re>WATERFORD 0-21TIPPERARY 2-12re> THE SCENES of ecstasy which greeted Waterford's thrilling Guinness Munster Hurling Championship semi-final victory over Tipperary clearly illustrated how much the win meant to the people of this success starved county.
WATERFORD 0-21TIPPERARY 2-12THE SCENES of ecstasy which greeted Waterford's thrilling Guinness Munster Hurling Championship semi-final victory over Tipperary clearly illustrated how much the win meant to the people of this success starved county.
The World Cup might have its moments in the coming weeks, but it can only be in the ha'penny place in comparison to the magical carnival atmosphere at Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
This was incredible stuff. Theatre, drama, call it what you like.
The thunderous applause from the big Waterford contingent in the 30,822 crowd which greeted Dan Shanahan's clinching point in the third minute of injury time must have been heard all the way back to Dan Fraher's Field in Dungarvan.
Almost immediately, referee Pat O'Connor sounded the final whistle and Waterford were assured of a place in the Munster final for their first final since '89.
Several members of the victorious team leaped into the air, unable to contain their delight, while the Tipperary players sank to their knees, distraught in the knowledge that their year is over and they won't be making amends for their all-Ireland final defeat last September.
Bounding back from defeat by Cork in the League final just three weeks ago, Waterford came out and hurled like men inspired.
They came out for the second half trailing by five points and proceeded to give an exhibition of the courage and class which many believed to be beyond them.
After that league defeat, people questioned if they had the marrow in their bones for such a robust, no holds barred, and unforgiving championship encounter against a side like Tipperary.
But they proved they had that and more. They also had the hurling, the fitness and the confidence which had been drilled into them by Gerald McCarthy over the last 20 months.
The last couple of minutes was truly heart-stopping as Brendan Landers made two magnificent saves to deny Tipperary a goal which would have brought them level. The first was from a bullet-like shot from Michael Kennedy; the second from a rasper by Liam Cahill.
Moments later Tipperary forged a free which Thomas Dunne fired over the bar from 35 yards.
A more optimistic man might have tried for a goal, even from such a difficult position, but he opted for the point which Shanahan quickly cancelled out at the other end to secure Waterford's first championship victory over Tipperary in 15 years.
It was a sweet win for the Waterford who put their fans through some nerve-wracking moments, especially in the second half.
Having been five points down at half-time, it took them just 10 minutes to draw level. And then they went two points in front, thanks to the pace and skill of Paul Flynn and the accuracy of Billy O'Sullivan.
What followed was some of the most gripping hurling one could witness as play swept up and down the field, with brave defenders denying equally brave forwards at both ends.
But with just nine minutes left on the stop watch, it seemed as if Waterford's hopes had collapsed around them following a most opportunist goal against both the wind and run of play from Brian O'Meara to bring Tipperary level.
That goal was a shuddering blow to Waterford considering the fact that for 26 minutes of that second half they had outplayed Tipperary in virtually all sectors, outscoring their opponents by 0-9 to 0-1 to go three points clear.
But the wind was taken from the sails when O'Meara beat Landers to a breaking ball and clipped it into the net net.
It was a huge bodyblow, the like of which could have shattered the nerve of Waterford teams in the past.
But, this team showed nerves of steel and produced the perfect riposte, surging downfield for O'Sullivan to deliver the sliotar to Flynn who unerringly put the ball between the uprights to put Waterford back in front.
This was a magnificent game of hurling, one of the finest seen at this venue in a decade. And for Waterford, it will have gone a long way to banishing memories of the '89 Munster final when they lost by a dozen points to Tipperary and also had two players sent off.
Yesterday, Waterford hurled as sweetly and as beautifully as is humanly possible.
And nobody epitomised their performance more than Flynn, who produced a display reminiscent of Nicky English of old, first in the left corner and even more effectively when he moved to full-forward at the start of the second half.
Flynn came in for criticism a few weeks ago after the league defeat to Cork, but yesterday the man from Ballygunner punished the Tipp defence with such frequency and accuracy that they must have broken into a cold sweat every time he got the ball.
Flynn ended up with a total of 10 points, five each from play and frees in a display which broke Tipp hearts, especially Michael Ryan who he tormented in the second half.
And he also inspired those around him in the attack, like Dan Shanahan, Ken McGrath, Billy O'Sullivan and Anthony Kirwan to compete as if there was no tomorrow.
While Flynn may have provided the finish, there can be no doubting that Waterford would not have secured this victory without the brilliance of Stephen Frampton at right half-back, the exceptional covering of Sean Cullinane at full-back, or for that matter, any of the four other defenders, Tom Feeney, Brian Flannery, Fergal Hartley and Brian Greene.
In the first half when Tipp had the wind to their backs, Liam Cahill, Eugene O'Neill, Liam McGrath and Declan Ryan caused problems.
Landers made a couple of great saves, handling the ball with assurance and had no chance with Tipp's first goal just before half-time which gave the Premier county their 1-10 to 0-8 interval lead.
Tony Browne at midfield too had a super game for the winners, forcing Tipp to take off Colm Bonnar.
And while Tipp's Tommy Dunne started in great style, it was Peter Quelly who finished the stronger and was seen to exceptional effect during the second half.
Tipperary made three second half substitutions in an effort to get a winning formula, but I felt that the taking off of Liam McGrath was hardly fair to the wing-forward, who might have been a hero had his shot for a point just before the interval been a foot or two lower.
Some power-packed play from Brian Horgan at wing-back, Dunne and Aidan Butler helped Tipp establish an early grip on the game. They led by 0-5 to 0-3 after 18 minutes only for Waterford to bounce back and draw level at 0-7 apiece, Flynn getting two of his three points from frees as did Browne with an excellent effort.
Waterford needed a big start to the second half, but they were slow in settling before Browne and McGrath both made amends for earlier wides and Frampton set up O'Sullivan for the third point.
At this stage Waterford were into full stride and they hit Tipperary from all angles, Flynn causing mayhem and Kirwan then equalising, rounding Butler with consummate ease.
A few dodgy wides might well have hinted a lack of conviction among the Waterford forwards, but when Tipp put it up to them with the equalising goal, they responded as if winning championship battles was second nature to them.
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
SCORERS Waterford: P Flynn 0-10 (5 frees), K McGrath 0-4 (2 frees), D Shanahan 0-2, B O'Sullivan 0-2, T Browne 0-2 (2 frees), A Kirwan 0-1. Tipperary: E O'Neill 1-3 (0-2 frees), L Cahill 0-3, B O'Meara 1-0, T Dunne 0-2 (1 free), L McGrath, D Ryan, J Leahy, M Kennedy 0-1 each.
WATERFORD B Landers 8; B Flannery 7, S Cullinane 7, T Feeney 7; S Frampton 8, F Hartley 7, B Greene 7; T Browne 9, P Quaelly 7; D Shanahan 7, K McGrath 7, D Bennett 6; B O'Sullivan 7, A Kirwan 7, P Flynn 9.
TIPPERARY B Cummins 7; P Shelly 6, M Ryan 6, L Sheedy 7; B Horgan 7, A Butler 7, Conal Bonnar 5; Colm Bonnar 5, T Dunne 7; L Cahill 7, L McGrath 6, J Leahy 5; D Ryan 6, E O'Neill 6, M Kennedy 6. Subs: B O'Meara for Colm Bonnar (45 mins), C Gleeson for Conal Bonnar (48 mins), P Kelly for McGrath (57 mins).
REF P O'Connor (Limerick).