McGrath inspires Tipp to keep weakened Deise at arm's length
Allianz NHL Division 1 Tipperary 1-18 Waterford 0-15
It's a contest that won't lodge in the memory bank for long, having failed to ignite as expected, but that will be of no concern to Tipperary, who took care of business calmly and methodically in Walsh Park yesterday.
They trailed Waterford by a point on seven occasions in the first half but equalised every time before nudging ahead, 0-11 to 0-10, on the stroke of half-time.
Having played against the wind, it was a pretty comfortable position for the All-Ireland champions, one that they exploited in the second half to record a second successive victory which takes them top of the Division 1A table.
Since their wins against Dublin and Waterford were both away, it sets them up nicely to book a quarter-final place, possibly even in their next game.
One more win (they still have to play Clare and Kilkenny in Thurles and Cork in Pairc Ui Rinn) would almost certainly see them through to the last eight but the chances are that they will pick up considerably more than two points from those three games.
Winning an All-Ireland title gives a team a swagger that makes them that bit harder to beat, and that confidence was noticeable throughout most of yesterday's game.
Waterford toiled diligently but always looked as if they were expending more energy on the basics than Tipperary, who appeared to be playing well within their expansive range of talents.
They were able to spring John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan, Michael Breen and Michael Cahill from the bench as the occasion demanded, raising the stakes as they went for a Waterford team that badly missed Jamie Barron and Michael 'Brick' Walsh, both of whom were ruled out by various bugs.
Barron's all-action style and Walsh's ball-winning ability were important in Waterford's win over Kilkenny in the opening round so their absence yesterday was always going to be seriously damaging for Waterford.
And so it proved. The Déise coped well enough in the first half but struggled to win sufficient possession to really test the Tipperary defence in the second half.
Even when they did work the ball deep into the attacking area, they found James Barry, Seamus Kennedy and Padraic Maher an imposing trio, in front of goalkeeper Daragh Mooney.
Tipperary made a decisive break in the 10 minutes after half-time when they outscored Waterford by 0-4 to 0-1 to take their lead out to four points.
Pauric Mahony pared one back before O'Dwyer had a penalty brilliantly saved by Ian O'Regan in the 53rd minute.
It might have been a significant moment on another day but, this time, it provided no more than a brief respite for Waterford as Tipp pounced for the game's only goal five minutes later when John McGrath's batted in after O'Regan had made a splendid save from Noel McGrath.
That goal crowned an excellent performance by John McGrath, who scored 1-6 (1-3 from play).
His movement and anticipation took him to the point of much of Tipp's more exciting forward play, which also included solid contributions from Steven O'Brien, Jason Forde, Niall O'Meara in the first half and sub O'Dwyer after the break. Brendan Maher did well at midfield on a day when manager Michael Ryan had much to be pleased about.
Of course it's all about keeping a sense of perspective too in what was only the second week of the League campaign. Not that there was any chance of Ryan overstating the significance of this victory.
"It's good to win. That's what we came to do. This won't be the end of the chapter between Tipp and Waterford for the year," he said.
"It's just a point in time in February so I wouldn't get too excited. We're happy to take away the points, they're valuable to us. But the year is but a pup. We're only two games in. There are three more rounds to go and everyone is going to take points off everybody else."
Still, the reality is that one more point from a possible six would almost certainly be enough to ensure a place in the quarter-final. That will allow Ryan to continue in experimental mode without taking any real risks.
Waterford won't be overly deflated by yesterday's setback, given the mitigating circumstances.
Still, they should have done better in the first half, during which they shot six wides, four off Austin Gleeson's stick.
His total increased to five in the second half, although he did hit the target once with a delightful strike from out on the right wing.
Waterford manager Derek McGrath felt that despite being so close to Tipp all through the first half, his side weren't functioning on full power.
"I thought we were chasing it. They (Tipp) were that bit more clinical. There was great depth to their play -they were very impressive. Their scores were coming that bit easier. I can't be any more honest than that," he said.
He referenced the strength of Tipp's bench as a key factor. And when combined with Waterford's absentees, it made for a difficult afternoon for his side.
"They were bringing on lads like 'Bubbles', Noel McGrath, Seamie (Callanan) and Michael Breen. I don't think we will be the only team beaten by six points by Tipperary this year," said McGrath.
He is probably right and while this defeat makes Waterford's task a little harder, they still look a good bet to reach the quarter-finals
As for Tipp, it's all about continuing to build momentum and deepening the panel for the only real challenge that matters this year - attempting to win the All-Ireland double for the first time since 1965.
They would have regarded yesterday's assignment as one of the most dangerous in the League against a Waterford side with painful memories of the Munster final humiliation endured in the Gaelic Grounds last year.
However, once Tipp stayed with Waterford in the first half, they were always likely to press on, which they duly did.
Waterford badly needed a goal in the second half but the closest they came was when Shane Bennett fired in a powerful drive which was brilliantly saved by Darragh Mooney in the 64th minute. It was Waterford's final chance to trouble an ultra-confident Tipp.
The attendance was 7,344.
Scorers - Tipperary: J McGrath 1-6 (0-3fs), John O'Dwyer 0-5 (4fs), J Forde, S O'Brien 0-2 each, N O'Meara, B Maher, K Bergin 0-1 each. Waterford: P Mahony 0-9 (8f), B O'Halloran 0-2, T Devine, M Kearney, G O'Brien, A Gleeson 0-1 each.
Tipperary - D Mooney 7; D Maher 7, J Barry 8, Joe O'Dwyer 7; S Kennedy 7, T Hamill 6, P Maher 7; B Maher 7, K Bergin 6; D McCormack 6, J Forde 7, S O'Brien 7; A McCormack 5, J McGrath 9, N O'Meara 7. Subs: John O'Dwyer 7 for A McCormack (28), N McGrath 6 for Forde (50), M Breen 6 for Bergin (55), S Callanan 6 for O'Brien (59), M Cahill for Joe O'Dwyer (64).
Waterford - I O'Regan 8; S Fives 6, B Coughlan 6, N Connors 7; C Gleeson 6, T De Burca 7, S McNulty 6; G O'Brien 6, K Moran 6; T Devine 7, M Kearney 6, P Mahony 7; Shane Bennett 7, J Dillon 5, A Gleeson 6. Subs: D Lyons 6 for McNulty (43), Stephen Bennett 6for Dillon (48), C Dunford for O'Brien (48), M Shanahan for Kearney (61), B O'Halloran for Dunford (63).
Ref - D Kirwan (Cork)