Normally I start all this out with a little colour to set the scene, followed by the match report for those who don’t care about accuracy or coherence, then a Jerry Springer-style reflection on what had happened and where we’re at. Today, I’m going to give the tl;dr version at the start. Did we let this one slip? The answer is . . . kind of. After a few early wobbles, the backs were nothing short of magnificent, with Tadgh de Búrca showing the kind of élan that will see us in good stead for the next decade or so. It was always going to be tricky for the forwards, but there were times towards the end of the first half and in the third quarter when, with a little more composure, a little more control, we could have gotten scores that could have swung the game in our favour. At the very least we should have been closer at the end, have left a position where a last-minute goal might have clinched it.
Could, could, should. Close, but no cigar.
Time to resume the normal blather with a photo of the good Waterford crowd – yes, we were in the Killinan End – which was not something I had taken as a given before the game, Someone clearly messed up with the ticket allocation, with a 25-year ticket member (didn’t know such a thing existed) noting how they could only get a terrace ticket. I think, sans any evidence, that the recent run of Munster games falling well short of a sellout has made the authorities a bit complacent about online sales. Bung them all on the website and hope for the best. For once, the best happened and the clubs ended up being screwed. Lessons will no doubt be learned – and forgotten by the next generation that has to deal with an in-demand Munster final. I had fretted before the game that the scattergun nature of the ticket allocation would mean we would be hopelessly outnumbered. The numbers were pretty close in the end though, as were the number of people remembered before the game. Jimmy Doyle naturally got the full obituary treatment, and it was truly moving to see that someone in the Munster Council remembered David Houlihan, the Dungarvan man who died in Thailand during the week.
Having been hit with two early goals in the League semi-final, it was quickly obvious that Waterford were determined not to let that happen again at any cost while Tipperary probed away looking to get the goal that their support seemed to view as their divine right. After a couple of wides were exchanged, the Waterford one a typical Hail Mary effort from Austin Gleeson, Tipp were soon into their stride with the first two scores. In between, a dangerous ball towards Seamus Callanan was deftly dealt with by Waterford, Barry Coughlan adopting the simple expedient of standing in his way and Tadhg de Búrca cleaning up the debris. Waterford opened their scoring from a Shanahan free but Tipp stuck back quickly as Jason Forde gathered and played in Niall O’Meara for a simple score. A good call by the referee to bring the ball back after advantage had not accrued allowed Maurice Shanahan to reduce the gap to one again, but the free given away by Colin Dunford when O’Meara got past him was more typical of the game. We may not be conceding goals, but Tipp were still well on top.
Dunford got a yellow card for his troubles and there were other signs that Waterford were struggling to cope, de Búrca being slightly lucky to get away with a, shall we say, robust block on John O’Dwyer. The Tipp fans expressed their displeasure, which would have amused the men who gave us the term ‘Hell’s Kitchen‘ no end, and the play ended with a score for them anyway from Patrick Maher. They were playing very well, constantly trying to prise open the Waterford defence and while they were happy to take their points, as Niall O’Meara did to stretch the lead to four, you wondered how much longer we would be able to hold them off.
More great defending from Coughlan in the face of another ball to Callanan suggested that we might be able to do that holding off, and while there was frustration as Shanahan missed a tricky free, Kevin Moran lifted spirits with a splendid point from a run in his own half. After a Tipp 65 had stretched the lead back to four, Stephen Bennett had a chance to stretch his legs and his shot flashed across the bows of the Tipp goal. We were a bit fortunate to get a free when Noel Connors stumbled as he gathered the ball, althogugh the Tipp forward should have been less rash in clambering all over him while he was going nowhere on the ground, and Gleeson extracted maximum punishment with a score from the free near his own 45. It was the prelude to a fantastic period of play from Waterford. De Búrca did his sweeper thing to release Shanahan for a point, and two terrible hospital passes out of the Tipp defence led to a Waterford free and another point from play from Shanahan. After all that early Tipperary pressure the scores were somehow level and a low ball into the box from Callanan that zipped wide suggested they now felt a need to force the issue for goals. Was this the pattern of all the recent games again, with Waterford resisting early pressure before hitting their stride?
The wind was taken out of our sails by a really terrible decision given against Dunford as he was penalised for over-carrying as a Tipp forward swung out of him like a gorilla. Callanan put over a great free to get Tipp back in front. The feeling of injustice didn’t last long though as Waterford were allowed carry the ball out of defence and Shane Fives sent over a super score from distance. Michael Walsh then made life miserable for the Tipp defence and managed the work the ball to Jake Dillon. This should have been the chance to take the lead but he hit a poor wide, and while Kevin Moran would run around their backs to give us the lead, another poor wide soon followed and we failed to ram home this period of dominance. Coughlan once again held Callanan at bay although it ended with a point to level matters and a cheap free meant Callanan had the chance leave Tipp ahead at half-time. It was a little frustrating after the excellent second quarter, but overall it was a minor miracle that Waterford were so close at the break.
The second half started like the first, with a couple of swapped wides. Another wide from Dunford after a great run down the wing, a sequence of events that is all too common, and Forde emphasised the difference with a point to put Tipp two up. It had not struck me before this point, but a monster of a free out from Darren Gleeson made me realise that there was a wind. Not much of one, but enough to make me worry that we had missed out in the first half. Happily Shane Fives responded with another solo effort from his own half and when a Shanahan shot that had gone out was signalled for a 65 – in truth, I thought it had gone wide – that went over, Waterford were now level again. Time to unleash the Devine!
The decision to play Eddie Barrett ahead of Tom Devine was a strange one. I can understand the concept of impact subs, but surely it only makes sense in the context of someone who is not fit or slightly over the hill. They’re not going to be able to give you 70 minutes, but stick them on with half-an-hour left up against a flagging opponent . . . Devine is neither unfit or over the hill, so why not start him if he is good enough? It would worry me a little that management are hugging too close to the strategies that worked so well in the League. Still, he was on now in what was to prove the pivotal period of the match.
Unfortunately it would be pivotal in a bad way for Waterford. Another poor wide was followed by a score at the other end while Devine’s earliest contribution was a tiresome letting-him-know-you-were-there charge (see image above) that allowed Gleeson to bomb the ball into the danger zone and ended with a Tipp point. Back down our end of the field and, alas, we saw another snatched effort on the run from Dunford. It wasn’t an appalling miss, but there have been enough instances of it to be a source of concern. A score from a 65 from Shanahan after Shane Bennett had a goalbound effort saved – narrow angle it was, but worth a go – was followed up with yet another poor wide, this time from Jamie Barron after a lot of effort had gone in to making space for what should have been a tap-over.
Even at the time, such misses felt fatal to our chances – a future historian will have no trouble deciphering ‘letting them off the hook’ amidst my hieroglyphic notes. Tipp rattled off two quick scores to rub salt into the wounds, the second from a foul given when the Tipp forward was running away from goal. The backs were still gloriously on top. The problem was that heads were beginning to drop at the other end. Padraic Maher was cleaning up in much the same way de Búrca had been doing all game and while Shanahan managed to get one back with a lovely all-my-own-work effort, making space for himself and shooting from wide on the right, a more typical effort came from Shane Bennett who tried to score a point from practically on the goal-line. His exasperated tap on the ground with his hurley showed how the game was slipping away from us. Two more Tipp scores stretched the lead to four and with goal chances as rare as a modest Kerryman it already looked like that was that.
None of this is to say we made it easy for them. In contrast to the measured manner in which we held Cork at bay in our recent encounters, Tipp were having to get down in the trenches to stay in control. Afterwards I would encounter a Tipp neighbour who, while generous in victory (despite his best efforts, all his descendants are Waterford fans), would blithely lament the lack of a 15 v 15 contest. It was as if he expected us to play to their strengths like we did in 2011. Instead we continued to front up to them, benefitting from some slack refereeing as a few heavy challenges as they tried to come out of defence were ignored before we won the free to trim the gap back to three. Another Callanan 65 restored the four-point gap and Waterford could again count themselves lucky when Shane Bennett was only given a yellow for a blow to James Barry’s head as he tried to emerge with the ball. It was a complete accident but, as the saying goes, I’ve seen them given. James Owens let a lot go which was probably more beneficial to our in-your-face style and not giving the red was consistent with his philosophy for the day.
Patrick Curran would pick up where he left off against Cork with a fine pick-up and score, but when Devine missed another scoreable chance and Kevin Moran was correctly penalised for steps leading to a huge score from John O’Dwyer, you knew the game was up. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that even scoring one or two of those gilt-edged chances would have given us a chance at a great pile-up in the box – it wouldn’t have gone in, but the chance of it would have been nice. As it was, Tipp kept the insurance score ahead of us in the last five minutes. The puckout after O’Dwyer’s long-range free was snaffled by Tipp and lashed straight back over the bar to move the lead to five. Not much in normal circumstances, but it felt gargantuan in the context of a low scoring game. In case you don’t think 0-21 to 0-16 (as it finished after a solo effort from Austin Gleeson was canceled out immediately by another Tipp score) is low-scoring, rewrite is as 3-12 to 2-10 and it looks relatively anaemic.
There was at least some small satisfaction to be had in the huge roar that greeted the final whistle. They’ll say in their more maggoty moments that Waterford don’t matter, but at this stage in the cycle we matter quite a lot. We’ve clearly established a mastery at the back. Can we get the balance right? Can the likes of Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran be integrated into the attack? Can we free up Austin Gleeson to go forward? Would that make a difference? I’m sure we could beat Dublin using the strategy employed here against Tipperary. Speculating against them might be necessary though to get accumulating against Kilkenny, and that carries risks of its own. Hold to this course in anticipation of a brighter future? Answering all of the above means the next fortnight is going to be a test for Derek McGrath and company.
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives (0-2), Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-2, 0-1f). Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Eddie Barrett (Shane Bennett), Kevin Moran (capt, 0-2), Stephen Bennett (Tom Devine), Jake Dillon (Darragh Fives), Maurice Shanahan (0-8, 0-3f, 0-2 65), Michael Walsh, Colin Dunford (0-1; Patrick Curran, 0-1)
Tipperary: Darren Gleeson, Cathal Barrett, James Barry, Michael Breen (0-1; Lar Corbett, 0-1). Kieran Bergin, Padraic Maher (0-2), Ronan Maher. James Woodlock, Shane McGrath (Conor O’Brien), Jason Forde (0-2; Shane Bourke, 0-1), Brendan Maher (capt), Patrick Maher (0-2), John O’Dwyer (0-5, 0-2f), Seamus Callanan (0-6, 0-4f, 0-2 65), Niall O’Meara (0-3)
HT: Waterford 0-9 Tipperary 0-10
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)