Everything was set fair in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday for what was an eagerly-awaited Munster senior hurling final; the red carpet was rolled out for the President, Mary McAleese, the renowned Artane Band also made the trip from Dublin to lead the pre-match parade, and in near-perfect conditions 36,654 supporters readied themselves for what should have been another in the many glorious chapters of the Munster hurling annals.
Waterford were the provincial champions, Tipperary the All-Ireland kingpins — this was surely going to be a clash of monumental proportions.
So what happened? This wasn’t just defeat, this was annihilation on the order of what had happened to Waterford in the All-Ireland final of 2008, when they were blitzed by Kilkenny (3-30 to 1-13).
Rebuilding steadily and impressively under manager Davy Fitzgerald since that dog-day afternoon, Waterford were never again going to suffer defeats of that magnitude, yet there it is; a 21-point loss, the biggest margin in a Munster final since Waterford’s bad old days of the early 1980s.
Lining out in conventional fashion, straight 15 on 15 without any tinkering with any of the lines, and facing into a stiff breeze, the champions were only six points behind as the game entered the final five minutes of first-half regular time (1-10 to 0-7).
And when John Mullane broke in behind Paddy Stapleton and bore down on record-equalling Brendan Cummins in the Tipperary goal (65 championship appearances, up there now with Christy Ring), he had only one thing on his mind — goal. But Mullane failed to get any power on the shot and his snatched effort flew into the side-netting. Had that gone in, who knows what might have happened; it didn’t, and the next five minutes was probably the most devastating period ever seen in this storied championship.
It went like this: 32nd minute, massive leap by Noel McGrath to claim a huge puckout by Cummins, to Patrick Maher to Eoin Kelly for a goal. 34th minute, a huge first-time clearance by midfielder Gearoid Ryan (along with Shane McGrath, completely dominated the sector) was broken by Seamus Callanan and Lar Corbett pounced on the break to fire to the net. 36th minute, another huge Ryan clearance was collected by Patrick Maher who parted to the supporting Callanan for another goal. 37th minute, and yet another long Ryan clearance gathered by Corbett. You can work out the rest.
Five minutes, four goals, the promise of an interesting second half shattered.
Waterford did have the final say before the teams headed for the dressing rooms, a point from free-taker Pauric Mahony (one of the very few Déise successes on the day, ended with 13 points from 13 shots, 12 frees), but at 5-10 to 0-8, what hope in the second half?
None, and thus it transpired. Damage limitation, that was the best Waterford could have hoped for, try and win back some honour, and for the first 15 minutes of the second period they actually managed to stay with Tipperary, outscoring them six points to five, Mahony still doing the bulk of the work.
Then came goal number six for Tipp in 55th minute, yet another Ryan centre, into the chest of Eoin Kelly who gave Clinton Hennessey no chance from close range.
Eleven minutes later goal and number seven was in the net courtesy of Lar again after another route one delivery from Conor O’Mahony.
Consider this; in that second half, Hennessey also made two point-blank blocks, so it could have been nine goals.
So, what can you say, what can anyone say? No room for sentiment in sport we’re told, but one had to feel sorry for great campaigners like Tony Browne, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Stephen Molumphy, John Mullane.
This was a day when nothing, absolutely nothing, went right for Waterford. Brick was started at full-back, Kevin Moran at centre-back, and in truth both were doing reasonably well until those fateful five minutes, while for John Mullane — well, for all of Waterford — it was a day to forget.
And with high-flying Galway to come in two weeks in the All-Ireland quarter-final, a day to forget in a hurry.
Scorers for Tipperary: L Corbett 4-4; E Kelly 2-6 (0-3f); S Callanan 1-0; J O’Brien 0-3; N McGrath 0-2 (0-1 s/l); P Bourke 0-2; G Ryan, S Bourke, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: P Mahony 0-13 (0-12f); J Mullane, S Walsh, S O’Sullivan, S Molumphy, T Browne, M Shanahan, 0-1 each.
Subs for Tipperary: P Bourke (Callanan 50); B Dunne (Ryan 54); S Bourke (McGrath 60); B Maher (Padraic Maher 62); D Gleeson (Cummins 64). Blood sub: B Maher (O’Keeffe 35/36).
Subs for Waterford: J Nagle (Maher 28); M Shanahan (McGrath 35); L Lawlor (Fives 35); D O’Sullivan (Foley 35); E Kelly (O’Sullivan 50).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).