By Noel Dundon
Tipperary's minor hurlers suffered their second consecutive Munster Final defeat at Semple Stadium on Sunday afternoon last when underdogs Waterford turned over the Premier County men and never allowed them to get into stride in the game.
An encounter which never really lived up to the billing, Tipp will certainly feel that they didn't perform in this game and will readily acknowledge that the silverware went in the right direction on the day. Indeed, the Deise win was even more comprehensive than the scoreline might suggest with Tipp bagging a late John O'Dwyer goal from a 21 yard free.
The disappointment etched on the faces of the Tipp lads after the game was understandable. And, while it is hard enough to deal with losing a Munster Final, it is an even more heavy burden to shoulder when you simply failed to perform to standard. That's how the Tipp lads felt at the final whistle and while they continued to battle right to the very end, Waterford's high work ethic had seen them through to only their fourth minor title, and their first since 1992. Interestingly, they have defeated Tipperary now in all four of their provincial wins.
Tipperary came into the final on the back of two big clashes against Cork in the semi-final and with the favourites tag intact, Mark O'Leary's men had a lot to live up to. Indeed, they had played some sublime hurling along the way while at the same time having a number of areas to work on. From a Tipperary viewpoint, the hope was that some of the gray areas identified in the semi-final drawn match and replay, could be eradicated altogether -there had been a marked improvement from the Pairc Ui Chaoimh outing to the replay a week later in Semple Stadium.
The inclement weather of the weekend continued prior to throw-in with a very heavy rain shower ensuring that underfoot conditions would be tricky at best. Semple Stadium was in splendid condition, but the ball would still be very greasy and the conditions hard to manage. Whoever mastered them first would have a big say in the destination of the silverware.
Tipperary started very slowly in this game and seemed to find it hard to get into stride. Indeed, they played second fiddle to Waterford right the way through the half and yet only trailed by three at the break 0-11 to 0-8.
Tipp actually had the first score of the half through a huge effort from wing back Alan Hogan from long range. Waterford midfielder Martin O'Neill canceled this effort with a nice score, but Tipp's John O'Dwyer restored the advantage again for the Premier men with a pointed free in the 6th.
Waterford though had settled into the game and were applying the pressure especially at midfield and half back. Martin O'Neill fired over two from play as well as a pointed free to go along with a Ronan Cahill effort to give their side a 0-5 to 0-2 advantage coming towards the end of the first quarter.
John O'Dwyer's two pointed frees helped Tipp to settle somewhat but the Deise had struck four wides in the quarter and could have been much further in front had they been more economical.
A Stephen O'Keeffe save from Tipp attacker David Butler in the 19th was crucial as the sides continued to trade points – a goal would have been a big score in such a game. Instead, Ruairi Gleeson and Sean Curran were forced to trade points with Martin O'Neill and Brian O'Halloran – John O'Dwyer getting another for Tipp to level the game in the 23rd.
Waterford though finished the half in the stronger fashion and four unanswered scores from O'Halloran, Martin O'Neill, Ian Galvey and a beautiful sideline cut from Finan Murray helped to give them a 0-11 to 0-8 interval lead – Adrian Cleere grabbing a vital score for Tipp at the very death.
The Tipp lads knew coming out for the second half that they needed to up their performance quite significantly. They had not managed to find any real rhythm in the first half and yet were only three in arrears. The reverse side of this scenario was that Waterford had more or less dominated the half and yet were only one score to the good, having played with the aid of the breeze. It was all to play for in the second half.
Tipp could have been on terms immediately after resumption had it not been for the brilliance of Stephen O'Keeffe in the Waterford goal – he saved from Ruairi Gleeson in the 1st minute when a goal would have been a massive shot in the arm to Tipp.
Instead Waterford went on and increased their lead with Jake Dillon and Paudie Prendergast chipping in with scores. Waterford could have closed off the game then when Dillon shot goalwards in the 8th minute, but Tipp keeper Paul Ryan was equal to the effort. The miss didn't deter the Deise though as Martin O'Neill had another brace to give them a six point advantage – John O'Dwyer had an intervening scores to keep Tipp in touch.
Eanna Murray and John O'Dwyer cut the deficit but once again Martin O'Neill fired over two to maintain the Waterford advantage – they were managing all the time to keep their noses in front and were able to respond to Tipp's efforts at recovery.
A David Butler goal chance in the 19th went abegging when the Knockavilla man raced through, but was unable to keep his kicked effort on target. Tipp were then awarded a penalty in the 22nd after sub Michael O'Brien had been fouled. However, such was the luck of the occasion for Tipp that John O'Dwyer's effort was beaten away and the follow-up cleared.
Tipperary continued to battle hard and eventhough Paudie O'Mahoney had another score for Waterford, Ruairi Gleeson and Thomas Butler found scores before John O'Dwyer had a consolation goal from a free in the 32nd minute – had the goal come a few minutes earlier it could have made for a grandstand finish.
Waterford were on top all the way in this game and the margin of victory certainly did not flatter them. A very well drilled side, they played some lovely hurling and had pace and skill to match their hunger. Indeed, the Waterford lads were extremely focused in this game and they used their physical advantage to good affect too with controlled aggression being the order of the day for them.
The win will certainly do wonders for confidence in the Waterford camp. In bridging a seventeen year gap – many of the current bunch were not even born when the Deise last got their hands on the title – they have made their own little bit of history and will hope to kick on from here now. Martin O'Neill was a real leader for them while Brian O'Halloran, Philip Mahoney, Tyrone Costelloe, Finan Murray and Ian Galgey were impressive for them while Stephen O'Keeffe made two vital stops in goal.
With all of their previous three provincial titles, Waterford have gone on to contest the All-Ireland Final, winning two of them. They will take some stopping if they continue their form.
From a Tipperary viewpoint, if they were to lose a game, this was the one. The backdoor now allows the side a chance to regroup and refocus on the All-Ireland series. Yes, Sunday was a bad day at the office for them – they failed to live up to expectation and will be disappointed not to have worked their way into the match. Tipp simply could not find the same level of fluency as heretofore in the championship and will be the first to admit that Waterford were the better side and deserving champions.
Defeat throws up a series of questions for the Tipperary team and the management. The only consolation is that there is certainly the capacity to improve, the knowhow to oversee it, and the desire to carry it through.
Best for Tipp on the day were John O'Dwyer, John Meagher, Liam Butler, Sean Curran and Alan Hogan, while Stephen Maher made a difference when introduced in defence.
Teams and Scorers:
Tipperary: P Ryan, A Ryan, K Butler, J Meagher, W Ryan, B Stapleton, A Hogan 0-1, E Murray 0-1, D Maher, J O'Dwyer 1-6, S Curran 0-1, A Cleere 0-1, D Collins, R Gleeson 0-2, D. Butler. Subs: T Butler for D Maher; M O'Brien for D Collins; P Heffernan for D Butler.
Waterford: S O'Keeffe, L Egan, T Costelloe, M Wyse, J Dee, P Mahoney, D Fives, F Murray 0-1, M O'Neill 0-10, P Mahoney 0-2, B O'Halloran 0-1, R Cahill 0-1, P Prendergast 0-1, J Dillon 0-1, I Galgey 0-1. Subs: K Moore for R Cahill.
Referee: C Lyons (Cork)