Tipperary to march forward


GAELIC GAMES:AFTER KILKENNY’S demolition job in last week’s Leinster final tomorrow’s Munster equivalent adds to the sense of an entire championship being played out as ritual precursor to a third successive Tipp-Kilkenny All-Ireland final – a sequence unequalled in over 100 years.

Waterford will vigorously defend their Munster hurling title and the county will believe in its record against Tipperary. They will be inspired by events nine years ago when they toppled tomorrow’s opponents at the same venue, the last time Tipperary took the field at a Munster final as All-Ireland champions.

But judged on the available evidence, Waterford’s prospects look remote.

The relevant questions are: can their defence control an attack whose scoring returns over the past five championship matches is averaging three and a half goals, and, if Tipp show the sort of laxity that gave Clare a flying start in the Munster semi-final, can they take advantage and put away the scores?

The full-back problem continues to bedevil Waterford and it took a significant intervention by Michael Walsh to steady the ship against Limerick.

Debutant Jerome Maher gets the nod for tomorrow, but the expectation is Walsh will, in fact, start on the edge of the square, as Maher’s experience is at corner back, apart from the first league match against Dublin when he was replaced at half-time.

In that scenario, Darragh Fives will switch to wing back, with Kevin Moran taking over at centre back.

Maybe Walsh’s travails against Noel McGrath last year and, again to an even greater extent, in March’s league fixture, is influencing David Fitzgerald in deciding to reconfigure the defence. But Walsh’s problems were more based on the tactic of falling back and allowing McGrath roam, which facilitated a point-scoring blitz on both occasions.

Richie Foley, a scoring revelation during the league, is back for Waterford but this will be his first start in three months, which is asking a lot of a player going into a match of this importance.

Tipperary’s only change comes at the back where Paddy Stapleton gets the chance to re-establish himself after a disappointing opening match against Cork but the problems in his absence proved even greater.

Pauric Mahony was one of five Waterford debutants in the Limerick match and he was the most impressive of them, scoring well off frees and from play. John Mullane also got back on the goal standard with two but, against that, his point shooting was unusually erratic. Otherwise Eoin McGrath returns but he’ll need to be in good form to get much out of Pádraic Maher.

Tipperary captain Eoin Kelly got a crack at training during the week but reportedly has no fitness problems going into the match. The pace and ball winning of the favourites’ attack poses serious difficulties for Waterford, particularly in the half forwards, which used to be a problem sector.

Noel McGrath will presumably not be allowed the freedom he has so ruthlessly exploited in the two most recent matches but on either side of him both Patrick Maher and Séamus Callanan, who has come back from injury in exceptional form, averaging five points from play per match so far, scored goals the last day.

The problem for Waterford is stretching the tablecloth to cover the whole table. Bringing Walsh to full back and dropping an extra man into defence can clog up the spaces but a stripped-down attack is then less of a problem for Tipp.

Waterford don’t go down easily but it’s hard to see them still standing after 70 minutes.

WATERFORD: C Hennessy; D Fives, J Maher, N Connors; T Browne, M Walsh, K Moran; S Molumphy (capt), R Foley; E McGrath, S O’Sullivan, P Mahony; J Mullane, S Walsh, B O’Sullivan.

TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; J O’Keeffe, C O’Mahony, Pádraic Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, Patrick Maher; E Kelly (capt), J O’Brien, L Corbett.

Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).

In the last episode:This is the fourth meeting between the counties in successive seasons, of which Waterford have won just one, the All-Ireland semi-final of 2008. Last year at the same stage Tipp won comfortably, assisted by Waterford’s conservatism in dropping deep and yielding space.

You bet:The All-Ireland champions are the hottest Munster finalists for a while (Waterford were 1-3 against Limerick four years ago) at 1-5, with Waterford 4-1 and 12-1 the draw.

Just the ticket:Just terrace tickets available now. They will be on sale at €20 on approaches to the ground tomorrow.