Maturing Deise will ask awkward questions but Tipp still have the answers
Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30
When Austin Gleeson pointed a 100-metre free in the closing seconds of the Tipperary-Waterford Allianz League game in Thurles in March, Derek McGrath leaped into the air in delight.
It proved to be the winning point and McGrath later said that the victory provided extra satisfaction.
Not only had Waterford overturned a five-point second-half deficit, they did it in Semple Stadium, scene of so many disappointments against Tipperary.
"There's always a doubt coming to a place you associate with drubbings over the years so yes, it was a very satisfying result," said McGrath.
He had reason to be happy on another front too as the win represented a further step forward for a Waterford team that had come up five points short against Tipperary in last year's Munster final.
It's was seen as part of a process, one which has the ultimate ambition of welcoming the Liam MacCarthy Cup back to Waterford.
"Maybe we showed inexperience," said McGrath after the defeat by Tipperary last year.
He was right. Waterford missed a few goal chances, something they could not afford against more experienced opposition, who knew how to manage the game, especially in the closing stages when they were defending a lead.
Twelve months on, the two big questions are whether Waterford, now more seasoned and secure, can bridge the gap with Tipp and whether Michael Ryan's crew have moved on again from progressed on 2015?
There's certainly evidence to suggest that Waterford are better than last year.
Only the tightest of marginal calls prevented them heading into the championship as league champions and they quickly got over that setback by beating Clare in the Munster semi-final.
Their preference for the Gaelic Grounds, rather than Thurles, as the venue for the final has been portrayed in some quarters as a sign that they are not as confident in themselves as they appear.
In reality, it's a pragmatic call, based on the understandable principle that since Semple Stadium is a home venue for Tipp it must offer them some advantage so why go with it? After all, Tipp don't have to play championship games in Walsh Park.
Waterford had a busier spring than Tipp this year, playing three games more in a league campaign which ended at the quarter-final stage for Michael Ryan's men.
Prior to that, Tipp just avoided getting sucked into a Division 1A relegation play-off so overall it wasn't a particularly good campaign.
That brings Tipp's Munster championship wins over Cork and Limerick under close scrutiny.
Cork accommodated Tipp's advance with a startling exhibition of tactical naïveté, while Limerick produced a shoddy performance.
It's probably unfair to judge Tipp too harshly on either day, since they looked as if they had a whole more in reserve against Cork, while unforeseen circumstances changed the texture of the Limerick clash when 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer was sent off early on.
Still, Tipp know that neither performance would be good enough to beat Waterford.
Their cause is certainly hindered by O'Dwyer's absence due to suspension. He was man-of-the-match in last year's Munster final, scoring 0-5 (0-3 from play) as well as contributing enormously around midfield in the final quarter as Tipp held firm.
However, it was what happened in his absence for almost three-quarters of the clash with Limerick last month that suggested Tipp are well primed for a good campaign.
O'Dwyer's dismissal raised the stakes but they coped admirably with the manpower shortage, winning more comfortably than the 3-12 to 1-16 scoreline suggests, since Limerick's goal came deep in stoppage-time.
The experience of having to deal with something unexpected will certainly have been a help to Tipp in their preparations for tomorrow's clash as McGrath is very clever at devising shapes and structures that pose as many mental as physical tests for the opposition.
Tipp dealt with them quite well in last year's Munster final but can expect a more refined set this time.
McGrath has also spoken about Waterford being possibly "subconsciously softer" in 2015.
"Time waits for no-one," he said. Clearly, he sees this game as a major defining post in the squad's development.
The average age of the squad is quite young - with quite a few in their early 20s - but as far as McGrath is concerned there's no time to deliver like the present.
The entire Waterford package is expertly packaged but there's still a feeling that if Tipper deliver at their optimum levels, the advantage rests with them to win a fourth Munster title in six seasons.