the half Prendergast teed up Molumphy for a point and Bourke responded with yet another score to leave five between them at the break.
‘Bloodless’ was what I had called that freeform first half. It was probably more by accident than design that there wasn’t some literal blood in the second half. I was scribbling a note to the effect that Waterford had made a couple of encouraging forays into the Tipperary full-back line so didn’t see what happened as the puckout dropped, but the crack! that reverberated around Thurles said all I needed to know. It was as inevitable as the tides that a Waterford player would see red for whatever had transpired and so it proved, a chastened Shane O’Sullivan emerging from the dust cloud. The subsequent free was not dealt with and Eoin Kelly, on at half-time, put Tipperary six points clear. This was grim, and despite a great point from Prendergast it soon got a whole lot grimmer. Clinton Hennessy found himself in no man’s land and clothes-lined the Tipperary forward. Murray noted that Hennessy might get away with it because it didn’t involve striking but the ref brandished the red card. Murray would again weigh in with an observation that the ref deserved credit for dishing out maximum punishment to such a blatant professional foul, another prophecy that would be proven wrong, if not quite instantly. This was also the moment for another slow burner to go wrong. Remember saying Eamonn Murphy was looking neat? Neat enough to substitute as he made way so Adrian Power could go in goal. Tipp took their point from the free and we were really behind the 8-ball.
What does a team do in these circumstances? And by ‘a team’ I mean the team with the two extra players. The impossibility of Waterford’s task was brought home by a couple of balls into the danger area which were unsurprisingly handled by Tipperary with the expedient of crowding out the lonely forward. But it was as if the extra men caused Tipperary to completely lose shape. Their supporters certainly lost focus, spending a couple of minutes razzing everything Davy Fitz did – as I noted to my wife, Tipp and Davy have previous. Those who weren’t paying attention missed Adrian Power almost doing a Clinton on it as he was dispossessed outside the square but thankfully the backs had covered the line. At the other end Richie Foley pulled on a dropping ball but it dribbled wide. He did better with two point efforts and the Tipperary supporters forgot about Davy as they noticed their team were failing to land the knockout blow. The ref seemed to be helping their cause, penalising Seamus Prendergast in such a mysterious way that it took him the best part of thirty seconds to explain it to the bewildered player, then moving another free in which allowed Tipp to go five points clear again. Then he handed it back, ignoring a clatter on Noel McGrath from Michael Walsh that really should have been a free for Tipperary, and Walsh was able to clear.
Had enough of the Murray theme? Tough, because now it gets serious. Foley knocked over another free after a foul on Pauric Mahony, and I felt moved to note that Mahony “was showing some good shapes”. So what should happen when Davy felt the need to make a change? Take off another newbie. Even if one doesn’t think there’s anything to be gained from giving the likes of Murphy and Mahony as much game time as possible, especially in a game already lost, they had been playing very well and it must be demoralising to go off in those circumstances. For years I lamented the habit of Gerald and Justin McCarthy of hauling ashore the same old faces while a different set of same old faces seemed to be unsubstitutable. It’s not hard to envisage a Championship future where Murphy and Mahony never get a look-in no matter what they do at this stage of the season, and they wouldn’t be human if they donn’t wonder why they bothered.
Hopefully the future will prove me wrong – it usually does – and for now Adrian Power was suggesting he might have one, saving well from a narrow angle to keep Waterford within a notional touching distance. It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no team better at kicking you when you are down than Tipperary, and at this stage I made the prophecy that we would see a flood of goals in the last few minutes as Waterford tired and Tipp laced up their bovver boots. They tried for another goal but the ref gave Waterford a soft free out, so Noel McGrath decided to cut out the middle man, slotting over two quick points with as much effort as it takes to shell peas. The fury from the Tipperary faithful at their disjointed efforts – McGrath excepted – was fully justified, and it really could have come back to haunt them as Thomas Ryan, on as a substitute for Shanahan, snuck around the back and was taken out of it by a Tipp back. Where’s the red card now for the professional foul, ref? There was probably a qualitative difference between this and Hennessy’s red card, his being a lot more dangerous to his opponent. But it was galling to see the Tipp player only get a yellow and Waterford get a free in a position that even Paul Flynn might have thought was outside goal-scoring range. Foley knocked over the point and while the gap was down to five you felt our last chance had come and gone.
There was time to give five minutes to another player who could do with a more robust outing, i.e. Ken McGrath, for Foley to score an excellent over the point shoulder, and for Noel McGrath to – gasp! – hit a shot wide, before the ref called time. About the only thing that could be said with certainty from the game is that he is in his pomp. Seven points from play is a spectacular return and even in defeat it was a pleasure to watch such a masterful display. For Tipperary overall, fleeting thoughts of relegation will have been banished but Declan Ryan should be bothered by their failure to bury a team shorn of a couple of limbs. As for Waterford, are the new players that we need if we are going to do better than in 2010 there or not? I’m concerned that Davy sees the likes of Murphy and Mahony as place holders for the likes of Mullane and Kelly. You have to hope that he is proven wrong. In the style of Murray Walker, no less.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Darragh Fives, Shane Fives, Jerome Maher, Wayne Hutchinson (Eoin Murphy), Michael Walsh, Jamie Nagle, Shane O’Sullivan, Stephen Molumphy (0-1, capt), Maurice Shanahan (0-1; Thomas Ryan, 0-1), Richie Foley (0-12, 0-9f), Pauric Mahony (Shane Casey), Shane Walsh (0-1), Seamus Prendergast (Ken McGrath), Eamonn Murphy (Adrian Power)
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins, Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, David Young (0-1), Padraic Maher (0-1), John O’Keeffe, Brendan Maher, Shane McGrath (Seán Carey; Benny Dunne), Gearóid Ryan (James Woodlock), Noel McGrath (0-7; Shane Bourke), Patrick Maher, Paul Kelly (1-0), Brian O’Meara (0-1; Eoin Kelly, 0-2), Pa Bourke (0-8, 0-4f)
HT: Waterford 0-10 (10) Tipperary 1-12 (15)
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)