Waterford 1-20 Tipperary 1-18
PUT aside the huge challenge of actually playing in the All-Ireland hurling final, not to mention taking on the might of treble-chasing Kilkenny.
For the Waterford players and a generation of followers who weren’t around in 1963, getting over the hump of a semi-final at the sixth attempt in a decade was pure magic and an occasion to savour at the end of a classic contest in Croke Park yesterday.
And, it was all the more melodramatic in terms of them being able to survive late Tipperary raids — of perhaps having the luck they were denied in more recent times. Substitute Michael Webster wasted a great opportunity for a winning goal before another “goal” which came off an Eamonn Corcoran sideline ball was disallowed for a square infringement.
Conversely, of course, it was heartbreaking for Liam Sheedy and a team which conquered all before it this year, demoralising for players like midfielder Shane McGrath. For a long time shaping up as the man-of-the-match, he not only helped inspire a recovery after Waterford virtually monopolised the opening 20 minutes, but in the second half he pointed to give them the lead for the first time. And, later he regained the lead for them after a Waterford rally which was testament to the character which saw them triumph.
Coming in as underdogs, but performing in a manner which reflected their greater experience on the big stage, Waterford raced into a six-point lead in eight minutes. The tally featured two pointed frees from Eoin Kelly, who was to make the single biggest contribution to victory with his tally of 1-10 and big scores from the like of John Mullane and Eoin McGrath.
The net effect (if not the intention) was to lay down a marker for Davy Fitzgerald’s excellently prepared team, but it was inevitable that they wouldn’t stay in control after ‘showing’ so early. However, apart from the fact of Tipp being able to lift their game — starting with a tightening up in defence, especially in the full-back line — Waterford’s tendency to foul under pressure resulted in them losing considerable ground and, in time, their grip.
With team captain Eoin Kelly pointing a ninth minute free (with his first real touch), Tipperary clawed their way back, helped by some marvellous hurling from McGrath and, later, strong play from Seamus Callinan after moving to the centre. In general play, Kelly always posed a threat, but aside from Eoin Murphy’s tenacious marking (continuing to do so after an injury from a flying tackle from Lar Corbett nearly got him sent off), he never saw enough of the ball to do real damage. And in the overall context, that was a negative for the league champions, as was Corbett’s inability to reach his potential against in-form Aidan Kearney.
Elsewhere, Waterford’s backs looked solid under pressure, with Tony Browne a success at full-back and Ken McGrath (starting in the centre) influential until Callinan posed problems in the period leading up to half-time.
At the other end of the field, Waterford were gaining minimal return from a fair degree of possession, because Tipperary defended so well under the dropping ball. This had the effect of severely limiting the threat from Dan Shanahan and Eoin Kelly in particular.
After earlier preventing Hugh Moloney from getting to a breaking ball, Waterford ‘keeper Clinton made a vital save in the 31st minute from Corbett. And that was after Shanahan forced Brendan Cummins to come off his line to smother his shot. At the break the sides were level at 0-10 each, with Callinan hitting two great scores.
The third quarter didn’t really separate them because of the excellence of the defences. But it was notable after a great point from wing-back Shane Maher brought Tipp level, McGrath put them in front for the first time in the 43rd minute. And after the teams were tied (for the second last of five times) at 0-14 each, he availed of a poor clearance to give them the lead.
This period also marked the loss of some good opportunities by both sides and while things were beginning to look more promising for Tipp, the contest was thrown wide open when Eoin Kelly goaled for Waterford in the 56th minute. However, Callinan had the ball in the net for Tipp inside a minute to give them renewed hope and an immediate response from substitute Pat Kerwick had them in front by two points with 11 minutes left.
By now, Ken McGrath was dominant at centre-back, team captain Brick Walsh, Stephen Molumphy and Jamie Nagle were all making an impact (as well as substitute Jack Kennedy) and they came charging back to draw level. As the game turned in their favour as Kelly put over a lead point from a 63rd minute free, the final drama was yet to be played out.
A surge down the middle by centre-back Conor O’Mahony made the opening for Webster to goal, but he missed the chance. From a resulting 65, Eoin Kelly lost the chance to equalise. And, at the end of normal time, before an additional three minutes were played, Tipp lucked out again. By then, Waterford were like men possessed, fighting for every ball and wishing the final whistle to blow. When it did, they got their reward.
Scorers for Waterford: E Kelly 1-10 (0-8f); J Mullane 0-3; S Molumphy & E McGrath 0-2 each; M Walsh, J Kennedy & J Nagle 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: E Kelly 0-8 (0-6 frees); S Callinan 1-2; S McGrath 0-3; C O’Mahony (f), S Maher, L Corbett, P Kerwick & B Dunne 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: C Hennessy; A Kearney, T Browne, E Murphy; D Prendergast, K McGrath, K Moran; M Walsh (capt), J Nagle; D Shanahan, S Prendergast, S Molumphy; E McGrath, E Kelly, J Mullane.
Subs: J Kennedy for Prendergast (51); P Flynn for Mullane (66); G Hurney for Nagle (69); S O’Sullivan for Shanahan (72).
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; E Buckley, P Curran, C O’Brien; E Corcoran, C O’Mahony, S Maher; J Woodlock, S McGrath; S Callinan, H Maloney, J O’Brien; E Kelly (capt), S Butler, L Corbett.
Subs: M. Webster for Butler (43); B. Dunne for O’Brien (48); P Kerwick for Maloney (57); P Bourke for Woodlock (63).
Referee: D. Kirwan (Cork).
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