Fitzgerald basks in moral victory after losing to Tipp
Allianz Hurling League Div 1
You won't often, if ever, see Davy Fitzgerald wearing a smile after losing a hurling match, but Waterford's manager was positively beaming after last Saturday night's five-point defeat at the hands of All-Ireland champions Tipperary at Semple Stadium.
Taking a host of mitigating factors into account, the fact that Waterford were that close to Tipp at the final whistle speaks volumes for the spirit of the Deise camp and the underestimated depth of Fitzgerald's squad.
Waterford may have surrendered their previously unbeaten competitive record in 2011, but they did so with 13 men -- and just six of the players who started last August in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat against Tipperary.
The champions had 10 of the starters from last September's classic final victory over Kilkenny.
At half-time, in front of a muted 4,947 attendance, Tipperary led by 1-12 to 0-10, aided by Paul Kelly's 14th minute goal.
That five-point interval lead was not extended at the finish, as Waterford drew the second half, despite playing with two men less.
Midfielder Shane O'Sullivan and goalkeeper Clinton Hennessy were red-carded in a three-minute spell, but Waterford dug in and claimed a significant moral victory, despite losing on the night.
Fitzgerald struggled to contain his satisfaction afterwards and the crafty former Clare goalkeeper refused to condemn match referee James Owens for sending off O'Sullivan and Hennessy.
O'Sullivan saw red in the 40th minute for a wild pull on Gearóid Ryan, while goalkeeper Hennessy was dismissed for upending goal-bound Patrick Maher two minutes later.
But Fitzgerald questioned the decision not to send off Tipp corner-back Paddy Stapleton six minutes from time when he hauled down Waterford sub Thomas Ryan as he ran through on goal.
"I asked Shane O'Sullivan -- he said he went to play the ball hard and lost it in the lights,'' Fitzgerald said.
"That's what he said. You have to understand in a night game like that, Clinton grabbed yer man, but wasn't Tommy Ryan through on goal and the same thing happened?
"It just didn't look as bad. But it's the same thing -- we were bearing down on goals.
"But I'm not going to dwell on any of those things because I'm wicked proud of the boys; down 11 starters, down to 13 men, and we didn't wilt. I'm proud of the boys. Maybe Tipp will have more questions than we'll have after it."
While Waterford selector Pauric Fanning added: "If you want to take a moral victory out of it, there's plenty there for us to build."
Another bright spot on Waterford's evening was Ken McGrath's introduction as a second half substitute. McGrath, who turned 33 last month, made his championship debut against Tipperary in 1996 and is embarking on his 16th campaign.
The Premier County had matchwinners in Noel McGrath and Pa Bourke, while Richie Foley's rich vein of form continued for Waterford as the 23-year-old Abbeyside star hit 0-12, a haul which included nine frees.
Noel McGrath gave fellow All Star Michael 'Brick' Walsh a torrid time, as he did last August, opting to roam, with Walsh more content to hold his position.
McGrath picked off four first-half points from play, while Bourke added three after switching on to Walsh. But Fitzgerald insisted that his centre-back will learn from this.
"Wasn't Noel McGrath unreal tonight, he played really well, exceptional. I'm sure Brick will have that in his head again come towards the end of the year," Fitzgerald said.
"I'm not gutted anyway. I hope the referee will see a bit of sense in his report. I haven't criticised him. I would be disappointed in a few different things, but I'm not going to criticise anybody. We'll take our beating; a long year still to come."
Tipp's win was far from impressive, but manager Declan Ryan will be relieved to finally get a win under his belt -- having suffered a Waterford Crystal Cup loss to Waterford IT, followed by league losses against Kilkenny and Dublin.
"We came for the two points and that's what we're going away with, so I'm happy enough with that," Ryan said.
Man of the Match: Noel McGrath (Tipp)
Scorers -- Tipperary: P Bourke
0-8 (4f), N McGrath 0-7, P Kelly 1-0, E Kelly 0-2, D Young, Padraic Maher, B Maher 0-1 each. Waterford: R Foley 0-12 (9f), S Prendergast
0-2, S Molumphy, M Shanahan, S Walsh, T Ryan 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY -- B Cummins 7; P Stapleton 7, P Curran 7, M Cahill 7; D Young 7, Padraic Maher 8, J O'Keeffe 7; B Maher 7, S McGrath 5; G Ryan 6, N McGrath 9, Patrick Maher 6; P Kelly 7, B O'Meara 5, P Bourke 8.Subs: S Carey 5 for S McGrath (29), E Kelly 7 for O'Meara (h.t.), B Dunne for Carey (65), J Woodlock for Ryan (66), S Bourke for N McGrath (70).
WATERFORD -- C Hennessy 5; D Fives 7, S Fives 7, J Maher 7; W Hutchinson 6, M Walsh 5, J Nagle 6; S O'Sullivan 6, S Molumphy 8; M Shanahan 7, R Foley 8, Pauric Mahony 5; S Walsh 6, S Prendergast 7, E Murphy 5. Subs: A Power 6 for Eamonn Murphy (44), S Casey 5 for Mahony (57), T Ryan 6 for Shanahan (62), K McGrath for Prendergast (66), Eoin Murphy for Hutchinson (67).
REF -- J Owens (Westmeath).