In a tight first-half Waterford’s hard-running and tough-tackling, wind-aided or not, made them look superior and they were worth far more than the slim 0-8 to 0-5 lead they carried into the break.
A powerful half-back/midfield axis paved the way for Déise dominance during this period with Jamie Nagle, Brick Walsh and Phillip Mahony, who marked his return from his year-long travels with two fine long-range points from play, well on top around the 40. And Kevin Moran and Shane O’Sullivan more than held their own against Brendan Maher and James Woodlock.
Saving Tipp’s bacon was the fact their own half-back trio of Shane McGrath, Padraic Maher and Conor O’Brien were also doing well, as was the full-back line of Cathal Barrett, Conor O’Mahony and the superb Michael Cahill. Nevertheless Tipp were under pressure and, had Waterford been a little more accurate, Tipperary would certainly have been in real trouble.
Waterford had eight wides in this half, to four for Tipp. Four were from different players but free-taker Pauric Mahony led the way with five wides, to add to his six points. A few of those were of the downtown variety, long-distance efforts, but overall it was a poor return for Waterford’s superiority.
“I’m never really one to overly focus on wides because you’re happy to be making the chances,” said Waterford manager Derek McGrath, before conceding, “It’s a lot of wides. We had a lot of play in terms of possession. We played well at times but it’s something we have to work on.”
The second-half saw an improved effort from Tipperary, Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan particularly impressive up front. Waterford got the better start and extended their lead to five (0-10 to 0-5) with fine strikes by Jake Dillon and Maurice Shanahan. However, in the 42nd minute Tipperary finally began to make their move and it started with a most fortuitous decision. Referee Colm Lyons deemed that a defender wasn’t far enough back from a poorly hit John O’Dwyer free. John made no mistake from the second chance, from closer range. Tipperary took off and outscored Waterford 1-8 to 0-4 in the next 24 minutes to lead by two going into the final five minutes, 1-13 to 0-14.
The goal defined the difference between the attacks. The experienced Noel McGrath eschewing an easy point to pick out the well-positioned Seamus Callanan with a perfect pass who finished from a difficult angle. Seamus would prove to be the real difference between the sides, leaving manager Eamonn O’Shea to lavish some praise.
“Seamus is always good, he doesn’t have to come good for me,” he said. “It was the right time, in fairness, we got better ball in, he scored. I was very happy with the team the way they tried to eke out a win, that’s the most pleasing aspect of the game. It was very competitive, could have gone either way. Our lads are happy that they stayed working at the game, that was the most pleasing aspect of the day, and only that. The hurling will come, it’s just very early in the season.”
Eke it out they did and eke it out they had to, because Waterford weren’t done yet. Phillip Mahony’s second point of the evening brought them back within a point as the game headed for injury-time but then came their second bad break of this half. A towering free from Tipp keeper Darren Gleeson came down out of the lights and into the net off the fingers of the excellent Stephen O’Keeffe for the decisive score. It was a welcome win for Tipp to start their campaign and a tough intro for Waterford manager McGrath. “I think sustaining the level of workrate in the first-half was difficult and that’s not a question of fitness. Bar Shane O’Sullivan in the forwards we had guys under 23 and we’re just happy with the way they held up the ball early in the first-half, getting runners on the shoulder and that kind of stuff.
“It’s all terminology now for trying to break the line and all that kind of craic but we’re very happy with the way we played. The end product is something that we’re looking to work on over the next while but if we see progress in every game, albeit trying to improve the level of wides along the way, we’ll be happy enough.”
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan (1-4, 2fs), J O’Dwyer (0-4fs), D Gleeson (1-0f), N McGrath (0-2), J Woodlock, K Bergin, D Maher (0-1 each).
Scorers for Waterford: Pauric Mahony (0-10, 9fs), Phillip Mahony (0-2), K Moran, J Dillon, M Shanahan, B O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; C Barrett, C O’Mahony, M Cahill; S McGrath, P Maher, C O’Brien; B Maher (c), J Woodlock; S Callanan, N McGrath, K Bergin; J Forde, P Murphy, J O’Dwyer.
Subs for Tipperary: L McGrath for J Forde (42), D Maher for J O’Dwyer (48), S Bourke for P Murphy (56), R Maher for J Woodlock (58).
WATERFORD: S O’Keefe; N Connors, S Fives, B Coughlan; J Nagle, M Walsh (c), Phillip Mahony; K Moran, S O’Sullivan; J Barron, Pauric Mahony, J Dillon; M Shanahan, S Walsh, B O’Sullivan.
Subs for Waterford: S Molumphy for S Walsh (47), S Prendergast for J Barron (58), E Barrett for M Shanahan (66), S Roche for S Prendergast (70).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork) Attendance: 4786.