Seán Moran: Waterford’s defeat of Tipp may have marked a turning point

Liam Cahill has done extraordinarily well to revive Waterford in the past two seasons

Waterford's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat of Tipperary on Saturday in Cork's Páirc Uí Chaoimh may have marked a turning point in relations between the counties. It was Waterford's first win in the fixture since the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final and it's not as if meetings have been rare in the interim.

The counties have played nine times in the past 13 years between provincial and All-Ireland championships. The best that Waterford had previously managed was the infamous draw in the first year of the provincial round robin in 2018, secured by Jason Forde's speculative effort, which was plainly shown not to have crossed the line after Austin Gleeson had caught the ball.

In 1996, two significant influences on the rivalry made their debut on the same day. Three-time All Star Ken McGrath, who would win three Munster titles with Waterford, and Liam Cahill, also an All Star and the manager who oversaw Saturday's victory, made his first senior championship appearance with Tipperary, who won narrowly.

Cahill, who also made his mark with Tipperary under-age teams, winning an under-21 and its replacement under-20 All-Irelands in 2018 and ‘19, has done extraordinarily well to revive Waterford in the past two seasons and their pace, aggression and marksmanship on Saturday was too much for Liam Sheedy’s team.

Two years after his debut in 1996 Waterford registered only their second win in the fixture in 35 championships and raised the flag on 10 years of superiority, winning five out of seven matches, from the landmark 2002 Munster final success to the All-Ireland semi-final in 2008 that brought the county to a first Liam MacCarthy final since 1963.

But 1998 was the breakthrough. Manager Gerald McCarthy, summed up the impact.

“This has to be good for Waterford hurling. You know, we have taken a lot of hidings from Tipp over the years but today we stuck with it and put them away. This really is a significant victory from that point of view.”

His predecessor, the late Tony Mansfield, had particular reason to feel a sense of satisfaction, as he had been a young member of the panel the last time Waterford had won Munster.

In the meantime, he was involved with county teams at various levels and was manager of the team that won the 1992 All-Ireland Under-21 championship. He was also manager in 1996 when McGrath made his debut. For Mansfield the provincial title vindicated players.

“Ken McGrath is as good a hurler as he always was. It’s just in the nature of things that unless you win something it doesn’t get noticed as much.”

McGrath would win Munster again in 2004, ‘07 and ‘10. At the start of this season, he spoke about the poor opening his county had made losing to Clare but presciently said that he believed they could recover and how they might do it.

“I still think there is going to be a fair kick in them, I would not write them off by any means.

"That is when Waterford are at their best - we saw that last year in the semi-final against Kilkenny, especially in the second half when we tore into then at one hundred miles an hour. When we are not going at a certain speed of play or a certain level of aggression I don't think we are as good."

That formula has worked for two successive weekends against Galway and Tipperary. This Saturday will be their fourth week running – literally – and against well-rested champions Limerick, who dismantled them in last December's All-Ireland final.

Caught between Tipp and Waterford, Cahill expressed a level of discomfort with his situation after the win.

“I take no pleasure in being part of this Waterford team that knocked Tipperary out of the championship - it was a difficult place to be but look, a job had to be done and it was done and we move on.”

There has been much speculation that he is now the heir apparent for the Tipperary job, for which he lost out to Sheedy three years ago. In the meantime though he has more immediate horizons and given the age profile of the two teams on Saturday, maybe he’s content for the moment where he is.

Meanwhile the All-Ireland under-20 hurling final between Cork and Galway, scheduled for this Saturday, is likely to be re-fixed for the following weekend. This is on foot of Cork being unable to fulfil the original fixture this Saturday due to a Covid outbreak.

It was enshrined in regulations last winter that neither All-Ireland finals nor semi-finals would be defaulted in those circumstances and that such matches would be re-arranged.

A GAA spokesperson said on Monday that the Central Competitions Control Committee would re-schedule the final at its next meeting. The likelihood is that it will be for the following week but fixture details remain to be confirmed.

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