(originally posted on boards.ie)
A disgraceful refereeing performance by Diarmuid Kirwan of Cork played a key role in Waterford’s defeat by Tipperary in last night’s Munster Under-21 Hurling Championship game in Thurles. However, even with this millstone around their neck, Waterford might still have been able to fashion a victory had they not taken twenty minutes in the first half to realise that this was the knockout championship game they had been preparing for over the last few months. By then they were ten points down, and ultimately this proved to be too big a gap to close despite their herculean efforts to do so in the second half.
In those first twenty minutes Waterford were simply not at the races. Their focus and concentration were close to non-existent, their reactions were slow, they stood off their opposite numbers in the Tipperary team, their first touch was poor and their use of the ball when in possession even poorer.
Apart from having the advantage of being phyically bigger and stronger, right from the beginning Tipperary played with drive and confidence, were excellent in the air, supported and looked for each other and played the ball to great effect. A feature of the game right through was the ability of Tipperary players to emerge with the ball in hand when contesting for the ball on the deck, a reflection both of superior skill levels, physical strength and will to succeed.
Tipperary got off to the best possible start when a high ball into the Waterford goal area in the second minute was fielded by Brian O’Meara who went to ground with a penalty being awarded by the referee. Stephen O’Keeffe got a hurley to Noel McGrath’s shot but its sheer force carried it over the line. Thereafter, with Tipperary in complete control around the middle of the field and Noel McGrath rampant, the scores began to pile up, many of them long range wind-assisted efforts. Their second goal arrived in the 14th minute with Darragh Fives having his hurley blatantly held as he moved to intercept Tipperary corner forward John O.Neill who gained possession on the end line, worked his way in and passed the ball across the square to Seán Curran who batted to the unguarded net.
After 20 minutes Waterford were down 2-7 to 0-3 and in serious trouble. However, they finally managed to raise their game at this stage, winning some good ball in midfield and the half back line. They outscored Tipperary 0-4 to 0-2 in the remainder of the half but also missed numerous scoring opportunities in this period. Some of these were long-range efforts into the wind but others were bad misses from close range. Twice in this period Eamon Murphy, playing on the left wing, skinned his marker and came through on goal with nothing materialising. On the first occasion he chose to veer left and had his shot for goal blocked when Maurice Shanahan was unmarked in front of goal. On the second occasion he was blatantly taken out by a Tipp defender with no free ensuing. However, Murphy could have taken two easy points which would have made Waterford’s second half task more manageable.
Apart from these incidents, there were several situations where Waterford were in a position to mount serious attacks on the Tipperary goal but didn’t, whereas in the second half, Tipperary were clinical in exploiting similar situations.
Owen Whelan started the second half in midfield in place of the ineffectual Martin O’Neill. It was something of a surprise that Whelan didn’t start the game, as reportedly he had done well in challenge games and his strength, aggressiveness and work rate were what was needed against Tipperary and especially the rampant Noel McGrath. However, Whelan was obviously too wound up coming into the game and was promptly yellow carded for a wild pull at the throw-in. Ten minutes later, after he failed to control a pass and was dispossessed by McGrath, he tripped up the Tipperary man and was yellow carded again which meant his dismissal.
It as an innocuous enough foul which contrasted starkly with an incident just before it when Maurice Shanahan was dragged down when driving through the middle of the Tipperary defence. If it was a soccer match the player in question would have got a straight red, but referee Kirwan didn’t even award a yellow card for what was a much more serious foul than Whelan’s.
However, as often happens following a sending off, it was the team with the man short which went on to dominate the proceedings, and, with Jamie Barron and Darragh Fives doing much better at the back, Philip Mahony providing great leadership and centre back and Stephen Roche playing out of his skin in midfield, Waterford gradually began to peg back the big Tipperary lead which had been further extended when John O’Neill notched their third goal shortly after Whelan’s dismissal.
The fat was really in the fire when, with just three minutes left, the ball broke to Brian O’Sullivan on the left of the Tipperary goal and he fired expertly inside the post to leave just three points between the teams. With Waterford now in complete control in midfield, another goal chance was created when the ball broke to Paudie Mahony to the left of the Tipp goal. However, he opted for a ground stroke when he could have lifted, and his weak effort was easily smothered by the Tipperary goalkeeper. Moments later, substitute Owen Connors tapped over a point from directly in front of goal when there was definitely a goal on.
There was time for another Waterford attack when a long ball was sent into the goal area. However, as Maurice Shanahan advanced to collect, he was blatantly knocked from behind by his marker but the referee waved play on, allowing Tipperary to break out and work the ball up the field for John O’Neill to fire home Tipperary’s fourth goal in what was the last play of the game.
All in all, this is a game which Waterford could well have won, had they begun with the type of spirit and intensity they showed in the second half, and one must question the team management for not having their players’ heads right going into the game. Most of these players have had experience of championship victory over Tipperary before, so neither the opposition nor the occasion should have been too much for them.
On an individual basis, Stephen O’Keeffe had little chance with the four shots that beat him although his decision to come way out of goal to tackle the inrushing John O’Neill for Tipperary’s third goal was probably ill-advised, as O’Neill easily sidestepped O’Keeffe to finish to an empty net. The Waterford full back line was put under a lot of pressure in the first half, with Noel Connors’s effectiveness being limited by a leg injury sustained halfway through the half. However, 17-year-old Jamie Barron (who is a marvellous prospect) and Darragh Fives were much more prominent after the change of ends.
Philip Mahony played a captain’s part in the second half, winning ball after ball and using it well to help set up Waterford attacks. At right half back Paudie Prendergast hit some good balls, but I thought that his defensive technique was inadequate which is hardly surprising for someone whose club and intercounty career to date has been at midfield or in the forwards. I am wondering how come his cousin John was not even on the panel, as he was very impressive at wing back for Lismore seniors last year. On the other wing, Stephen Daniels also hit a lot of ball, but overall I was disappointed with his contribution, knowing what he is capable of. In particular, he seemed content to go on the back foot and lob high balls forward into no man’s land, rather than using his pace to drive forward, look up and play more constructive ball.
I had been very dubious about the selection of Stephen Roche before the game, but in the end he was Waterford’s best player over the hour, making up for his small stature with his work rate and high skill level. Unfortunately his partner Martin O’Neill was never at the races, being far too slow in execution for this level.
At wing forward, Eamonn Murphy was rarely in the game apart from his two forays on goal described above. Indeed, given how easily he got past his marker on those occasions, it is something of an indictment of the other players that he got hardly any possession at all in the second half before going off injured late in the game. At centre forward I thought that Adam Brophy made little impression before being replaced midway through the second half. I was surprised that it took so long to make this change and that it was Owen Connors who was brought on rather than Eoin Madigan who had been very impressive off the bench for De La Salle in last year’s club championships and whose height and size were needed against this big Tipperary team. He was eventually brought on in place of Eamonn Murphy with three minutes left on the clock which was too late to make a difference.
At left half forward Paudie Mahony worked hard and converted six frees, but his failure to score from play, despite having several chances, was a big let-down. He was also short with two second half frees which only went as far as the Tipperary goalkeeper. At right corner forward, Brian O’Sullivan was busy enough without having much effect in the first half, but really stormed into the game after half-time, ending up with 1-4 from play (a total which will no doubt have been noted by the senior selectors). Maurice Shanahan moved between full forward and the half forward line throughout the match, and looked somewhat less than fully match fit which is not surprsing given that his year so far has been ravaged by injury. However, he worked himself into the ground, despite some heavy treatment from the opposition which referee Kirwan generally ignored, and landed four excellent points from play.
In the left corner, Jake Dillon was largely anonymous until moved out around midfield in the second half where his skill and intelligence were put to good use. Overall, ten of the starting line-up along with Brian O’Halloran (a huge loss) are eligible for this grade again in 2012, and with further excellent talent coming forward from the current minor team and those of the last two years, the prospects at this level continue to be good.
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe; Jamie Barron; Darragh Fives; Noel Connors; Paudie Prendergast; Philip Mahony; Stephen Daniels; Stephen Roche; Martin O’Neill; Eamonn Murphy; Adam Brophy; Paudie Mahony (0-6, all frees); Brian O’Sullivan (1-4); Maurice Shanahan (0-4); Jake Dillon (0-1).
Substitutes: Owen Whelan (for Martin O’Neill, half-time); Owen Connors (0-1, for Adam Brophy, 47 mins); Eoin Madigan (for Eamonn Murphy, 57 mins).
Tipperary: Paul Ryan; Ciarán Haugh; Kevin O’Gorman; Stephen Maher; Brian Stapleton (0-1); James Barry; Pádraig Heffernan; Noel McGrath (1-1, goal from penalty); Joe Gallagher; Seán Curran (1-0); Paddy Murphy (0-2); Adrian Ryan (0-3); John O’Dwyer (0-1, from free); Brian O’Meara (0-1); John O’Neill (2-2).
Substitutes:.Sean O’Brien (for Barry, half-time); Aidan McCormack (for Gallagher, 39 mins); Michael Sheedy (0-1, for Curran, 56 mins).