When Waterford reached the All-Ireland final in 2017 it sparked something miserable. Instead of heralding a new beginning, it only saw them return to their all too familiar place back in the pack. From that All-Ireland semi-final win in ‘17, they wouldn’t win in championship again until last winter.
n the evidence of their performance in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Liam Cahill is building something more sustainable this time around. They have improved since last winter’s All-Ireland final appearance. And if Cahill has designs on one day leading his native Tipperary at senior level then he did his claims a world of good here. They’ve now taken out Galway and Tipp inside a week, and by the Lee, they hit 3-25 from play with 13 different players finding their range.
But this was a game of half-truths and deception, in so far as parts of what we witnessed didn’t make much sense. Conor Prunty had done well to keep Seamus Callanan to the fringes of things but the Drom and Inch man still snaffled two first half goals. At other times, Waterford looked like they were going to scorch off into the distance. But Tipp were obstinate, using all the guile to keep their head above water. And if this was the last time that some of Tipp’s modern great are to do the blue and gold tunic, then they went out on their shields.
Still they had their periods where they looked punch drunk. At others, they were resurgent. They went seven down when Stephen Bennett slammed home a penalty in the second half, the award of which seem to catch many by surprise. Austin Gleeson’s second sideline cut pushed that gap to eight just before the water break while on 60 minutes, there was still seven between them.
But as the clock slipped into injury time, they had moved to within two. And they could have been in an even better position had either John McGrath or Callanan converted either of their goal chances.
Just for a moment, Waterford were wobbling. But their improvement has been rapid as witnessed by the 1-5 they got from their bench. Neil Montgomery hit all of his 1-2 in injury time. In the end, a seven point margin was probably a fair reflection on things but Tipp had made them work for it.
“Brilliant heart again, to be fair to them,” Cahill said of Waterford. “Tipp looked to be coming at us in droves. That's the team they are and that's what we expected. Usually when they come at you like that, usually they get you done. They were unlucky maybe with one or two chances near the end where they could have got something out of the game.
“But I think on the overall, Waterford would have played the better consistent hurling throughout the game. I think Tipperary lived off a lot of our scraps and mistakes to keep with us. So happy that we got there in the end.”
At various points in the first half, Waterford looked like they might take off. They were 0-5 to 0-1 up at one stage with Jamie Barron in particular punching through to find the space to land three first half points.
But if Liam Sheedy’s side looked open at times, then Tipp had the craft to find goal chances in the other end. In four breathless minutes, the sides created four goal chances. Stephen Bennett was crowded out just as he was about to pull the trigger before Callanan knifed the first for Tipperary. Waterford had another chance but this time Austin Gleeson was wide of the post. In the next attack, Conor Prunty, who had been detailed to track Callanan misread the ball. The Drom and Inch man ducked in behind and lashed past Shaun O’Brien to give his side a 2-3 to 0-6 lead at the break.
The tempest swelled back and forth from there. Waterford turned a point chance into a goal when they worked to Gleeson to find the net. He’d follow that up with a brilliant sideline cut. Waterford’s second goal came after a smart advantage by Colm Lyons with Dessie Hutchinson sweeping home.
But Tipp hung in. There was a casual brilliance to each of John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer’s four points. Jasin Forde and Ronan Maher chipped in too. Waterford took a one point lead (2-14 to 2-13) but where the game would go from there was anyone’s guess.
The sides exchanged blows but Tipp ultimately left themselves with too much too do. Waterford move into a fourth consecutive weekend of action next time out while Liam Sheedy and some of Tipp’s front line players will consider their future. Whatever happens there, Sheedy insists the future is bright.
"I think getting over the line here could have given us massive momentum going into the last four. But it wasn’t meant to be and I thought the way the crowd cheered my team in off the stadium here tells you all you need to know.
“And I’d say a lot of people questioned the character that I had in that dressing room. Were these guys too old ,were they this, were they that? I’ll tell you one thing, they gave you some answer today. That is a top quality group with a top quality bench to come in with top quality guys who didn’t make the 26 today. There’s a very bright future in Tipperary with the quality of player I have in that dressing room and their spirit is a strong as ever.”
Waterford: A Gleeson (2 sl), D Hutchinson, Stephen Bennett (1-0 pen, 1f) 1-3 each, N Montgomery 1-2, J Barron 0-4, P Hogan 0-3, J Fagan, M Kiely, K Bennett 0-2 each, S McNulty, P Curran, C Lyons, C Dunford 0-1 each.
Tipperary: J Forde 0-12 (7f 2 ‘65), S Callanan 2-0, J O’Dwyer 0-4, M Breen, R Maher 0-3 each, J McGrath 0-2, N McGrath, W Connors, M Kehoe 0-1
Waterford – S O’Brien; I Kenny, C Prunty, S McNulty; C Lyons, Shane Bennett, K Bennett; J Barron, P Hogan; J Fagan, J Prendergast, Stephen Bennett; D Hutchinson, A Gleeson, P Curran SUBS: K Moran for Shane Bennett (BS23-30), M Kiely for Curran (44), N Montgomery for Prendergast (59), D Lyons for Fagan (63), B Power for Hogan (65), C Dunford for Gleeson (70+1)
Tipperary – B Hogan; C Barrett, P Maher, B Heffernan; P Cadell, B Maher, R Maher; A Flynn, M Breen; J Forde, N McGrath, D McCormack; J Morris, J O’Dwyer, S Callanan SUBS: S Kennedy for Heffernan (HT), M Kehoe for Morris (44), W Connors for McCormack (49), N O’Meara for O’Dwyer (53), J McGrath for Callanan (56),
Referee: C Lyons (Cork)