Leahy the hero but jury still out on Tipp
TIPPERARY 0-17 WATERFORD 0-14 TIPPERARY uncorked the first of the summer wine yesterday but the tasters left Páirc Uí Chaoimh in a state of...
TIPPERARY uncorked the first of the summer wine yesterday but the tasters left Páirc Uí Chaoimh in a state of uncertainty as to whether or not it will yet turn into a vintage year for Nicky English and his ambitious craftsmen.
They discarded Waterford's challenge in the Guinness Munster hurling championship quarter-final with a degree of efficiency which was not reflected on the scoreline. That, in itself, will be a worry to English who watched with a sense of growing frustration as his forwards wasted lots of good chances.
Tipperary shot 19 wides - compared to Waterford's seven - and while that bore convincing testimony to their superior ball winning capacity, it also hinted at a forward line which needs an inordinate amount of possession to win games.
Waterford had to fish from a lower river but were still in with a decent chance of landing the big one right up to the final whistle.
Unfortunately for Waterford their sharpest poacher was no longer on the river bank at that stage, having had to withdraw with an ankle injury. We will never know what impact Ken McGrath would have made had he been at full power for the duration of the game.
However, the signs were ominous for Tipperary. He started in blistering fashion, firing over three points in the opening 28 minutes and causing Tipperary full-back Philip Maher all sorts of tricky problems.
He went over on his ankle quite early on but persisted bravely until the 57th minute when the pain and the restricted movement finally forced him ashore.
``No doubt about it Ken's injury had a major bearing on the game. He was the ace in our pack and was playing brilliantly. If we had him at his best for the full game we would have had a great chance,'' reflected Waterford full-back Sean Cullinane ruefully afterwards.
McGrath's injury was unquestionably hugely significant but, even in his absence, Waterford should have done better in attack. Dan Shanahan, Paul Flynn and Dave Bennett all threatened sporadically but there was no central figure to take control and coordinate the raids.
After an uneasy start, the Tipperary defence grew in confidence and conviction with Michael Ryan, John Carroll and David Kennedy particularly impressive in front of the assured and intelligent 'keeper Brendan Cummins, whose deliveries were quick and accurate.
Nobody came close to John Leahy however in the chase for man of the match rating. He was superb, initially at wing-forward, later at midfield and ultimately as a play anywhere energiser who powered Tipp's efforts with style, craft and precision.
Leahy scored three brilliant first half points and had a hand in some others while also grafting industriously in places where he was never expected to turn up.
``There are a lot of miles in those legs. The same goes for Tommy Dunne and they didn't need any more battering during the League. They didn't get it either and it showed out there today,'' said English.
Leahy took just a minute to fire over Tipperary's opening point which was greeted with wild delight by his fans in the 33,000 crowd who were impatient for a quick surge. Their side had a very stiff breeze behind them and while the elements don't win games on their own it was important for Tipperary to build up a decent half-time lead.
Waterford had surprised everybody by naming McGrath at full-forward and positively stunned them by actually starting him there. Clearly, they believed that his strong running would upset Maher who was making his championship debut.
Gerald McCarthy's gamble worked, as did his ploy of playing Shanahan at centre forward, Brenner at midfield and Tony Browne on the wing. They all prospered in the early stages and Waterford were in a very buoyant mood when they trailed by just a point (0-6 to 0-5) after 28 minutes.
Peter Queally had been despatched to play as a `sweeper' behind the Waterford half-back line and he cleared lots of ball against an increasingly frustrated Tipperary attack.
English responded by rejigging his forward line and, with Leahy prompting and prodding around midfield, the scoring channels finally opened for Tipperary in the final five minutes of the half.
Paddy O'Brien and Mark O'Leary, who were having edgy Championship debuts, improved in their new postings while Paul Shelley also got a few good runs going and, by the break, Tipperary had pulled five points clear, 0-11 to 0-6.
Waterford - of all teams - must have known that wind assistance is never enough to win games on its own. They had a gale behind them in the second half of the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny but failed to exploit it and while the wind wasn't as strong yesterday they made no appreciable use of it.
Bennett and Flynn shot two frees wide in the opening three minutes of the second half and while they may not have looked especially significant at the time, they sent out a clear signal to Tipperary that Waterford might be mentally brittle. And so it proved.
Waterford worked hard enough but there was no sense of focus to their game. Launching aerielbombardments down on the Tipperary defence failed to bring the desired return but still Waterford persisted, when a more thoughtful use of the wings might have brought far higher dividends.
Tipperary extended their lead to six points (0-16 to 0-10) by the 51st minute and while they scored just one more point, their defence held out against Waterford's predictable attacking repertoire.
Luck deserted Waterford too in the 53rd minute when Shanahan walloped a shot off the Tipp upright.
``It was a bit scary at that stage but we survived it,'' admitted English. Waterford lost McGrath to injury and replaced Brenner and White in an effort to freshen up the attack and while they scored three points to cut the deficit to two with 11 minutes left they couldn't raise the required momentum in the closing sector.
O'Leary scored a valuable point for Tipp and while Shanahan countered with four minutes remaining Waterford needed a goal to survive. It didn't come as Tipperary - with Leahy now foraging tigerishly in defence - held the line and qualified for an eagerly awaited clash with Clare next Sunday week.
Gerald McCarthy conceded that Tipperary were the hungrier side but was disappointed by his team's failure to make more use of some good chances in both halves.
This was almost certainly his last game in charge after four seasons. Asked about his plans however, he remarked: ``If there is going to be a burial we'll take a few days to organise it.''
Meanwhile Nicky English moves on to the great test against Clare. ``For a while I thought it was going to be like 1999 all over again as Waterford came back at us but we had the experience to weather the storm this time. That was very important.''
SCORERS - Tipperary: T Dunne 0-5 (5f), J Leahy 0-3, D Ryan, P Shelley, M O'Leary 0-2 each, B O'Meara, P Ryan, P O'Brien 0-1 each. Waterford: K McGrath, P Flynn (2f) 0-3 each, P Queally, D Bennett 0-2 each, F Hartley (f), B O'Sullivan, T Browne, D Shanahan 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY - B Cummins; P Ormonde, P Maher, M Ryan; J Carroll, D Kennedy, E Corcoran; T Dunne, B O'Meara; M O'Leary, D Ryan, J Leahy; L Cahill, P Shelley, P O'Brien. Subs: P Ryan for Cahill (h-t), E Tucker for D Ryan (45), E Enright for O'Meara (60), P Kelly for P Ryan (67).
WATERFORD - B Landers; T Feeney, S Cullinane, B Flannery; S Frampton, F Hartley, J Murray; P Queally, J Brenner; D Bennett, D Shanahan, T Browne; M White, K McGrath, P Flynn. Subs: J O'Connor for Frampton (46), B O'Sullivan for White (50), A Kirwan for McGrath (57), S Prendergast for Brenner (59), B Walsh for Bennett (67).
REF - D Murphy (Wexford).