The home side looked to have done enough for a second NHL 1A win with a late John McGrath goal, despite misfiring for much of the second half, but Waterford dug in: they found a bridgehead at left-half-forward and bombed deliveries down there, harvesting points from Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran to keep them in touch. Gleeson’s late gaisce was no more than they deserved for keeping Tipp in their sights.
The takeaways for the home support in the 6,540 spectators were grim. Seamus Callanan was a late withdrawal with a hamstring strain, true, but Maurice Shanahan was suspended for their opponents, lending a balance to proceedings.
Tipp could also count themselves fortunate that John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, their chief scorer, remained on the field after a wild pull on Waterford’s Jake Dillon in the first half. If O’Dwyer had gone for an early shower Tipp would have struggled to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Waterford's Austin Gleeson signs autographs for supporters after his match winning point against Tipperary today! pic.twitter.com/rKalTaDakZ— sportsfile (@sportsfile) March 6, 2016
Gleeson began at full-forward for Waterford, whose alignment looked suspiciously orthodox until Darragh Fives dropped back to cover his full-back line.
In his time up front, Gleeson opened with a fine point and then found the angles trickier — though he did win a clever free on 15 minutes.
At the other end of the field Tipp had early joy from John McGrath in the corner, while Michael Breen impressed for the home side in midfield.
For Derek McGrath and the Waterford management, leaking a swift four points in the closing minutes of the half will be a concern; their response will be a comfort.
“It’s a great win. To come to Thurles and fall five points down — and look disjointed — but to come back to win is very satisfying.
“We went fairly conventional at the start just to see how it would go, with Austin (Gleeson) inside. It was pleasing that we could change our shape and settle well into it.
“We were being outworked all over the field in the first half - we were giving out to the referee and things like that.
“We were four points down at half time because we were being out-worked all over the field. We agreed at half-time that whatever else happened, we wouldn’t be outworked.”
They weren’t, either. Waterford kept Tipperary scoreless for over 20 minutes of that second half but Tipp struck late, a fine finish by John McGrath nudging them ahead after Tom Devine had soloed through for a rousing Waterford goal.
With the clock showing 73 minutes and the scoreboard 1-17 each a draw seemed inevitable, but then referee Colm Lyons gave Waterford that free deep in their own half, and Gleeson made light of the distance to win it.
Michael Ryan was philosophical afterwards.
“That game ebbed and flowed,” said the Tipperary boss.
“There was a period in the second half when we were well out of it. We went 20 odd minutes without getting a score and we really handed them the initiative in that period. And we ended up chasing it. In fairness, chase it we did and got ourselves right back into it.
“It was frantic, look, we had chances. We weren’t overwhelmed. We fluffed a very good goal chance, a long-range free was poorly hit and a 65 was missed. Look, those are the ins and outs of every game, that’s what you’re going to get but it didn’t come off for us.
“Call it what you will, that game was won with the last puck, an 80, 90 yarder, that free or the previous play could have gone in either direction. I wouldn’t be at all harsh on our boys.”
Ryan has cause for comfort in Callanan, soon to return, but the trend in endings is worrying, and worryingly familiar. Comfort? Take Tomas Hamill and Michael Breen’s performances, which could remedy headaches at full-back and midfield respectively.
Waterford were understandably happy heading to the dressing-room. The fresh faces in white and blue weren’t misleading, said Derek McGrath.
“Getting a goal takes a bit of pressure off us. We started with four 20 year-olds in our forward line — Patrick Curran was 20 during the week, and it’s great to see a 20-year-old hitting frees in Thurles with such confidence.
“Our midfielders are 23 — great to see all these young lads stand up when they had to. Their time is now.”
J. O’Dwyer (0-11, 9 frees); J. McGrath (1-2); M. Breen (0-2); B. Maher, N. McGrath (0-1 each).
P. Curran (0-8, 6 frees); T. Devine (1-0), S. Bennett (0-3); K. Moran, A. Gleeson (0-2 each); J. Barron, C. Dunford (0-1 each).
D. Gleeson, C. Barrett, T. Hamill, M. Cahill, B. Heffernan, R. Maher, P. Maher, M. Breen, B. Maher, N. McGrath, D. McCormack, P. Maher, J. O’Dwyer, L. McGrath, J. McGrath.
N. O’Meara for L. Mcgrath (50); K. Bergin for McCormack (57).
S. O’Keeffe, S. Fives, B. Coughlan, N. Connors, P. Mahony, D. Fives, K. Moran, J. Barron, M. Kearney,S. Bennett, M. Walsh, J. Dillon, P. Curran, A. Gleeson, C. Dunford.
T. Devine for Kearney (47); T. Ryan for Walsh (54); S. O’Sullivan for Dunford (64).
C. Lyons (Cork).