Tag Archives: Tipperary

Waterford 0-13 (13) Tipperary 5-19 (34) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

Waterford’s heavy defeat in the Munster Final came as quite a shock to Waterford’s dumbfounded supporters. The Waterford team which lost by a similar margin in the 2011 final was a shambles of a selection, and the team knew it going out on the field. This year’s team had earned a well-deserved reputation over the last two years as a highly-competitive and skillful outfit with a massive work rate and fighting spirit.

The rubbish spewed out in the aftermath of the game from a wide range of so-called “pundits” says more about their knowledge of hurling than it does about the Waterford team. Clearly last week’s outcome was freakish and, I believe, very unlikely to happen again. At the same time, something obviously went wrong and we need to know what it was.

While playing nowhere near their potential, Waterford were clearly the better team in the first half during which they had 19 shots at goal compared to 12 for Tipperary. However, while their shooting early on was good, their failure to score between the 14th and 35th minute really killed them. During this period they had ten bad misses – three in the 19th minute alone. Had they converted even half of these and not conceded a very soft goal they would have been six points up at half time, which would have given them something to fight for and put some pressure on Tipperary.

In the second half, Tipperary had a simple tactic – play long ball into the Waterford goal area and hope to get enough good ball from this to get a winning score. They bunched four or five forwards in the D outside the large Waterford square and as the ball arrived one forward went up for the ball and the others fanned out hoping for a break. This tactic worked well beyond their expectations due to a combination of good play on their part, poor defending by Waterford (especially bunching and poor match-ups in challenging for incoming ball), and good luck. For example, for their fifth goal, the incoming ball bounced sideways off somebody’s helmet straight into the path of Seamus Callanan who duly finished to the net.

Waterford actually won a lot of ball in the second half. Despite playing into the strong wind and being forced to hit long puckouts due to the Tipperary full forwards pushing up on the Waterford full backs, Waterford won half of their own long puckouts. However, their use of the ball was very poor, either playing it in to double-marked forwards or giving the ball away altogether.

Tipperary were up for a battle in what were very difficult conditions, and Waterford needed to be prepared to at least match this. However, compared with their normal level of performance, Waterford were very flat, lacking in drive and focus. At half time on the Sunday Game, Ger Loughnane remarked that Waterford were “mentally slow”. They were also physically inferior on the day. I counted 13 cases of Waterford players losing possession under pressure (i.e. turnovers) compared with just one for Tipperary. I also counted 19 cases of Waterford giving the ball away to unmarked Tipperary players, either due to playing the ball under pressure or poor shot selection.

There are a lot of stories going around about the Waterford panel being subjected to a very demanding programme of preparation for the Munster Final. I have heard of six training sessions in the week before the week of the Final, of workouts in Colligan Wood and of players waking up extremely tired facing into the day’s work. If these stories are true it raises serious questions about the team’s management. This is the kind of work you do in February and March, with the focus on developing explosive force in the summer months.

This would certainly provide an explanation for Waterford’s flat performance last week. It is also possible that, with most media pundits predicting a Waterford win, and with their own supporters more confident than I have ever seen them before, the team may have gone into the game in more relaxed mood than was warranted.

Of course, there is no guarantee that if Waterford had gone into the game really “up for it”, they would have prevailed against a Tipperary outfit which brought massive focus, determination and physicality to bear in addition to their high skill levels. One wonders in particular if Waterford need to be more flexible in terms of adapting to prevailing physical conditions. The wet conditions alone called for a more direct style of play, all the more so with the very strong wind at their back in the first half. With Maurice Shanahan at full forward and Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett on either side of him, who knows what would have happened if Waterford had adopted the tactics which Tipperary employed in the second half.

In the longer run, questions have to asked about the over-defensive nature of Waterford’s playing formation. This is more about the tactic of flooding midfield and leaving very few forwards up front than it is about using a sweeper (a lot of so-called pundits are unable to make this distinction). On the Sunday Game, both Ger Loughnane and Henry Shefflin were critical of this aspect of the Waterford setup, with Shefflin insisting that you need to be more courageous in order to win championships. Derek McGrath has pointed to Waterford’s good scoring rate over the last two years, but there is evidence that this doesn’t work against the better teams. Waterford only scored 16 points in last year’s Munster Final and only 18 against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Semi-final.

I am inclined to see Derek McGrath’s approach as very similar to that of Jack Charlton when he was in charge of the Irish soccer team. Charlton’s strategy was based on stopping the opposition from scoring, and in this he was very successful. However, when it comes to World Cup and Euro finals, you need more than this. Charlon had an exceptional group of talented players available to him, and I always thought that he could have made better use of them.

Charlton, of course, played for Leeds, a team that was very good at winning leagues but hopeless at winning cups. They ground out their weekly away draws and home wins, but when it came to the bit of magic needed when games had to be won, they were found wanting.
I see a lot of parallels with the current Waterford setup. Waterford currently have upcoming strike forwards with great potential in Patrick Curran and the two Bennetts. Yet, just as Jack Charlton had John Aldridge wearing his feet to stumps (his own words) chasing long balls into the corners, last year Derek McGrath had Stephen Bennett operating far from goal playing a poorly-defined and thankless role. Similarly, Shane Bennett is wandering around the field hoping the ball will come his way.

We all know what Patrick Curran and Stephen Bennett are capable of close to goal, and we saw further evidence of it last Wednesday in Walsh Park. I have no problem with Waterford continuing to operate a sweeper. Most counties do it and in Tadhg de Búrca we have the best in the business. But I think we should plant Stephen Bennett and Patrick Curran close to goal and concentrate on delivering good early ball into them. In three plays they could do more damage than six players spending an hour fighting for ruck ball in the midfield area.

On the basis of recent games I am also coming around to the idea of locating Austin Gleeson at centre back. I don’t think the current practice of moving him around makes adequate use of his prodigious talent. I’m not normally a fan of Ger Loughnane, but on that Sunday Game programme he spoke a lot of sense. Of Austin Gleeson he said “he doesn’t know where he is playing and what he is doing.” I accept that the Clare Under-21 team are not the best measuring rod, but Gleeson looked very comfortable and imperious in a fixed half back position last Wednesday night. We need to get him to focus more on delivering early ball to the full forwards rather than running with it, but with Tadhg de Búrca filling in behind him, I would give him his head.

Finally, in relation to de Búrca, a writer in one of the Sunday papers said that a key factor in Tipperary’s win in the Munster Final is that they put men in on de Búrca, thereby stifling him. I have watched a recording of the game several times. De Búrca got possession a lot more than any other player, and I did not note even one occasion where he was stopped, dispossessed or blocked by his markers, while his use of the ball was frequently very good. He was not as good under the high ball as he normally is, but he was still easily Waterford’s best player on the day.

A long time in politics

Back in 2000 we all went to O’Moore Park to see Waterford take on Laois in the National League. We were undefeated up that the point while Laois, If memory serves me correct, had not won a match themselves. This was reflected in the crowd as Waterford fans outnumbered the Laois fans by about ten-to-one. What was probably more impactful on the attendance was the Laois Under-21 footballers playing Meath the same day. They lost. It was not a good day for them, although it was as good as our year got as we lost the next day out against Tipp, flopped badly in the National League semi-final to Galway, then went out with a whimper in the Munster championship.

You could understand the eagerness to flock to the Under-21 banner, what with the All-Ireland Minor champions of 1996 and 1997 coming of age. Things are not quite as skewed in Waterford, but the result last weekend was an almighty wake-up call regarding our progress. I don’t feel silly for thinking we were heading towards the ultimate glory in the next few years, or even this year. If we carried on in the manner we were going, it was inevitable. Alas, the beating we took in Limerick is a huge setback. Even if one assumes that Waterford are a lot better than that, and we should still be favourites for the next game against Wexford, Kilkenny looks like a mountain we are still not equipped to climb. Then there is the small matter of Tipperary. I had assumed, and this is the part that makes me feel silly, that they had not made the progress we had made in the last 12 months. Talk about making an ass out of u and me. Okay, just me then. They’ve clearly bulked up a lot since Galway took them out in 2015 and they will be bracing themselves for a collision with Kilkenny on the first Sunday in September.

That was the reality into which we faced on Monday morning, but in 60 wonderful minutes on Wednesday the Under-21’s shaped a new reality. I’m sure there have been occasions on the past where I have cheered for Tipperary – all of them probably against Kilkenny – but never with such gusto as I did on Thursday. Limerick have a bit of a hex over us at underage, with four straight wins at Minor level, and we could do without talk of them getting vengeance for the controversial Hawk Eye incident that directly contributed to them missing out on having another go at us in the 2013 All-Ireland final. All of this pales into insignificance though at the prospect of an evening of hoopla up at the old Sports Field.

This has the potential to be the biggest Waterford game ever staged in Walsh Park. Dungarvan has a storied history with three All-Ireland hurling finals staged there in the early 20th century. (I think it’s telling that when coming up with a convenient neutral venue for Cork to play Kilkenny and London in those three finals, Waterford city seems not to have been taken into account. A garrison town thing? But I digress . . . ) No Senior Munster final has ever been played in the city, and while there have been eight All-Ireland Under-21 finals played there, it’s only natural that none of them have involved Waterford, and it wasn’t until the mid-00’s that all Under-21 matches were played on a home-and-away basis. The first Munster Under-21 final was played in Walsh Park and the 23-point trimming we took to Tipperary was evidence of how the apparatus that had kept Waterford a force to be reckoned with in the previous quarter-century was beginning to fall apart – beating Galway in the semi-final was practically a bye in those days. We played Cork in the final in 2007 and got beaten out the gate. 2009 gave a glimpse of what might have been in Fraher against Clare. They won a thriller and went on to dominate the grade ever since. Could this be our time? Scramble for tickets, traffic jams, packed venue, crowd dominated by Waterford fans, a team in their prime, a shot at a little vengeance of our own . . . it’s going to be epic.

Waterford 0-13 (13) Tipperary 5-19 (34)

Tipperary add to Munster haul after crushing Déise – RTÉ
Five star! Tipperary’s goals see them storm to Munster title with 21-point win over Waterford – The42.ie
Proud Premier wallop Waterford – HoganStand.com
John McGrath the executioner as Tipperary bombard dismal Waterford – Irish Examiner
Gaelic Grounds massacre – Tipperary ease to 21 point win – Irish Times
Tipp torrents wash Deise hopes away – Irish Independent


Waterford v Tipperary 10 July 2016

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Speaking to an ITK Tipperary man the Thursday before the game, he said two things: Seamus Callinan would be fit, and Tipp would be gunning for goals at the expense of everything else. Good luck with that, I thought. This was Tipp’s grand plan, attacking a defence that had conceded three goals in five Championship matches under Derek McGrath? With the addition of Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran to our attack from last year, I was now feeling very confident, confidence that was not dissipated when Curran pointed within 20 second of the start.

A lot had happened to get to this place. We had travelled to Limerick via a circuitous route involving Cahir, Mitchelstown and Ballyneety. Travelling through the latter I had to suppress invocations of Patrick Sarsfield. After all, the good guys lost the Williamite wars. It was a route that made a lot of sense as we zipped into Limerick city centre, although the arrival in Limerick city centre suggested this wasn’t going to be a remake of a Cecil B DeMille epic. Reports from earlier on in the week said the crowd would be well down on last year and I felt a rising dread as we approaching the Gaelic Grounds, a combination of the foul weather which matched all of Frank McCourt’s most feverish imaginings and the possibility that we would be severely outnumbered. I had heard stories of people who refused point blank to go to Limerick on the principle that they wouldn’t go to Limerick. Were we about to be humiliated by such nonsense?

Thankfully this didn’t look to be the case as there no visible or audible differences between the respective crowds. The feeling of dread didn’t dissipate until Curran’s score, and even then I wondered what the hell I was doing here. The last time I had been at a match in such evil conditions had been in Dungarvan when I was only an hour away from home. Once you factored in walking back tgo the city centre it would be four hours to get home from here, if we were lucky. The tens of thousands of people who had stayed away, for whatever reason, had been the sensible ones.

Eventually the feeling subsided – the dread perversely co-existed with confidence of victory – and after the first quarter everything seemed to be going smoothly, with one notable exception. Two points from sideline balls from Austin Gleeson certainly lifted the spirits and he was making a splendid nuisance of himself in the full-forward line. Tadgh de Búrca was hurling oceans of ball, as is his wont, and the scoreboard was kept ticking over thanks to a few frees, at least one of which was ridiculously soft. Keeping up a rate of a point every two minutes would do just fine, especially if the goals could be kept out. But that’s your problem right there. In the middle of all that we could see Tipp’s first foray at goal as evidence in favour of my ITK contact’s hypothesis, going straight for the jugular from which Stephen O’Keeffe pulled off a routine save. Alas, it looked a bit too routine as he spooned the ball into the air and John McGrath was on hand to put the ball in the net.

Okay, no need to panic. Waterford had a goal chance not long after but Curran (I think it was) would have needed a pooper scooper to have been able to pick the ball up while running towards goal and his attempts to bring the ball nearer the target with his feet were eventually shepherded out wide. We were soon back in front anyway, and that was as good as it got. We began to spurn some routine chances, with Gleeson in particular guilty of a rash turn-and-strike when he had time and space to adjust the radar. At some point he had moved back out the field and any threat of a goal from Waterford went with him. Tipp did hit a few poor wides in the first few minutes but were being far more economical with their chances. Not that this would be difficult as the minutes racked up without a single white flag for Waterford. There was one incredibly lucky escape when a short puck-out went straight to a Tipp man and (natch) they went for goal. O’Keeffe managed to do his bit but the defence couldn’t clear the danger and it took a couple of backs to clear it off the line, and even then we had to rely on a poor wide to ensure no damage had been done. This was looking like it was going to be a dour, low-scoring affair so it was possible it was going to be a pivotal moment.

That was the hope anyway. We play a possession game and work the ball up the field at the best of times so maybe that would work in the second half. Mahony had missed a couple of frees before finally notching one just before half-time and you clung to the notion that that had stopped the rot. During the break the Primary Games were on and a fingernail was lost looking at the Tipperary chiselers raining (pun unintended) shot after shot down on the lamentably exposed Waterford goalkeeper – although it should be noted that the goalkeeper at the other end was a ringer if ever there was one, towering over everyone else like LeBron James.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Some will look back at what unfolded and see parallels with the 2011 Munster final, and the margin of victory would certainly support that. Standing there on Sunday, what came to mind was the 1998 Munster final replay. This had none of the (ahem) poison of that day, but the manner in which Waterford set up the circumstances that led to total collapse had far more in common with the 1998 final than the 2011 edition. Having failed to make a strong wind count in vile, energy-sapping conditions, Waterford were going to have to show iron resolve. Instead they fell victim to a goal of almost comical simplicity as John McGrath was able to run through the middle and kick the ball to the net. A few minutes later a long ball was pounced upon by the same man and he had players rushing in from all sides with Michael Breen being the one to apply the finishing touch. Game over and still a good 20 minutes to go.

Man, how lonely it was to be in the Gaelic Grounds now. Literally so, as people began to stream towards the exits. It’s not nice, and we were determined to stay to the bitter end, but it was miserable enough up there without events on the pitch making it more so. It was training ground stuff for Tipp, right down to their fourth goal which came from a penalty from McGrath that had an experimental feel to it, opting for placement rather than power. It went in anyway via a valiant effort to save it from O’Keeffe, and there was no place in the world more lonely than his spot lying prostrate on the ground as the Tipp fans cheered. Or maybe it was Pauric Mahony’s spot as he sent a few more frees, whose only function was to put a slightly less grisly gloss on the scoreboard, wide of the target as the Tipp fans cheered.

Players went and substitutes came, the most consequential of them being the departure of Austin Gleeson. Saving him for the Under-21’s on Wednesday night? It would be nice to think that they were thinking that far ahead. The thoughts in the present were to avoid the result ticking over into the 20+ point territory, but the harsh truth is that Tipp could have driven well past that had they been so inclined. Even without trying they could cough up a few more goalscoring chances, one of which Callinan took to more it into that territory.

The best way of demonstrating how beat-down I was came as the game entered the final minute of normal time. All those goals produced a series of que-sera-sera shrugs but when Brian Gavin, who had been relatively generous to us, i.e. his mistakes fell more in our favour than theirs, indicated that there would be four minutes of injury time, I exploded with rage. What kind of jackass is so impervious to all manner of blunders, which every referee will make in every match no matter how good they are, yet engages in a flint-minded tapping of the watch when one team is being absolutely blown out of it? Is a referee’s assessor seriously going to say “you should have played an extra couple of minutes there, Brian”? Stronger words than ‘jackass’ came out of my mouth that would have embarrassed me if there had been anyone around to hear them.

If I’m being honest with myself, and what is the point of all this if I’m going to lie to myself, the rage was a blessed distraction from the unexpected unravelling that had just taken place. It was really unexpected. The whole point of The System was to ensure this kind of debacle did not take place. You hope that this was a perfect storm, that any team that had failed to ram home the advantage of the elements might fall apart in the manner in which we did. We’re not just any team though. We’re a Waterford team, and we’ve been here soooo many times before. The evidence of this game suggests that little has changed. We’ll give Wexford a good rattle. We’ll probably even be favourites. And if we do get past them, we’ll be gunned down for the umpteenth time by Kilkenny. I had really hoped the paradigm had changed, even unto thinking after the loss to the Limerick Minors (themselves gunned down by Tipperary earlier in the day; maybe that’s where the Primary Game ringer came from) that we just had to keep at it and we’d eventually get across that finishing line one year. This game suggests that, despite Derek McGrath’s best efforts, things have not changed apart from the initial lurch forward we made in the late 90’s. You wonder how many times we can maintain that position before we begin to go back at a rate of knots.

Tippecanoe and Thurles too

Damn you, John Mullane. I had been pondering a post on the general subject of playing in Thurles for a while and had come up with a delightfully cryptic title. But the likelihood of Thurles staging the Munster final against Tipperary are surely dead in the water as the Great Man has spoken:

Oh well. It’s not as if anyone would have bothered Googling such a daft title, let alone understood it to begin with, so let’s just leave that remnant of the youthful time wasted reading about dead American Presidents in the set of encyclopaedias my parents bought back in the early 1980’s where it is and imagine there might be a debate to be had on whether the Munster final be played in Thurles or Limerick.

Such a debate pivots on whether you think Thurles is a home-away-from-home for Waterford, to the extent that it negates any home advantage that Tipperary have. Back in the day I would have believed this to the case, and you could probably waste some time of your own locating worshipful comments on the subject in the archives of this blog. But like John Mullane my opinion has changed. If you suggest that it might be an advantage for Tipperary then you will be asked to quantify how many points it is worth to Tipp. This is the wrong way to look at it. Instead, imagine playing them one hundred times in a neutral venue. Then imagine playing them one hundred times in Thurles. Anyone who says the outcomes would be exactly the same is fooling themselves. And yes, it isn’t a real world experiment. But it illustrates the point that there is a small advantage for Tipp and, all other things being equal, Waterford shouldn’t be handing it to them.

Of course, not all things are equal. There are myriad little reasons for preferring Thurles over Limerick. Traffic, parking, pre-match atmosphere, the venue (facilities and capacity), the prospect of making a few quid for the perennially cash-strapped Waterford County Board, the prospect of putting the kibosh on the our-turn-to-stage-the-big-dance entitlement of the perennially cash-strapped Limerick County Board. Depending on how much weight you put on it, any of those reasons could reasonably be enough to tip the balance in favour of Thurles.

For me though, it’s a little reason that have tilted the balance against Thurles – I’m sick of the place. Since 2000 we have played 64 matches in the Senior Championship. 30 of them have been in Thurles. There’s nothing special about a trip to Tipp if you’re doing it an average of twice a year. Even Tipperary folk seem to feel the same way as they could only manage an attendance of 25,531 yesterday when combined with Limerick supporters – so much for Waterford fans being the ones who don’t travel in great numbers. Familiarity also makes you really appreciate the smug, self-satisfied air that hangs around Thurles like Lar Corbett marking Tommy Walsh. By all accounts Limerick is a bugger to get away from after a big match, but the way people bang on about Thurles you’d swear everyone is able to park right next to the greyhound stadium and zoom out of the town in their own ZiL lanes rather than having to pay to park in the mart, as opposed to getting a free space out by the golf course, and not get out for over an hour like happened to us at last year’s Munster final. Any crowd in the region of 40,000 is going to generate a lot of traffic, and half-baked tales about taking one of the 85 routes in/out of the town are not going to change that.

(I realise the above tweet is a joke, by the way.)

The primary reason I want to play the game in Limerick is to not cede home advantage. Other considerations come a long way behind. But the sense of ennui with Thurles is real. The staging of games in Munster has become completely ossified, a sign of clinging to the halcyon days back around the turn of the century when every game had the potential to be 50,000-capacity sell-out. I was surprised to find out today that we have played a grand total of two Championship matches in Limerick in 50 years. Those games – Clare in 2008 and Cork in 1983 – ended badly. Time to make some positive memories as we bring morning to Waterford.

The Déise Roar

Nothing more needs to be said.

Oh okay, if you insist. We really did need to beat Cork, didn’t we? Having speculated recently that they were not up to much, this theory was emphasised in bold, underline, italics and a grim Gothic font as Cork were crushed on Saturday night by Dublin. I’d say I felt a sense of schadenfreude at the anguish of their supporters on Twitter, but there was nothing shameful about this joy. Only this week a Cork lad in work was asking us “when did ye last win the All-Ireland?”, as if he had a clutch of Celtic crosses himself but had lost them down the back of the sofa. They are on their knees, and it is compulsory to apply the boot with extreme prejudice. You wouldn’t want to gloat too hard though. Two years ago we had four points from the first two games only for the wheels to fly off in spectacular fashion and end up getting relegated. The possibility of ending up in a winner-takes-all-loser-takes-a-fall game against Cork still loomed large. All it would take then for disaster to strike would be one careless challenge leading to two yellow cards and, well, just ask Everton and Man Utd fans, aha-ha.

We have no such worries now. No, we don’t, despite Derek McGrath expressing concern on the radio that we might not end up in the quarters with six points. Cork cannot overtake us and if Galway get up to six points by beating Tipperary and Waterford, Tipp can get no more than four points. We will be in the quarter-finals. The question is who we will meet there or, more pertinently, who we would like to meet there. A home draw would be lovely and the only chance of that is to play a team from Division 1B who has also played three games at home. By my reckoning Clare and Offaly will have played three matches at home while Limerick and Wexford will have only played two matches at home. So the ideal opponents would be Offaly where we would have a 50:50 chance of a home draw. If you are from Offaly and take offence at the notion that I would rather play you than Clare, all I can say is: get a grip. I’m being generous by assuming that you will definitely finish ahead of Kerry.

I’m going to regret such presumptuousness . . . tripe! During the week Derek McGrath suggested that Tipperary were ‘four or five years ahead of Waterford‘. One should never take such pronouncements too seriously, but let’s assume he really believes that. Given where we are now, how would you feel if we were in the same position that Tipperary are now in five years time? I’d be thrilled – if we were talking about the footballers. The hurlers? Not so much. Why should Austin Gleeson, an All-Ireland medal winner and All-Star who has grown up without a speck of the kind of inferiority complex that has blighted our interactions with Tipp over the decades, view their current standing as the limit of his aspirations?

Okay, that probably is a bit presumptuous. You can be sure that Michael Ryan – the Tipp version, not our Scully – will have accused his team of defecating on the jersey of John and Jimmy Doyle with their craven capitulation to the non-entities south of the Suir. Where Derek McGrath is coming from is to warn the players not to get too carried away. League wins are ten-a-penny these days in Waterford. But that in itself represents a huge improvement on what went before. Keep it up, and the promised land isn’t just likely. It’s inevitable.

Waterford 1-18 (21) Tipperary 1-17 (20) – media reports

Waterford strike late to maintain 100 per cent record – Irish Times
Austin Gleeson steps up to seal the deal for Waterford – Irish Examiner
Waterford show real resolve to wear down Tipperary in thrilling finish – Irish Independent
Na Deise sink Premier at the death in Thurles thriller – HoganStand.com
Waterford edge out Tipperary to extend winning sequence – RTÉ
Waterford snatch a late winner in Thurles – WLR

Waterford 0-18 (18) Kilkenny 1-21 (24)

Waterford v Kilkenny 9 August 2015 Cover

As the carnage that was Australia’s first innings in the recent Ashes Test at Trent Bridge came to its conclusion, a tweet from Jonathan Liew of the Daily Telegraph – wait, come back! He calls that city on the banks of the Foyle by the proper name! – did the rounds:

Armed with such knowledge, I decided it might be an idea to wait until after the second All-Ireland semi-final between Tipperary and Galway before posting my thought on our game against Kilkenny.

That’s my story as to why it’s so late and I’m sticking by it.

The first thing to note about the respective games is the wisdom of crowds. I waited until Saturday evening before buying my tickets in SuperValu and the chap there was all apologetic about the quality of the tickets. I was not all bothered – where are these awful seats in Croke Park? – and I was quite pleased at the thought that this might be approaching a sell-out. Arriving in Dublin, it was even more encouraging to encounter traffic jams just past Kilcullen and see signs advising us to avoid the Red Cow park-and-ride. This was going to be a blockbuster! So a crowd of 41,122 was rather disappointing and the contrast with the 58,495 punters at the second semi-final was stark. We did outnumber the Kilkenny attendance but that only went to show how they were confidently keeping their powder dry for a bigger battle. The supporters of Tipperary and Galway obviously felt their game was a toss-up and when even the notoriously travel-shy Tribesmen (for hurling anyway, the big ball game being the pursuit of choice on Corribside) are turning out in such numbers in the aftermath of the trashing they handed out to Cork, you knew something big was in the offing.

And what of The System? Everything was building up to this, and if the measure of its effectiveness was the ability to end a run of seven straight defeats against Kilkenny then – spoiler alert! – it was found wanting. That was certainly how I felt after our game, but after watching Séamus Callanan make hay against Galway, I’m not so sure. The sweeper meant there was no such cutting loose from him against us, and while in practical terms that only amounted to four points (3-16 v 0-21) a more potent attack such as Galway possess could have run away from Tipperary had the sweeper been deployed. If that sounds a little dismissive of Galway again, rest assured that it is not. It took some cojones to recover from the sledgehammer blows of those goals, and it is a compliment to their performance that they were able to overcome the tactical deficit and come out on top.

At the end of the first half of our game it looked like the system was doing just fine. Our first score, a point from Maurice Shanahan, contained an ever-so-slight hint of a goal chance and while we were ridiculously lucky not to concede a goal shortly afterwards when a few ricochets avoided trickling over the line by hitting the unaware Shane Fives on the heel, there were bodies back there and the harassment of forwards that has characterised so much of our play this year was much in evidence. On the flip side, all that space that Shanahan enjoyed for that first score demonstrated how much space there was in the Kilkenny 45 because, well, only a couple of our players were there. One mazy run by Michael Walsh ran out of steam because there was no one to whom to pass the ball. Austin Gleeson weighed in with his seemingly obligatory score from a sideline, and we were going to need more like that if we were to prosper.

It was telling that by the 15th minute there had been only three scores apiece. There was never any danger of anyone cutting loose in the style of Callanan so the first goal was always going to be a proper statement and when a double turn by a Kilkenny player – I really thought those were the kind of thing referees frowned upon in their hopeless quest to spot overcarrying – ended with a ball in to TJ Reid to score a simple goal, you worried it would be a game-changer. With what looked like a one man full-forward line, we were not going to trouble the Kilkenny goal with much. A long-range point from play by Shanahan and a free from him from way out after a stirring catch from Gleeson showed that we had set out a plan to win from the half-back line. When you get in the trenches like that though you are as likely to give away frees as win them and Reid kept things ticking over for them from the place balls. Keep it tight, take your chances. That’s all we could hope for and when Jake Dillon won a cheap free to trim the lead to two and Glesson followed upto make it a one-point game with only three minutes left in the half, you could see the spirits lift around the Waterford crowd. The half ended with flurry of points, Shane Bennett’s point after benefitting from yet more devil-may-care surging from defence from Gleeson being sandwiched by two frees for Kilkenny, one a careless trip from behind and the other a blatant professional foul right on the stroke of half-time to keep the gap at two.

The hope was there, it really was. Keep it tight, take your chances. If we were two points adrift with a minute to go, who knows? There was moment for some levity for a Tramore man like myself as the announcer mention the presence on the children’s half-time game of someone from “Fenor NS, Tramore”. Them’s fighting words in the Big Apple Pip. But we’d all be in it together come the first Sunday in September, right?

Alas, no. Midway through the first half Jamie Barron (I think it was) was penalised as he cut across a Kilkenny player as they chased a loose ball. I was instantly annoyed by this and the man beside me, who I got the feeling was not from Waterford but cheering for them in the company of his Déise wife, gave me a gentle smile and opined that it was indeed a free. I sheepishly admitted that he was right but I explained that a season of seeing Waterford players consistently emerge with the ball in those kind of situations had made me feel like they would always win them and some manner of skulduggery must have been afoot. It’s all very well saying we needed to keep it tight, but it’s hard to do when the opposition are so much more robust than you are. A combination of physical conditions and the elixir that is Brian Cody means some of these Kilkenny lads are hewn from granite and as the metres covered and hits taken piled up, it began to tell.

Even taking all that after-the-fact comment into account, the game was nearly up moments in to the second half as Walter Walsh found himself in acres of space but fired his shot across the bows of Stephen O’Keeffe’s goal. Kilkenny tacked on two scores practically from the next two puckouts, and while a cheap free for Shanahan and a well-worked score down the line from Tadhg de Búrca to Kevin Moran kept the gap at two the cracks were beginning to appear. Barry Coughlan had time to clear after de Búrca engaged in his normal mopping-up operation only to hit it straight to a Kilkenny forward who lashed it over, and when even de Búrca couldn’t engage in his normal moping-up operation, finding himself stranded with no support and giving up the free, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing.

We knew that to win this everything had to go right, but how can you get it right when they are in your face so often and showing they had so much more water in the well from which to draw? There was a sniff of a goal chance for Colin Dunford as he cut across the face of the Kilkenny full-back line, and you might wonder whether recent travails in the shooting department made him reluctant to take it on as he took his point. The neutral-ish chap to my left certainly thought this was a chance spurned. Given the iron will so repeatedly demonstrated by Kilkenny under Cody, the game was curiously ragged and when Richie Hogan hit a wide from out near the 45 that he would literally, in the truest sense of the term, have expected him to put over with his eyes closed, you could see a little vulnerability there, if only we could take it. Galway will certainly be hoping they saw exactly that.

We were out on our feet already though. It was painful watching Jake Dillon to wring some more out of his linen, and a push on the back from Austin Gleeson showed tired minds as well as limbs. Most of Waterford’s efforts were hit-and-hope balls into the mix. You wanted to scream at them to move the ball in the manner in which they had being doing in previous games, but the flesh was weak. Another half-chance for a goal from Dunford led to a point and kept the gap at three and is probably the point at which ingénues like my wife and her family/friends would be able to tell me afterwards that we had gone soooo close, but from where I was sitting it would need a red card or a fluky goal to keep us in touch. Instead we got a couple of nervous/exhausted flails from Jamie Barron on which Kilkenny pounced to swiftly stretch the lead back to five.

I’m not saying Waterford gave up. They tried, Lord did they try. Austin Gleeson sent off over a tremendous solo effort from way out and they were still capable of putting up one of those splendid phalanxes across the goal which has served them so well this year. It all felt like it was from memory though, and the gaps appeared again to the extent that Ger Aylward only had to round Stephen O’Keeffe to put the game to bed. He went around him and incredibly somehow put it wide at the near post. It was an appalling miss, followed by two more desperate wides from play for them. One of them was from Richie Hogan and it’s hard to believe he has hit two as bad as as he hit in this game in an entire year in his career before now. Dunford, so effervescent in the third quarter, was now back into the business of wides and Kilkenny were content to play scrappy, burning through a couple of minutes with throw balls and relying on Hogan not being completely off his game with a couple of points from play, both far more difficult than those he had missed. The second saw him leave two Waterford players in his wake. A depressing sight.

As the team who served so much classic fare in the Noughties with our freewheeling style of hurling, I’ll say that I don’t miss it that much, even after watching the thrill-a-minute stuff of the second semi-final a week later. Those games where the lead see-saws constantly and the spoils go to those who happen to be leading when the ref blows the final whistle are wonderful for the neutral but ghastly for those involved, even when you win. Then again, this was pretty ghastly fare at the other end of the spectrum, the only consolation being that it could have been much worse as Kilkenny failed to get our jugular. A few more bodies went into the forwards to try and get those goals but they never looked like coming. About as much satisfaction as we got was seeing sub John Power stick his arse into Stephen O’Keeffe as he came to clear a ball. Hey, at least we didn’t resort to that kind of nonsense in defeat, right?

After the game, everyone I spoke to seemed profoundly depressed. My father thought it was the worst effort at getting over the semi-final hump he had seen from Waterford. On the Luas I encountered a former work colleague, the type who works diligently for his club and attends loadsa games, so for as robust and knowledgable a supporter as him to be so maudlin was a sign that this had not been a good day at the office. Looking back on it, it wasn’t great. The incoherence of my writing above about the second half mostly reflects the incoherence of my writing, but it was a disjointed display from Waterford. Shorn of so many of the members of the hurling pantheon who have graced their team over the last 15 years, Kilkenny are not the force of old. Galway will have seen the sloppiness of their overall display and will be confident they can take on the lessons of the Tipperary game and apply them in the final. Would we be able to do the same if we got a second bite of the cherry? I don’t think we would. They horsed us out of it in the end, and no amount of systemising would have been won that game.

Remember where you read that slogan first.

I refuse to be downbeat though. At the end of last year I was worried we might be overtaken by Laois. Now, we’re meant to be despondent because we couldn’t overtake Kilkenny? The gap between where we were and where we are is gargantuan, and we even have some silverware  to prove it. We weren’t close to the ultimate prize, but I still think it was a year worthy of a cigar.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-3, 0-1 s/l), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Darragh Fives, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane Bennett (0-1; Stephen Bennett), Jake Dillon (Patrick Curran), Maurice Shanahan (0-9, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Michael Walsh, Colin Dunford (0-4)

Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast, Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley (0-1), Michael Fennelly (0-1), Conor Fogarty, Walter Walsh (John Power), Richie Hogan (0-5), TJ Reid (1-9, 0-7f), Ger Aylward (0-4), Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin (0-1)

HT: Waterford 0-10 (10) Kilkenny 1-9 (12)

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

Waterford 0-16 Tipperary 0-21

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 Cover

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.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (1)

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.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 18)

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?

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 19)

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.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 20)

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.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 21)

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 v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (17)

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)