TODAY'S ALL-IRELAND SHC SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW
WATERFORD v TIPPERARY
Croke Park, 3.30
A battle of two distinctive styles here. Waterford have gradually sacrificed their flamboyance and attacking spontaneity for a more regimented approach and a crowded defence that's hard to penetrate.
In training recently, they have worked on drills with boxing coaches to help them keep their eyes open while shipping tackles -- which should improve their ability to pass the ball accurately in contact.
Tipperary thrive on making space and dragging defenders around, and then looking to exploit that. Remember Seamus Callanan floating into oceans of unguarded territory to steal a crucial goal against Galway on the stroke of half-time in the All-Ireland quarter-final? His colleagues, Larry Corbett and John O'Brien, can be equally deadly in space.
Dragging the Waterford backs out of position will be the main target of Liam Sheedy (pictured) and forwards coach Eamon O'Shea today,
Another question for Tipp is who will handle the Brick Walsh? Young Patrick 'Bonner' Maher is down to mark him, but Noel McGrath could be handed the job with O'Brien moving to the edge of the square. If either Maher or McGrath break even with Brick, it will be good news for Tipperary.
Although named as a sub, youngster Brian O'Meara could feature from an early stage, giving his team the option of the long and high ball.
The Waterford attack, meanwhile, is largely dependent on John Mullane and the free-taking of Eoin Kelly. Shane Walsh is a real goal threat but players like Stephen Molumphy have dropped deeper and deeper with every game, although still providing some scores.
Despite Waterford's emphasis on defence, they're still hitting around 20 points a game. A good sign.
Midfield could be the decisive sector as the in-form pairing of Richie Foley and Shane O'Sullivan come up against Brendan Maher and Shane McGrath, a partnership that is blossoming with every outing. There are other factors at play too; Tipperary's Eoin Kelly hurt his back two weeks ago and though it loosened up as the week went on, his fitness will be critical to the game's outcome.
Also, will Waterford try and soften up or intimidate the Tipp forwards like they did in 2008? Back then it worked and Davy Fitzgerald's men ran into a commanding lead that Tipp could never quite claw back.
There is a perception that Waterford's bench is stronger but Tipp have under 21s like Seamus Hennessy chomping at the bit. David Young and Pa Burke will be dying to get back into the action too.
Unlike last Sunday, this is a lot more likely to go down to the wire -- and how Waterford can be quoted at a price like 13/5 is beyond us. Indeed, it strikes us that this game will make a mockery of that price.
However, it's hard to escape the feeling that if Sheedy can get his Tipperary side to cut down on conceding scorable frees and also hold Mullane to a couple of points, they have every chance. For all their work on crowding their defence, the Déise still yield around 18 or 19 points a game. If Sheedy's forwards are on form, toppling that figure should be well within their reach.
Betting: Tipperary 4/11; Waterford 13/5; Draw 12/1
-- DAMIAN LAWLOR