Nicky English: Galway still look like All-Ireland champions
Both Waterford and Tipperary looked unconvincing in their quarter-final victories
Waterford’s Michael Walsh and Shane Bennett in action with David Redmond and Shaun Murphy of Wexford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In the end, what was a historic weekend with the re-opening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh turned out to be an underwhelming quarter-final series. Both Waterford and Tipperary won without hugely flattering themselves.
Brick Walsh was a crucial figure for Waterford early on. Unusually for him, he took on a shot and scored and critically won frees but I feel they’re still too dependent on him and Kevin Moran.
The goal before half-time was critical, as there wasn’t going to be a lot of chances created on either side. Eoin Moore’s mistake let Waterford in for Moran to score – just as Davy was making his way down to the dressing rooms, probably pleased enough to be just two points down so it was a big swing.
You always felt that the way Wexford were set up, particularly withdrawn with Jack Guiney and Conor McDonald not involved as much as they needed to be. Jack O’Connor added a cutting edge when he managed to get a goal – a brilliant touch but it was too late to do anything more than cut the margin of defeat.
Waterford’s wides at the start of the second had given Wexford a bit of heart but they were able to bring Maurice Shanahan and Brian O’Halloran off the bench to chip in a couple of scores.
But when you compare Waterford with Tipperary on Saturday, their shooting was slack and they’ll struggle to win an All-Ireland with that attack and I’m not even sure that they’re at the level they were at last year. On top of that Tadhg de Búrca will be a huge loss. I know from his days in UCD that he genuinely isn’t that sort of player so it’s a shame but also very costly for Waterford.
Wexford haven’t had a bad year, reaching a Leinster final and winning promotion, but the defensive system will only bring you so far. It will only bring Waterford so far as well.
On Saturday Tipperary were comfortable without ever suggesting that they’ve rediscovered the form of 2016. They kept Clare at arm’s length without doing anything more impressive. The McGraths were very good – John was fantastic from his touch in tight spaces up and down the sideline to his ability to shoot and score from incredibly tight spaces and the way he won his own ball.
The full forwards were exceptional as a unit even though Bonner Maher wasn’t as dominant as he usually is when Tipperary are on top. The economy of their scoring – Séamus Callanan and Bubbles O’Dwyer also hit some great points – was in sharp contrast to Clare’s misfiring at the other end that just ate away at their conviction.
I couldn’t believe Conor McGrath’s second wide. On form he wouldn’t have done that and he wouldn’t have needed those extra steps that led to the disallowed goal.
Tony Kelly and Podge Collins were again at odds with their game and the end result was a Clare performance that although they never gave up, didn’t show any progression from the Munster final. They were never comfortable in themselves.
Then Andrew Fahy’s puck-outs went badly wrong and that cost scores, as it did against Limerick in the Munster semi-final. On Saturday he hit a succession of restarts to Tipperary before half-time. You can’t carry that into games like this.
Overall though, we knew going into the game that Tipp had exceptional forwards who had rediscovered some form against Dublin so the performance of the attack wasn’t in question.
The major issues were the recurrent ones of energy – how are they battling the lethargy that often afflicts champions – and the defence. Are those questions answered? They conceded 3-16 and Clare hit 18 wides, many of which were unforced – for instance McGrath and Kelly in front of goals.
The defence has been unsettled all summer. There were too many rucks and the Tipperary fullbacks spent too much time on the ground in that desperate type of defending, which led to the third goal at the end. Even when Aaron Cunningham hit the side netting, Tomás Hamill and Daragh Mooney the goalkeeper were both on the ground.
But they’re still there and in the last four and the team that beats them is probably going to have to score a lot.
Going into the semi-finals you would say that the provincial champions look better equipped than the qualifiers. Tipperary’s forwards could win the All-Ireland but their current defence won’t; for Waterford it’s the other way around.
I’ve felt since the start that Galway would win out this year and the quarter-finals haven’t produced a team with the all-round weaponry to make me change my mind at this point.