Thinking back during the week, I did a count of the number of times I’ve been involved on provincial inter-county final day between playing, managing and coaching. I came to 13 including this one.
I’ve lost a lot more of those finals than I’ve won and some of the early ones with the Banner and the Dubs were hard to swallow, but still the day is always unique, even if you’re not involved directly.
I can’t wait to get out there again with the Limerick minors, who I’m coaching in the curtain-raiser against Tipperary.
The buzz is brilliant. The week has been spent making plans, watching DVDs and fine-tuning all the small details that goes into the preparation for these days. Similar to the seniors, there is a back-door but the qualifier route is irrelevant once the magic of Munster final day begins to sparkle and that cup above in the stand appears like the Holy Grail.
You put so much into these days too that it can be difficult to recover when they don’t go as you want them to.
Tactics Talk with Donal O’Grady: How Tipperary can create space in a crowded Waterford defence
I’ve seen that at close quarters over the last two years, with the Limerick minors last year and the Dublin seniors in 2014.
We couldn’t rediscover our mojo. We ran into Galway and Tipp teams with momentum which we couldn’t stall. Whoever loses tomorrow could run into a Clare or a Cork team juiced up on confidence and momentum and hell-bent on atonement.
The Munster champions haven’t enjoyed much success at the All-Ireland semi-final stage in recent years, primarily because they haven’t been able to handle the five-week lay-off as well as Kilkenny, but I think both Tipp and Waterford would relish being in that position tomorrow evening.
Tipp have already won two games. A third now would generate serious momentum. Waterford had a month to stew after the league final replay defeat but they didn’t waste a second in their planning to avenge that defeat to Clare in early June.
Both teams are mature and advanced enough now to relish that time as an opportunity to plan ahead rather than being strangled by the staleness that the five-week layoff has often created.
Both teams are evolving and improving the whole time. From the league final replay to the Munster semi-final, there was a definite tweak to Waterford’s system.
Tactics Talk with Donal O’Grady: Waterford’s two options for dealing with Tipp’s puck-outs
That was obvious from the contributions of Austin Gleeson, Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahoney, which allowed the team to be more offensive.
Overall, Waterford are more advanced than this time last year, when they were too conservative against Tipp. They definitely have more options. Mahoney is the obvious one but Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett have developed into serious players while Stephen Bennett is also back from injury.
From being down in Waterford 10 days ago for the minor semi-final, Darragh Fives also seems fit and good to go. Colin Dunford was a huge player for Waterford last summer but he was only their fourth sub introduced against Clare. That’s the strength in depth Waterford have now.
On the other hand, Tipp lost some big names at the end of last summer while John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is a huge loss in a game like this.
Everyone saw his importance to the team in last year’s final when his long-range points were critical to Tipp getting over the line. Bubbles’ value from long-range frees alone could be key in a game as tight and tense as this probably will be.
The venue should also level any little advantage Tipp had in Thurles last year.
I know the Waterford supporters would probably prefer the game to be in Thurles but this match is too important for Derek McGrath to hand that initiative back to Tipp again. I’ve heard people talk about Waterford’s poor record in Limerick but when have they played there?
The 2004 league final against Galway and the 2008 Munster quarter-final against Clare are the only games I can think off. That means absolutely nothing to a bunch of players who have already torn up the conventional Waterford script.
They will love the atmosphere in the Gaelic Grounds. Whatever it was about last year’s match, the atmosphere was just flat. Maybe it was because I was low myself after losing the minor final beforehand but there was no buzz around the ground.
I don’t even think the Tipp supporters recall the whole day with much fondness. Tipp were under pressure to win at home, which probably contributed to the deadness of the day.
Munster senior finals should be played at a neutral venue anyway.
Cork would be the natural venue if it was available but Tipp-Waterford in Limerick is novel, and any novelty lends itself to the whole occasion and storied history of a Munster final.
I can’t wait to soak up every drop of magic the day has to offer. Even if the minor wasn’t to go as well as we hope it will, I’m so looking forward to the senior match. However much Waterford might fancy the tighter confines, the cohort of Mahers and Michael Breen will relish that physical battle in this cauldron too. We trained there recently and the pitch is like a carpet, which will suit Seamus Callanan, Noel and John McGrath down to the ground.
I really admired Tipp’s courage and defiance with 14 men for most of the Limerick game.
I still fancy them to win the All-Ireland but I actually fancy Waterford here. Waterford have refined their system to the point where they can attack the game more now than they allowed themselves to last year. Mahoney’s sharpness too will have come on a ton over the last four weeks from the Clare match.
Reports are that Waterford are in a great place. Training has gone really well. The players would die for their manager. This will be tight, tense, tactical as you’d expect. Apart from the replayed league final, Waterford have been impressive in those situations all year.
The natural next step for this group now is to win a Munster title and I think they are ready to take that next step.
Tactics Talk with Donal O’Grady: How Limerick can pressurise the Clare defence
he Limerick minors were training in Rathkeale on Tuesday evening so I got the ferry across to Tarbert before making my way back inland to west Limerick. I was talking to a few fellas on the journey across the water and they were all saying Clare would beat Limerick. I’ve been around too long now to know not to trust general opinion because a Clare-Limerick match always takes on a life of its own.
Limerick were hot favourites when they arrived in Ennis in 1993 and we leathered them. We were All-Ireland champions when Limerick dethroned us in 1996.
Clare were supposed to win easily in Thurles last year — we know how that went.
The minors were training on the bottom pitch. On a couple of occasions, I looked up to the seniors training in the middle pitch and there was a real bite and sharp edge to the session.
Those boys are hurting since the defeat to Tipp and I think they could possess a painful sting. There is a lot of pressure on Clare too but I think Davy Fitzgerald will have his boys ready for the intensity. I fancy them to win.
I also expect Cork to shade the first match this evening. Wexford played some decent stuff last weekend against Offaly. Some of their players, especially Conor McDonald, produced their best hurling in over a year. They’ll have seen how long it took Cork to put away a 14-man Dublin side on their own patch seven days ago but you’d still expect Cork to hold all the aces.
Cork need to use their possession better than they did against Dublin but if they can get enough good ball into Alan Cadogan, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan, they have the shooters to take out Wexford.