It can be a struggle to come with a narrative for these match reports. I take notes all right but they can be gibberish, and that’s even before you consider the illegible scrawl that passes for my handwriting these days. This was not going to be one of those occasions though as Ian Noctor had referenced in our conversation during the week about the joys of sharing stands with supporters of the opposition during GAA matches. And by ‘joys’, I mean ‘complete pain in the backside’ as you try to block out the caterwauling of some fat yokel who thinks that the accident of birth in sharing a county with people who can play hurling better than those in another county means they can personally look down on the athletic prowess of David Rudisha. Of course, the bigger the mouth the more flies it catches. Would today be one of those days? Would I be writing this if it weren’t? Would you be reading it? Stay tuned.
It’s easy during the Championship to tell that you’ve been stranded near a true enthusiast for the opposition, bedecked as most people are in the colours of their county. It’s harder in the League as everyone is wrapped up like sherpas against the elements in everyday clothing. You always live in hope that home advantage will prove telling but I had to suppress a groan within seconds of the throw-in when Seamus Callanan rattled over a quick-fire score and there was much yahooing around me, including the most dreaded creature of all – the Supporter Who Knows All The Player’s Names (And Isn’t Afraid To Show It). With Tipperary having the wind, it looked like it was going to be a rough half.
Despite the wind the early exchanges were even enough, Adrian Ryan missing an easy chance to stretch the lead and Waterford persisting with the recent policy of trying to keep the ball in hand to good effect, a neat interchange of passing seeing a sliothar drop into the mixer but be whistled up for a free-out. Jamie Nagle followed this up with a slick ball to put Brian O’Halloran in space and he opened Waterford’s account. Adrian Ryan was then guilty of another poor wide after he had pounced on some careless play by Shane Fives coming out of defence, and overall Waterford could be pleased with how things were panning out with the over-excitable Tipperary man to my right routinely fulminating against everything and anything they tried. At this stage it looked harsh, the heavy pitch making clean gathering of the ball difficult, but Tipperary must have been conscious of the need to take advantage of a stiff-ish looking breeze and they weren’t doing it very well early on. O’Halloran was looking up for it, a mazy dribble dropping short/coming back off the post (it was hard to tell), and it stung Callanan into as he came out and teed up Shane Bourke for a nice score.
It had been a solid start for Waterford against the breeze but now Tipperary began to motor. A puckout from O’Regan went out for a sideline and a soft free from the subsequent sideline ball for a foul on Bourke allowed Callanan to add another point, and we were grateful for Callanan trying a handpass to a teammate when putting the head down might have split the Waterford defence. It was one of several decisions in the first half that was pushing up the blood pressure of the man on my right. Still, Tipp were getting the lion’s share of the possession so even bad decisions were at least being matched by good ones as Callanan got a tremendous solo score to stretch the lead to three. The wind didn’t feel that influential where I was but when a dubious-looking Martin O’Neill 65 dropped short, you clung to the hope that it was more of a factor on the pitch, all ten yards away as it was.
As goals have been a source of concern thank goodness for Jamie Barron today. Some beefy play by Seamus Prendergast gave Maurice Shanahan room and his pass found Barron who raced towards goal and arrowed a stunning shot into the far side of the net from a narrow angle. It was a top strike, and how satisfying it was to be able to deliver such a riposte to Tipp’s efforts. The Prendergast/Shanahan axis did the trick again moments later as the latter drew a foul after great catch from the former and, not for the only time in the game, we were left wondering how Waterford were ahead as O’Neill added the point.
Tipperary hit straight back with a distance score from Shane McGrath and some loose play coming out by Stephen Daniels was intercepted by Callanan to put them back in front, a score that had Supporter Who Knows All The Player’s Names (And Isn’t Afraid To Show It) sagely observing that we were nearly back to where we were before the goal, an arrogant comment that is all the more infuriating for being true, and compounded even further when Daniels was penalised for catching the ball a third time to give Callanan another score from a free to completely eliminate the goal. Waterford followed up with a laboriously-constructed point from Shanahan. I appreciate that it’s practical to bat the ball over the bar using an underarm motion, but the inelegance stood in marked contrast to the effortless manner of Brian O’Meara’s immediate response to restore the three point. 1-3 didn’t seem like a great return from thirty minutes hurling and when another puckout drifting harmlessly out for a sideline the despair level was beginning to build.
So you can imagine the delight five minutes later when we went in at half-time with the scores level. Seamus Prendergast cleared a path for Jake Dillon to score by literally arseing the Tipp back out of Dillon’s path, then a sideline ball was cleared by Tipperary only for a Waterford forward to earn a free when he seemed to stumble running away from goal, giving O’Neill another easy point from a free and sending Vesuvius to my right into full-on Pompeii mode. While it all seemed a bit overwrought you couldn’t argue with his last detonation of the half when the ref only signalled one minutes injury time despite a long kerfuffle when Shane Fives went off as a blood before Callanan’s 65 and a period of treatment of Ian O’Regan. When the ref moved in a free for O’Neill to level matters I briefly contemplated moving, so enraged was he at the treatment being meted out by the referee.
I didn’t though, and that was mostly because I was enjoying it so much. Despite playing catch-up for the most of the half, incredibly we were level. And, in a rare moment of lucidity on my part during a match, I wondered whether my sense of calm and his spluttering fury suggested that Tipp were indeed being given a raw deal. Remember the ‘beefy’ play and the arseing on the part of Seamus Prendergast? Another ref might have viewed such actions as fouls. But buoyed up by optimism that we were going to use the wind to stomp all over Tipperary in the second half, I could afford to be magnanimous.
Fifteen minutes into the second period, I was wishing I had moved. The first alarm bell was when Eoin Kelly and Brendan Maher came on at half-time. Tipperary were not going to leave this to dumb chance – there’s a relegation playoff that might potentially be against Kilkenny to avoid, doncha know – and they ripped out of the blocks, Callanan scoring from a free earned from the throw-in. Daniels was penalised for a foul on O’Meara when it might as easily have been a free for overcarrying, and Callanan again extracting the expected punishment. There was some relief moments later when he missed an easy free (I had even marked it down as a score in advance), but the only thing colder than the weather was Waterford’s second half start as each player in white was late to every ball. Both Vesuvius and SWKATPN(AIATSI) got very exercised at a challenge on Donagh Maher that they felt was worthy of a red card – or at least it was on the basis of last week’s Club final; they, of course, would never want to see such sanitisation entering a man’s game. In fairness (again), something seemed to have taken place but they weren’t worried that the ref had prevented Moran taking a quick sideline ball that would have been most advantageous to Waterford. As it was, Waterford managed to hustle the ball down the sideline into a better position but Dillon’s excellently caught cut drifted out wide. When Seamus Prendergast was harshly penalised in the middle of the field, I was treated to a stream of invective about the lack of a yellow card that went on long past Callanan’s excellent long range effort stretching the lead to three.
The game got very scrappy at this point, which was obviously bad news for us as we hadn’t earned a single white flag in the first ten minutes of the second half and needed to get a grip on things. Maurice Shanahan managed to win a very soft free from which O’Neill pointed, and you know the drill about what went on around me in reaction to this. It was clear the tide was running against us when SWKATPN(AIATSI) was able to admit Dillon was fouled in the next attack. Vesuvius was having none of it and when O’Neill missed the free, his last contribution before being replaced by Paudi Mahony, he was certain that it was karma – or words to that effect. Karma was certainly a female dog (maybe even the one in the photo back up the page, ho ho) when a throw-in by the ref was about as accurate as Rory Best was against Scotland, flying past everyone into no man’s land, and it was Seamus Callanan who retrieved the ball to score. God, I’m tired of typing his name . . .
Michael Walsh was doing his best to keep us in touch, and his best is very good indeed. One preposterously salmon-like catch which led to a free caused a Tipp fan to wisely observe that his team should “stop hitting it anywhere near the f***in’ Brick!”, but he was the only one shaking a leg as the game entered the final quarter and the complete wasting of the free he had earned typified Waterford’s borderline-stoner performance in the second half. Tipp, on the other hand, were moving through the gears with Lar Corbett being given way too much room to put them four points clear. He must have thought he’d won the lottery. A foul on Jake Dillon allowed Mahony to score from a free only for Tipperary to be allowed stroll straight back up the field for Brian O’Meara to slot over a good point. When a wild clearance by Liam Lawlor went out for a sideline ball and they managed to work the ball for Callanan to get his seventh of the day and move five points in front, it began to look like we’d need a goal from somewhere.
So badly did it look like we needed a goal that despite Mahony cutting the lead to four when a solo from Jamie Barron ended with him being dumped on his backside, and then Seamus Prendergast was fouled after a catch and drive to the 21m line, I noted in all seriousness in my pad that Mahony should go for goal with this chance. It was needed to stir us out of our torpor but instead he took the point, only our fourth of the half. He quickly followed up with another free after Kevin Moran had been cynically chopped down / ran straight into the defender – you’ll never guess who thought it was a “PURE DISGRACEFUL!” decision – but when Mahony missed a 65 after Tipp had had to scramble the ball out after Seamus Prendergast had won it on the edge of the square, then failed to land another long distance effort when the ref had moved it into range for dissent, it looked like it just wasn’t to be.
Jamie Barron had other ideas. His Mullanesque effort from way out on the right, moments after Tipperary supporters had begun prematurely celebrating a shot that was well fielded by Ian O’Regan, trimmed the gap to one with only two minutes to go and suddenly a draw looked possible. There was a hold-your-breath moment out on the middle when it seemed like all thirty players got sucked into the shemozzle and whomever it broke for would be in the clear. It broke for Waterford, Jake Dillon scored, and unbelievably we were level. It says much for our psyche as a county that all the voices calling for the final whistle were Waterford ones but those around me who will remain nameless had gone quiet. If they had sensed this had gone completely Pete Tong, they were right. The sands of the injury timer were fizzing out when Kevin Moran hunted down a loose ball on the stand side of the ground around the Tipp 65. Turning one way then the other, he let the ball drop and struck a shot of such beauty that every Déisigh, even a wait-until-you-see-the-flag type like myself, leapt to their feet and let out a guttural roar from the moment it left the bas of the hurley. There was only one place that ball was going. One final turn from Moran, towards the stand with a fiery fist-pump of delight, before the ref blew the final whistle and one final eruption – not from Vesuvius, who left faster than if a lava flow were behind him, but from the Waterford fans who only moments before had being preparing for a wake rather than a party.
One of my all-time favourite Waterford games was in 1998 when we went to Thurles after winning the South-East League and in thirty inspired first-half minutes went through Tipperary like a bowl of prunes. This wasn’t the same level of performance, but when you consider we haven’t beaten Tipperary in a group game since (we did beat them in the quarter-final in 2007 on the way to winning the League) it shows that these kind of results are precious on their own merits. Then factor in where Waterford have come from with the predictions of Armageddon from ill-informed pundits (ahem) and concerns about their ability to finish out games (splutter), this was a most satisfying result. And if certain Tipperary supporters left Walsh Park thinking that baluba with the camera and notepad who went off the deep end when Moran struck that winning score would make you sick, so much the better.
Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Shane Fives, Liam Lawlor, Stephen Daniels, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran (capt, 0-1), Shane O’Sullivan, Paudie Prendergast, Brian O’Halloran (0-1), Seamus Prendergast, Maurice Shanahan (0-1, Brian O’Sullivan), Jake Dillon (0-2), Martin O’Neill (0-4f, Paidi Mahony, 0-4f), Jamie Barron (1-1).
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins, Donagh Maher, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, Conor O’Brien, Thomas Stapleton, Padraic Maher, James Woodlock (Pa Bourke), Shane McGrath (capt, 0-1), Brian O’Meara (0-1; Jason Forde), Noel McGrath (Brendan Maher), Adrian Ryan (Eoin Kelly), Shane Bourke (0-1), Seamus Callanan (0-7, 0-3f, 0-1 65), Lar Corbett (0-1).
HT: Waterford 1-6 (9) Tipperary 0-9 (9)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)