Sunday 22 April 2018

Ryan's pleasure is in the knowledge that Tipp have yet to go full-stretch

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

After last year's eccentric flash-storm, we returned to a Munster final cut from the old Catechism. Lar Corbett seemed to have taken a vow of poverty in the Pairc, steadfastly refusing to pull the very pin that never left his hand 12 months earlier. He ghosted through the soupy showers like a rumour in long socks, glorious, balletic and -- inexplicably -- 16 points down on his wild haul from the equivalent day last summer.

"Maybe we'll get him to work on his shooting in training!" chuckled Declan Ryan.

Tipp's fourth Munster title in five seasons spoke of a team gathering tangible momentum again, albeit momentum likely to carry them into another white-hot joust with Kilkenny now. They have won three genuine games to get this far and if, at times, their hurling has been more bump and grind than operatic, more functional than expressive, they are moving.

After a winter of rumoured turmoil that must feel a substantial triumph.

Under Michael Ryan, Waterford have made a return to their old storm-trooper ways and they pressed Tipp back with thrilling force at times. But Tipp's nose for goals was the difference and, frankly, if Lar had greed in his heart, the maths might easily have been bruising.

It was, at least, a contest then and Cathal McAllister will be grateful that no band equipment ended up as kindling as he threw the ball in while the Artane Boys were still on the field. The game was on a full 24 seconds by the time the last band member had been safely vacated.

With the big houses on Montenotte hill dipping in and out from under a sheet of mist and with the ground conditions rink-like, intensity might easily have spilled over into something darker. That it didn't spoke volumes for the integrity of both sides.

And there was a chance to see a 39-year-old remind us that the world is far too ageist and judgmental of people on the basis of birth certs.

PERFECT

Tony Browne saw Pa Bourke off the premises with half an hour of hurling that was picture-book perfect and, if the great man was finally called ashore just after the hour mark, it wasn't for anything conspicuous to the naked eye.

But, further afield, Waterford lacked firepower. John Mullane took Michael Cahill for three early points and the rat-a-tat sound of gunfire at the city end promised beautiful things.

But Brendan Cummins was in contrary mood and, when he deflected Maurice Shanahan's flicked effort out for a '65', the big Lismore man kicked the green flag out of its mooring in frustration.

It was a glimpse at a bigger narrative.

Tipp's success in preventing any breach of Cummins' goal for a second successive day would be where most satisfaction was mined.

As full-back Paul Curran observed: "Back-to-back Munster Championships is a tough thing to achieve and Tipp don't have a great record of doing it. So we just slogged it out. I think it was down to goal chances. We took ours, Brendan stopped theirs.

"They got in for a few goal chances and that's something we need to work on. Brendan made two or three stops there, but he gives you great confidence.

"It was important to keep the goals out. Because if Waterford get goals, they're a dangerous team that can get a run on you."

Tipp's first goal was cheaply leaked from a Waterford perspective, 'Brick' Walsh spilling possession into 'Bonner' Maher's grateful paw and the ball being couriered urgently to John O'Brien, whose finish gave Stephen O'Keeffe little chance.

Only 10 minutes on the clock and worry for Waterford beginning to crystallise. Was last year in their minds?

"What happened last year happened," explained Kevin Moran later.

"We didn't dwell on it too much. But I suppose it would be in the back of your head, trying to contain them in that first half.

"So there's huge consolation that we stayed in with a chance this time and we're still pretty confident that we can do well in this championship. Today wasn't our day unfortunately.

"We're disappointed to lose but, look, we're still in the championship."

There were tremulous moments when Tipp threatened to overpower them. Lar was imperious, taking ball on the run, drilling low, probing deliveries towards an inside attack that was palpably goal-hungry.

Shane Bourke had just come on for Brian O'Meara when O'Keeffe and Liam Lawlor tried and failed to coalesce on an Eoin Kelly delivery that fell short and the JK Brackens man pulled first-time for Tipp's second in the 54th minute.

That score forced Waterford to go in search of green flags themselves and their own Eoin Kelly should have made Cummins work harder with an angled shot before Conor O'Brien made a brilliant block on Shane Walsh after Moran's effort came down off a post.

When, with three minutes remaining, Cummins then parried Kelly's 20-metre free out for a '65', Waterford knew the cup would be staying in Tipp.

For Declan Ryan, a supplementary pleasure came from the sense of his team not yet operating at full-stretch.

"We've finished very strongly in our last few games and that's always very pleasing," said the Tipp manager. "But I think it's fair to say we haven't played at our best yet this year. We've a lot to look at between now and the All-Ireland semi-final, but a lot to look forward to as well.

"We've dug out three great wins in Munster this year and I think that'll stand to us.

Dangerous

"When you can bring on players like Eoin Kelly, Shane Bourke and Seamie Callanan, you're always going to be dangerous up front. We've a good bit to work on, but we can be very positive at the same time.

"We certainly had opportunities there where we could have taken a couple of handy points, but these guys are hungry for goals I suppose. I'd never give out to anyone for going for goal to be honest. I think it's a good trait in a forward to go for a green one."

Five weeks then to an expected reacquaintance with old foes although, in this chameleon summer, who can be certain?

Curran explained: "I think they (Kilkenny) just had an off-day though, in fairness to Galway, they are motoring well. We played them a couple of weeks before and they kind of did the same to us. So I wasn't really surprised with the performance. But Kilkenny are Kilkenny. Anyone writing them off is a fool."

For Waterford, the business is a notch lower, but no less urgent.

Two weeks to a quarter-final against opponents whose identity they will discover this morning.

Michael Ryan accentuated only the positives: "I'm very proud of our own lads. Last year, the crowd were going home 10 minutes into the second half. At least this was better.

"Look, I know these Tipp lads. I was in Mullinahone for a year with Eoin Kelly and Paul Curran. I was Munster manager with Lar Corbett, Shane McGrath and Conor O'Mahony. They're all tremendous lads and a great team. I think they'll be very difficult to beat for the rest of the championship.

"But we're not going to go away. We're going to come back stronger and fitter and faster than ever."

Irish Independent

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