Sheedy hits right note in ruthless Tipp attack
All-Ireland SHC semi-final
WATERFORD finished with five of their six starting forwards sitting in the stand, a statistic which goes a long way to explaining why their latest attempt to reach the All-Ireland final ran aground on the jagged rocks strategically placed by hard-working Tipperary.
John Mullane took the forward battle to Tipperary with as much efficiency as he could muster but was left so short of support that he would be forgiven for ignoring his colleagues on the lonely journey back home last night. It was evident from quite early on that he was very much on his own in terms of being a consistent source of menace against a well-organised Tipperary defence.
Davy Fitzgerald's decision to promote Brian O'Halloran to the starting line-up (he came in for Seamus Prendergast, who was named on the team on Friday night) didn't work as the youngster found Paul Curran's power, craft and experience all too much. In fairness to O'Halloran, he needed low deliveries played left and right of him so that he could draw Curran out of position but instead had to make do with high, hanging balls, which were far more suited to his vigilant marker.
Prendergast replaced O'Halloran after 22 minutes but that didn't bring about much improvement either. Indeed, it wasn't until Ken McGrath was introduced after 51 minutes that Waterford made any real progress against a defence where Curran, Declan Fanning, Padraic Maher and Conor O'Mahony ran the security operation with considerable authority.
Further up, Shane McGrath was the dominant presence at midfield, while the attack was quick and slick, frequently stretching Waterford to breaking point. Liam Sheedy's pre-match switch of Noel McGrath from right corner-forward to centre-forward worked superbly, as did the recall of John O'Brien.
Noel McGrath hurled like a man who was delighted to be liberated from the confines of the corner. He scored five points from
open play while also undermining Michael 'Brick' Walsh, who has so often been the anchor that held the Waterford defence in place. With Walsh under intense pressure, uncertainty spread through the defence and was ruthlessly exploited by the Tipperary attack.
O'Brien, back in favour after doing well as a sub against Galway in the quarter-final, seized his big chance and played himself on to the team for the All-Ireland final by scoring six points from open play in what was probably his best performance at Croke Park. Lar Corbett was hugely productive too, covering acres of ground, bringing colleagues into play with accurate passes, while decorating it all by scoring 1-2.
Eoin Kelly's radar wasn't at its sharpest from frees (rather uncharacteristically, he sent four wide) but he more than compensated in open play with two second-half goals. Noel McGrath, O'Brien, Kelly and Corbett scored 3-13 between them from play, which was in sharp contrast to their Waterford counterparts.
Their starting six forwards managed just five points from open play, with three coming from Mullane. It highlighted the extent to which the Waterford attack struggled on a day when their Eoin Kelly made no impression in open play and also missed two frees he would normally stroke over with effortless ease.
Despite their problems, Waterford stayed with Tipperary up to the three-quarter mark,
due mainly to the honesty of their efforts and the hard-working ethic, which is a trademark of their game. Indeed, when they reduced the six-point interval deficit (1-11 to 0-8) to only three points (1-12 to 0-12) in the 46th minute, it looked as if they might be heading towards building up a momentum that would compensate for their difficulties in attack.
However, Tipperary's response was quick and effective. Noel McGrath and Lar Corbett pointed before Eoin Kelly's poaching instincts took him clear of the Waterford defence as the ball broke off a line cut and he swept it past Clinton Hennessy. It put Tipperary eight points to the good (2-14 to 0-12) after 52 minutes and on their way to another All-Ireland final date with Kilkenny.
Waterford won the final quarter by a point (1-6 to 1-5) but Tipperary were in cruise mode for much of it, safe in the knowledge that they weren't in any danger of being reeled in. Eoin Kelly added their third goal on the hour mark, while Waterford's consolation goal was scored by substitute Eoin McGrath in the 68th minute.
It really was a frustrating day for Waterford, who faced their first big test after 22 minutes when Corbett took a delivery from Padraic Maher and shot to the net.
Like quite a few other of Tipperary's scores, it came as a direct result of sloppy play by Waterford as Maher easily picked up a poor clearance out of defence.
There were other occasions too when poorly directed passes cost Waterford dearly. Tipperary were far more accurate with their transfers and, with so many of their forwards very much on their game, it was always likely that they would run up a big score.
Waterford's tactic of swarming around midfield never really worked. It left them short-handed close to goal and while Mullane did his best, there was a limit to what he could achieve on his own.
So then, Tipperary are back in the All-Ireland final and another clash with Kilkenny, whom they matched for over an hour last year before being overtaken on the run-in.
Are they better this year? They hadn't been up to now but there's no doubt that they moved up a gear yesterday and they will feel that they're coming good at exactly the right time of the year.
They have averaged 3-18 in their two games at Croke Park over the past three weeks, a sizeable return which, if repeated against Kilkenny, would give them a right good chance of capsizing the five-in-a-row boat.
Mind you, it's most unlikely the attack will get anything like as much room against Kilkenny, the proven experts at closing down opposition forwards.
As for Waterford, it turned into yet another depressing August Sunday at Croke Park. It was their seventh defeat in eight All-Ireland semi-finals since 1998, a disappointing return for a team that has won four Munster titles in the past eight years. It keeps them rooted as a top-four team who just can't make the breakthrough.
They would have thought in advance that a 1-18 return might prove enough but it didn't come close against a much a more enterprising Tipperary outfit. Besides, 1-3 of Waterford's return came in the final 10 minutes, by which time Tipperary were already thinking ahead to the final.
One suspects that, had it been closer, the Tipperary defence would have been far more difficult to breach on the home stretch, just as they had been when the game was finely balanced earlier on.
Scorers -- Tipperary: E Kelly 2-3 (0-3f), N McGrath 0-7 (0-1f, 0-1 '65'), J O'Brien 0-6, L Corbett 1-2, S McGrath 0-1. Waterford: E Kelly 0-5 (0-5f), T Browne (0-2f 0-1 '65'), K McGrath (0-1f), J Mullane 0-3 each, E McGrath 1-0, R Foley, K Moran, S Prendergast, S Molumphy 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- B Cummins 7; M Cahill 7, P Curran 8, P Stapleton 6; D Fanning 8, C O'Mahony 8, Padraic Maher 8; B Maher 6, S McGrath 7; G Ryan 5, N McGrath 9, Patrick Maher 6; E Kelly 8, L Corbett 9, J O'Brien 9. Subs: S Callanan 7 for Ryan (50), P Bourke 6 for Patrick Maher (62).
Waterford -- C Hennessy 6; E Murphy 5, L Lawlor 5, N Connors 6; T Browne 6, M Walsh 5, D Prendergast 6; S O'Sullivan 5, R Foley 5; S Molumphy 5, K Moran 5, E Kelly 5; J Mullane 9, B O'Halloran 5, S Walsh 5. Subs: S Prendergast 6 for O'Halloran (22), K McGrath 7 for Kelly (51), D Shanahan 5 for Moran (55), E McGrath 7 for S Walsh (55), T Ryan for Molumphy (66).
Ref -- J Sexton (Cork).