Nicky English: Waterford travelling fast but Tipperary need to get there first

Experience and forward power will prove crucial in Munster hurling final

Colin Dunford stays one step ahead of James Woodlock during  Waterford’s league semi-final win over Tipperary at Nowland Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Colin Dunford stays one step ahead of James Woodlock during Waterford’s league semi-final win over Tipperary at Nowland Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Waterford have been in many ways the team of the year so far and I was mightily impressed by them in the semi-final when they should have beaten Cork by more.

Based on the scoreboard it looked like they weren’t that much better than Cork, who have shown that they’re not really good enough to challenge for the All-Ireland this year. They hammered them in the league final and should have done so in the Munster semi-final, as they were clearly superior.

They have shown great energy for battle this year and although there are other opinions on it, I’m not taken aback by their style, which is a bit more exaggerated than other teams’ in terms of crowding the middle but has evolved a good deal.

It takes a huge effort to play like that and puts serious pressure on players like Kevin Moran, Colin Dunford, Jake Dillon and Jamie Barron, who have to transition the ball from the middle third to the attack, as well as to fall back when defending. They not only do it but do it tirelessly.

What’s their ceiling? Have they reached it or is there more room?

They have all the basic ingredients: energy and exceptional hurling ability, with younger players like Austin Gleeson – although he should curb the tendency to shoot on sight from over 100 metres – Tadhg de Búrca, Maurice Shanahan and Dunford, who have been phenomenal this year.

The way they play requires them to get frees by running at defences through the middle and drawing fouls. Maurice Shanahan did very well on those frees against Cork but it’s highly likely the loss of Pauric Mahony will be felt as the stakes get higher. He was a much more seasoned player and virtually never missed.

Waterford will also have to raise the bar, as Tipperary are definitely a step up on Cork. They have already beaten them this year, in the league semi-final, but there have been changes to the Tipp line-up. Significantly, James Barry, who played well against Limerick, will be full back and that will add to the pressure on Shanahan.

Complacency

Tipperary will have learned something from the defeat but the younger players would have been aware of Waterford’s pedigree from underage, colleges and Fitzgibbon, so there wouldn’t have been much chance of complacency.

In the semi-final, Tipp’s performance has to be seen in the context of how disappointing Limerick were, and during the league semi-final they didn’t do well against the sweeper system.

In the semi-final defeat they even got a good start with a couple of goals and still couldn’t finish on top, but at the moment Séamus Callanan and Bubbles O’Dwyer are in exceptional form so they’re carrying serious punch up front.

Noel McGrath, John McGrath and Lar Corbett are all on the way back so there’ll plenty of depth before the All-Ireland stages and that means a big challenge for places.

I’m not surprised to see Michael Breen in the starting line-up, as his reported training ground form has been on a par with his best league displays and he would add dynamism to the crucial middle third.

I believe Tipperary are going to win this because of their advantage in attack. As they showed against Limerick, they’ve a greater spread of scorers, unlike Cork who rely so much on Pa Horgan. They’re also more mature and physically stronger than Waterford.

Tipperary also need a Munster title and that desire to get silverware for the first time in three years will be a powerful motivation.

This evening in Thurles two counties who were only recently in All-Ireland semi-finals will be out of the championship. I think we know what level Cork are at from their two games so far (they have looked vulnerable), whereas it’s hard to have an idea about Clare.

Cork might improve and any form against Wexford is better than form against Offaly. They got a lot out of Conor Lehane on this occasion, which was as welcome as Séamus Harnedy’s return from injury, but apart from Horgan it’s hard to see where guaranteed scores will come from.

Clare, on the other hand, are relying on 2013 for their credentials as a great team. Against Limerick, Eddie Brennan said they looked like a team with the handbrake on, which was a good way of putting it, but if they can find any form a win here would set them up for a crack at the All-Ireland – something you couldn’t say about Cork.

They have the forwards – the inside line of Conor McGrath, Shane O’Donnell and a fit again Darach Honan is a threat to anyone – but they need to find the energy, drive and discipline they had two years ago and which has been missing since.

Just like Tipperary in 2010 after winning the senior and under-21 All-Irelands, Clare looked like they were establishing a dynasty, but it just hasn’t happened.

I have my doubts about them. Cork aren’t great but they’ve done as much, if not more, than Clare since the 2013 All-Ireland final and last year beat them easily in the Munster semi-final.

Potential

In the end though, Clare have the potential to get back into the game and confirm that they are a danger in this year’s championship. That potential puts them ahead of Cork and I think they can become a factor in how this summer unfolds.

Limerick and Dublin is a hard match to call and not in a good way. At the end of the league quarter-final between the teams, it looked as if Dublin were going to be a force and that Limerick – even though they didn’t look it that day – would be too by the time the summer came.

Both sides would have been seen in the top rank of teams capable of pushing on towards the All-Ireland semi-finals. Now they’re both struggling badly.

Michael Carton walking out of the Dublin camp the week of a big game mightn’t have impacted on Ger Cunningham’s selection plans but it’s not good mood music for the team. There’s not a whole lot in it, in that neither of them are in form but for me an out-of-form Limerick is more reliable than an out-of-form Dublin.

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