Tipperary experience pivotal in deciding heavyweight clash

Young Waterford side beaten but unbowed following a gripping final clash at Thurles

Waterford’s Michael Walsh is tackled by Tipperary’s Padraic Maher during the Munster senior hurling championship final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Waterford’s Michael Walsh is tackled by Tipperary’s Padraic Maher during the Munster senior hurling championship final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Maybe this was not the most incandescent of Tipperary’s provincial summer titles. But on a cloudy afternoon when Semple Stadium fell silent to honour the memory of Jimmy Doyle – the local kid who strobe-lit Tipperary’s 1960s – it might have suited the Premier County to win their 41st Munster championship in ordinary fashion.

“Two heavyweights going at each other, point for point,” was the accurate summary from Tipperary’s manager Eamon O’Shea

It finished 0-21 to 0-16 and the result left both teams and counties precisely in the same place as they were before the throw-in. Tipperary still look best-placed of the candidates to wrestle the McCarthy cup from Kilkenny when September comes.

Waterford did little to dissuade observers from the sense that they are a coming team and successfully distracted and bothered Tipperary out of their rhythm in the first half, when they flirted with the possibility of another day of high theatre.

Waterford had never beaten Tipperary on a championship day here but buoyed by a fabulous season to date, the supporters arrived in force and full voice, willing to believe that anything was possible.

It might have been, too, but with the game poised at 0-11 each and waiting to be claimed, Waterford’s players fired a series of ambitious shots which didn’t come off.

Even then, there was a sense that they were searching for something or someone to provide the emotional charge which has elevated their big performances to date.

Instead, Tipp kept an eye on the task and forged ahead. Maybe the key difference between the teams is that for the last two decades Tipp have had hurlers growing up in Killenaule and Thurles town who can do things with a ball that very few others can.

John O’Dwyer landed a 59th minute point that would have had Jimmy Doyle nodding in appreciation. Shortly after, Lar Corbett lobbed a score from centrefield, back-stepping away from Waterford pressure and making it look easy. Lar’s was a score born of muscle memory.

Second Captains

“The white-hot heat of a Munster championship is a little bit different,” said Derek McGrath afterwards.

“We are playing against quality players. When Lar and Bubbles and them got their chances they were probably that little bit more clinical. But I think that comes with (a) quality and (b) experience. We have no real issues. We have to learn to be gracious in defeat as well. There is no shame in the defeat.”

Since this season began, McGrath has been like an old-style magician, pulling rabbits out of hats and exhorting his young charges into a spiralling pattern of heroic wins. July 12th marked their first defeat of the competitive season.

Much has been about what McGrath alluded to here as “the much vaunted system” and it was clear that the Tipp’ forwards were frustrated at finding avenue after avenue cut off.

“We’d to work hard,” said Patrick Maher.

“Fair play to Waterford they closed down that space very well. We’d to work extremely hard in the forward line, break tackles and stop them from coming out with the ball. We’d to work very hard for it. Patience was the name of the game and we stuck with our system. It worked out at the end.”

But for all of the methodology and structure behind Waterford’s play, they are essentially a team that plays on emotion. Kevin Moran’s cheeky, sauntering point on the half-hour mark briefly elevated them into a mood of fiery rebellion and, most importantly, fearlessness.

Under McGrath this season, they play as if completely free of inhibition. They threatened to drag Tipperary into an unfamiliar game and world here. But only briefly. However, they continued to slug it out with a heavyweight name even as the final slipped away from them. It was a far cry from the bewilderment they felt last summer.

“If you contrast it to the defeats of last year against Clare and Kilkenny which were absolute hammerings . . .I think the psychological impact of those undoubtedly had an effect on the lads,” said McGrath.

“So I don’t there were scars from this defeat. It was just two teams just giving it everything in a cauldron there. But you can never guarantee that you will bounce back until you are out in two weeks and talking about a victory or a defeat.

“I am not one for making bold statements about where we will be afterwards. We will recover there now and the boys have a massive game on Wednesday night in terms of the U-21 so . . . .we are not in a bad place.”

Familiar sound

Jason Forde contributed two important points in what was a match that delivered his first ever medal as a Tipperary player.

As Eamon O’Shea pointed out, Tipp’ are still feeling their way into a new era. Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly were faces in the crowd here. Those presences are not quickly replaced. So in Tipp’, the sight of a captain in blue and amber and a cup held against the sky matters.

“Yeah. . . it is important . I don’t always feel that it is as important as it is made to be on the outside. But it is important. I thought it was important to stay true to what we believed in during the game. They are a resilient bunch. We have been through a fair bit. We had nine Munster final debutants there. I think that is good. I don’t know what it looked like, if people will say it was a close game. For me, it was as close as they get.”

And it was true: Waterford kept snapping at their heels until the end. Tipp’ showed composure here. But, of course, this final was nothing like as close as the sublime heartache of last year’s drawn final against Kilkenny. Tipp’ did what they were expected to do here and so edge closer to that scene again. No fireworks here but that will do fine. Just another Munster title in the closet.

Meanwhile in Leinster, Dublin, as expected, completed the five-in-a-row of senior titles when they proved too strong for Westmeath by 2-13 to 0-6.

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