Premier skill level proves difference
IN many ways, it was the ideal All-Ireland semi-final for Tipperary. They are back to where they promised themselves they would be after last year's loss to Kilkenny in the decider and, while they answered a few questions that had hung over them, their performance will also leave them in no doubt that they are far from the finished article.
The positives for Liam Sheedy are obvious. The performances of John O'Brien at wing-forward and Noel McGrath at No 11 will be of particular comfort to the Tipp boss, who has struggled to find a settled half-forward line over the last couple of seasons. That pair hit 11 points between them, while Paul Curran at full-back and Conor O'Mahony at centre-back were dominant.
Shane McGrath is a superb talent and he was excellent alongside Brendan Maher. They edged out Shane O'Sullivan and Richie Foley in the midfield duel while Brendan Cummins' short puck-outs ensured that they avoided Michael 'Brick' Walsh as much as possible.
Up front, Eoin Kelly didn't look fully fit but his first goal in particular underlined why he'll always be in Tipp's team while Lar Corbett was excellent once more. Sheedy got the team performance he desired, with every line on top of their direct opponents. I don't think it's unfair to say that the team with the higher skill level won.
Davy Fitzgerald has gotten a lot of things right this summer but his decision to start young Brian O'Halloran didn't work on the day. The service he needed just wasn't available but he's got a bright future ahead of him.
There were plenty of other Deise players that didn't play to their own potential and you saw the likes of Eoin Kelly and Stephen Molumpy getting hauled off before the final whistle. They are the kind of players that usually see Waterford over the line but their withdrawal was a testament to the dominance of the Tipperary back six. In fact, only John Mullane caused Tipperary consistent problems.
The Deise did enjoy a little bit more joy on the restart when they switched to a more orthodox formation but that move also left more room at the other end for Corbett and co. It was hard to see a way back for Waterford after Kelly's first goal on 52 minutes that put Tipp eight points to the good. Even the introduction of Dan Shanahan and his goal threat was too little too late.
As you'd expect from this group of Waterford players, they kept going until the end and it was the familiar names like Ken and Eoin McGrath and Tony Browne that were popping up with the scores. The questions will be asked whether the likes of those players will be back for another season but they have been expected to walk away before and they haven't.
Fitzgerald is another who will probably think long and hard about returning to the Deise fold for another term, but I think Waterford had another very decent season.
But it was Tipperary's day. And the news that Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh picked up an injury in a club game won't have dampened their mood yesterday evening. With Tipp on the rise and fate seemingly going against Kilkenny, the drive for five isn't as set in stone as it once seemed.
Finally, the minor game signalled the rising tide that is Clare hurling. They edged out Dublin in the curtain-raiser yesterday and there were some lovely hurlers on display. Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny and Emmet O Conghaile caught the eye while Clare had good performances from Paudge Collins and Tony Kelly.
The Bannermen set up a final date with Kilkenny and the Cats will be hot favourites but at minor level the form book can go out the window on big days.