Premier find way past Déise defensive blanket

Tipp and Wexford are the only teams whose form-lines have been ultra-consistent so far but February can do that to you, says Anthony Daly.

Premier find way past Déise defensive blanket

It was my first time in Ardmore on Saturday night. I was coming from the Cork-Dublin game with Waterford-Tipp in mind so I docked in the Round Tower hotel, a lovely, friendly, homely spot just on the Cork-Waterford border.

Aidan Quirke, the owner, is a Tipp man and the locals weren’t shy in slagging him with yesterday’s match in mind.

I knew Ardmore was Prendergast country, the home of Seamus and Declan, who soldiered with Waterford so gallantly for so long.

I forgot about Clinton Hennessy, Waterford’s fine goalkeeper in the latter half of the last decade.

When I sat down for the breakfast yesterday morning, Clinton’s mother arrived out and introduced herself just after she had fried up my rashers and sausages.

Hurling always provides that unique connectivity.

The lads I was talking to the previous night were knowledgeable hurling men but I still sensed an unease with Tipperary coming to town.

The hiding from last year’s Munster final was probably still fresh in their minds but that reticence in Ardmore almost reflected the Waterford team’s mentality yesterday.

They just didn’t commit enough bodies forward like they had the previous week against Kilkenny. There were times when they had nobody inside the ’45.

Tipp were extremely comfortable with that set-up, especially with James Barry sitting back in the pocket. And yet Waterford still could have been ahead at half-time.

Austin Gleeson had four terrible wides by his standards but it seemed that Waterford were set up not to concede goals as opposed to fully going for the game.

They eventually brought on Stephen Bennett but it still seemed to be him and his brother Shane up on their own trying to break through a phalanx of Tipp defenders.

Any high ball that Waterford lashed forward, one of the Bennett’s was trying to battle with at least two defenders.

One of the Tipp lads would get a little knock down and his buddy would clean it up and sweep down the field with possession.

Even with that Waterford formation, Tipp managed to create some good goal chances. Ian O’Regan made a brilliant save from the Tipp penalty. He made an even better stop from Noel McGrath — John McGrath pounced on the rebound to raise a green flag.

Waterford didn’t concede the bag of goals they leaked last July but they still probably coughed up more chances than they intended to.

Waterford were flat. Outside of Tadgh de Burca, and the full-back line, very few of them played well. For such a big crowd, the atmosphere was dead. The game never took off. The home crowd nearly seemed to take their lead from the players.

Waterford had a lot of guys on Fitzgibbon Cup duty last week but a bug was rife in the squad and it claimed ‘Brick’ Walsh, Jamie Barron and Patrick Curran for yesterday’s match.

With all the schemozzles, they really missed ‘Brick’. Even Kevin Moran, Waterford’s other standout warrior, never really got going.

Waterford’s panel is getting stronger but when you compare it to Tipp’s strength in depth, the squads don’t match up yet. Tipp brought on Mikey Cahill, Michael Breen, Noel McGrath, ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and Seamie Callanan.

They didn’t even have to bother Ronan Maher to get out of his seat, having the luxury of letting him rest up for Mary I’s Fitzgibbon semi-final against LIT on Friday. That alone shows just how strong a position Tipp are in this season.

I was driving up along the quays afterwards and I spotted the Waterford players heading into the Granville Hotel. Looking at their body language, they didn’t look too down, and they were right not to be.

They have nearly had their foot pressed to the pedal for two years solid and it can be hard to keep producing consistent quality performances against the top teams.

Brian Cody, Kieran Kingston and Micheal Donoghue will be disappointed after the weekend but I don’t think Derek McGrath will be. I’m sure he will relish the next two weeks as an opportunity for his players to rest up a little before resetting their sights on the Dubs in Croke Park.

Tipp and Wexford are the only teams whose form-lines have been ultra-consistent so far but February can do that to you. I remember going to Pearse Stadium with the Dubs for our opening league game in 2014 and Galway bate us out the gate.

Clare, who had beaten Kilkenny the same day, arrived in Parnell Park a week later and we turned them over. Liam Rushe was unbreakable that day. In similar circumstances, Rushey was untouchable again on Saturday night in Pairc Ui Rinn.

Dublin were brilliant. Their young players were outstanding. You’d have to give great credit to Ger Cunningham and his management but Cork definitely seemed to buy into the hype of their win against Clare, and the form Dublin had shown against Tipp.

With Kilkenny next up now, the challenge for Gary Keegan and Kieran Kingston will be to get the players mentally ready for that massive test, especially in light of how much soul-searching will have gone on in Kilkenny in the meantime after yesterday’s showing in Ennis.

There will be a lot of soul-searching in Galway too but you have to hand it to Davy Fitz and Wexford. Promotion is in their hands now.

And it’s very rare anyone has been able to say that in February with three rounds still to play.

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