Tipp gain sweet release in victory cut from granite
Published 13/07/2015 | 02:30
Eamon O'Shea sits into a room with the stillness of a church and chats about his team in a tone more suited to the confessional.
Outside, Tipperary voices light fires beneath the grey summer sky, but not behind this door. O'Shea is inclined to an abstract view of these loud, epochal days so any idea that he might interpret silverware as some emblem of personal liberation now was never open to real traction. His words come toppling out in little more than murmurs.
He looks tired as he speaks. "You're looking at a different kind of win," he smiles. "Maybe it doesn't always look like that when you're the manager on the sideline. You'd like a goal or two to make your life a lot better. But I wouldn't want to overdo it, it was a really hard game, a really tense game, nothing given. It didn't really open up.
"Patience is a good way of putting it. Sometimes the expectation is you should go out and score a goal, but high-level sport doesn't work like that. We've been trying to learn that lesson."
Hurling could be an algebra class just now. All summer we have been trying to map the code of what it is that Waterford do whilst all the time watching others flatter them with imitation. Four hurling games were played in Semple Stadium over the weekend, three of them passed without goals. Two green flags raised then in four-and-a-half hours of hurling.
The game gasps for air, yet is no less engrossing for it. After all, this victory had to be cut from the hardest granite which, for a team with a name for high self-regard, probably felt perfect.
On the day, Tipp's needs were starker. You could all but feel an understanding travel through the stands that defeat would represent the loss of more than a Munster title. It would curse them, brand them, work even more black magic on their minds.
Because the world they exist in is a playground of hysteria. Their hurling is either so light and expressionist it all but flutters or their character deemed so brittle they could be men made of cut glass. Maybe that's part of what makes them compelling, a suspicion that they barely know themselves, that, for them, every new day is a leap into the unknown.
One moment, all plumed and orchestral, the next wrestling with bad weather in their heads.
To that end, Waterford set the perfect challenge. Why? Because this Waterford team has a relentlessness in its heartbeat. They don't do whim or mood-swing. They came to Semple Stadium as hurling's only unbeaten army this year and with an expectation that, whatever else they might be, they wouldn't have the vulnerability of saplings just planted.
Derek McGrath's achievement has been to establish a system that fits them perfectly, one with a straight, simple cadence demanding everybody is tuned to a workers' charter.
So you knew they had it in them to challenge Tipp's facility for hubris. To trap them in that cramped space from which all Waterford business begins. For O'Shea then, his team's response ticked all of the important boxes. On a day demanding humility, they delivered. True, it was clunking and clumsy and careworn at times. They tried for an age to gouge out openings for Seamus Callanan inside, but might as well have been trying to manipulate a Steinway through a narrow door.
Eventually, the Drom and Inch man was rescued from the congestion and, if the absence of a score from play will offend his personal sensitivities, the sight of him chasing Colin Dunford almost into the Tipp '45 will have made O'Shea's heart soar.
Because that was the tenor of what Tipp needed here. They needed to play as if God and nature could not stop them.
As Patrick 'Bonner' Maher put it: "Fair play to Waterford, they close down the space very well so we'd to work extremely hard in the forward line, break tackles and stop them from coming out with the ball. Patience was the name of the game and we stuck with our system.
"That's Munster Championship, it's from one end to the other. It was just a great game to play in."
Emotionally, it was a labyrinth of a contest. When Tipp eased through their early stiffness to stretch 0-7 to 0-3 clear inside 18 minutes, the suspicion lurked that they might be only a goal away from opening the sluice gates to showtime. But the iron in Waterford's souls had them level within seven minutes and, thereafter, a reality began to dawn that neither goalkeeper would have a stressful afternoon.
The difference in the end would be the velvet wrists of men like 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer and the long-forgotten Lar Corbett who decided the best way past the epic congestion was launching flares from distance. They were ably abetted by the scoring contributions of Niall O'Meara and Jason Forde, both choosing a good day to step up to the plate.
As Tipp kicked clear, every fresh roar seemed to be chasing their minds free of shadows.
For no team craved a front-door arrival into the All-Ireland Championship more urgently and, equally, you sense no team yearned more desperately to win a trophy for their manager.
Still, O'Shea was inclined to warn that Waterford are not finished with this Championship yet and his opposite number sounded anything but despondent at this first encounter with defeat.
"In any walk of life, when anyone empties themselves in the name of a cause, whether they are a rebel or whatever they are, I think you can't find fault in them" said McGrath. "We will look at the video and at decisions made and maybe we showed inexperience. But we are proud and I have to reiterate, hopefully, this day two weeks (when they play Dublin) we can give people something to cheer about.
"If you contrast this to the defeats of last year against Clare and Kilkenny, which were absolute hammerings... I think the psychological impact of those undoubtedly had an effect on the lads.
"So I don't think there will be those type of scars from this defeat. It was just two teams giving it everything in a cauldron out there."
Tipp committed themselves to that cauldron like many had doubted they could. Their hurling bore none of the murderous equilibrium that humiliated Limerick, but every nerve, every cuticle, seemed tuned to the one, defiant cause.
For O'Shea, that was the biggest prize. The sense of a team asserting itself in the face of ominous discouragement. Of them standing up against all the quarrelsome voices that doubted their ability to hurl their way out through crisis.
"I just felt that, whatever happened, we'd keep going," he told us after. "But we had nine Munster final debutants out there. Sometimes people think we've been going since the year 2000, but we've lost some fantastic players.
"Look, we've been through close games and sometimes we've come out the wrong side of them. But you have to be careful judging a team on that. I was always happy the team would be capable of winning a really tight match."