Thursday 19 April 2018

John Mullane: Defeat is simply not an option for Waterford

Brendan Maher of Tipperary Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Brendan Maher of Tipperary Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

John Mullane

This is a Munster final that Waterford simply have to win, having lost the last four against Tipperary in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

This is a relatively new Waterford team with plenty of young players but there are three starters in the team - Noel Connors, Michael 'Brick' Walsh and Kevin Moran - who lost all four of those games.

Darragh Fives and Pauric Mahony started in 2011 when we lost by seven goals in Cork, and Maurice Shanahan came on as sub.

A year later, Stephen O'Keeffe and Philip Mahony swallowed the bitter pill of defeat against Tipp in a Munster final for the first time.

The point is, it's happened too often to these Waterford players but there are Tipp lads, like Pádraic Maher, who have four medals from those matches.

This has to be put to bed once and for all. The last time we beat Tipp in a Munster final was in 2002.

Read More: 'Austin lifts the team without even thinking about it'

We were massive underdogs the same day but when we won the game, it kick-started a successful period for the years that followed - albeit we didn't win the All-Ireland.

I can't emphasise enough how important this game is for Waterford.

Win it, and we can look forward to more success in this decade. For now, we could do with a good game for the neutral, too.

It's been a poor Munster Championship and needs a good final.

We've had pretty one-sided affairs and while Tipp beat Limerick by just two points, the scoreline at the end didn't reflect their dominance.

Going a little more in-depth, Waterford need to be really careful that they're not picked off by corner-forwards drifting out the field.

It happened in the Munster final last year when John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer came out and got Tipp over the line in the final minutes, and Kilkenny's Ger Aylward did similar in the All-Ireland semi-final.

It's a head-scratcher for Derek McGrath. Tipp employ a system where their two corner-forwards come out and Derek hasn't come up against this yet.

He likes to keep his full-back line close to his half-backs and while that's worked quite well, what is Derek going to do if John and Noel McGrath go for a wander? Does he tell his corner-backs to hold their positions or ask them to follow the McGrath brothers?

Tipp could possibly pick off Waterford from distance again, as we saw with Bubbles last year, but he's not playing tomorrow and that's a big plus for Derek and his men.

Do Tipp have a player of the calibre of Bubbles who can come out when the game is in the balance, pick up loose ball and throw it over from distance?

I'm not sure but what they will do is mirror what Waterford do with Austin Gleeson, by dropping an extra body out around the middle third.

This is where the game will be won and lost, with a swarm of bodies in a tight, congested Gaelic Grounds.

This might suit Waterford because Tipp like to play in acres of green grass. The less space you give them, the better chance you have of winning the game.

Another question Derek will have thought carefully about is who he puts on Cathal Barrett.

It's a coin-toss between Barrett and Kilkenny's Paul Murphy as to who's the best corner-back in the country right now.

But Barrett isn't just a defender. This lad can also set up Tipperary attacks by winning his patch tenaciously, coming out with possession and using it wisely.

Shane Bennett might to be the man to go toe-to-toe with him.

As for the midfield battle, well, this will be worth the admission fee alone.

Brendan Maher and Michael Breen against Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron - mouth-watering stuff. Then you have Seamus Callanan on Barry Coughlan.

For me, Coughlan is a very under-rated hurler and one of the few full-backs in recent years, albeit with that bit of protection in front of him, who's managed to nullify Callanan's influence, as he did 12 months ago.

A little further forward, there's Patrick 'Bonner' Maher against Tadhg de Búrca. Bonner, back to his best against Limerick in the Munster semi-final, against the Young Hurler of the Year. These are all match-ups to savour and the prize is massive for both teams.

The winners will avoid Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final and that's a golden ticket when you consider what a potential landmine the All-Ireland quarter-final might be.

If Clare beat Limerick in today's qualifier, and Tipp lose tomorrow, they could be on an All-Ireland quarter-final collision course.

So it's head on the block time and I'm not going to lie, I've said to people during the week that there's a lot of confidence in this Waterford team.

They're in a much better place than 12 months ago and the feeling is that a Munster final victory will ignite a period of success that supporters crave.

Waterford by four or five points.

Irish Independent

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