Tipperary firepower the acid test for unbeaten Waterford

Waterford’s practised defence will be a formidable barrier but it can be breached

There was a phase a couple of seasons back when every year people expected Waterford to fall back into the time-honoured rhythms of going into hurling abeyance for a generation or so.

Even the ageing team of that period resisted the march of time rather more vigorously than expected, and now the county is back in a Munster final for the first time in three years with a rejuvenated cohort, and in Derek McGrath a manager who's been directing the process with great assurance.

They remain underdogs, but after a season in which every step of the way so far has been widely doubted in advance, from promotion to league success to a first Munster championship win since 2012.

Tipperary have been under- achieving during the same period in Munster, losing to Limerick in avoidable circumstances for two years and getting chopped down both years by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland series.


Change of intent

Signs that there had been a change of intent in the province were obvious in the big win over Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds, in which a big score was put up even if that tended to disguise the extent to which the home side had been allowed back into the match in the third quarter.

Tipperary's forwards stole the show in Limerick – Séamus Callanan with the pace and predatory instincts that had him short-listed for Hurler of the Year 12 months ago and John O'Dwyer with a tour de force display of shooting from the tightest of angles and spaces more constrained than a broom cupboard.

In the middle of this the display of Jason Forde, making what was actually his first provincial championship start, scoring 1-3 from play went relatively unnoticed, but reflected the collective strength going forward – as well as the shortcomings of the Limerick defence.

That's not an area of weakness for Waterford, however. Macdara MacDonnacha of Nemeton and TG4 pointed out an interesting statistic about the Waterford backs.

Intact back line

In the nine competitive fixtures this year – five regulation league, three knockout and one championship – the back six of Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson and Philip Mahony have been intact on eight occasions, with only Gleeson's absence against Antrim preventing a 100 per cent turnout.

It helps explain why as a unit they have been so polished in implementing the defensive game plan devised at the start of the season and accommodating all of the extra bodies around the middle third of the field.

There will be no open frontier for Tipperary on this occasion.

But Eamon O’Shea’s team are well able to drop back as well.

Brendan Maher has been doing so from centre forward and it can be expected that there will be a fair bit of traffic and bustle particularly in the early stages.

Tipp have to match the combination of industry and technique that Waterford bring to every match.

When Waterford won the league semi-final in Nowlan Park they overcame a disastrous opening, but two things have happened to affect the balance of power since.

Tipperary’s defence will be stronger and Waterford are missing Pauric Mahony whose precision landed 12 points from frees.

Maurice Shanahan did well against Cork, but Mahony was probably the form free-taker in the game until his injury.

Tipperary should win, but it will be interesting if Waterford stay in touch because the favourites haven’t won a one- score championship match for three years.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times