All-Ireland champions Tipperary limbering up for 2017 and challengers Waterford looking to build on last weekend’s win over Kilkenny.
Waterford reintegrating Austin Gleeson; Tipperary springing Bubbles O’Dwyer from the bench.
A sift through the significance was needed because this NHL clash, won comfortably by Tipperary, never quite took off.
A hefty attendance of 7,344 came for fireworks but the fare was earnest rather than exciting.
Tipp boss Michael Ryan wasn’t getting carried away, certainly: “It’s good to win. That’s what we came to do, no more, no less. We knew it was going to be a titanic type battle to get a result down here.
“It certainly wasn’t comfortable. The goal gave us a bit of daylight, a well-worked goal. We thought a point or two either way was how this game might pan out.
“It looked easier by the scoreboard, but not for the players out there. It was wave after wave after wave of attack. Our goalie pulled off a great save. These are very small margins, and it could have gone any way.”
Waterford attacked the scoreboard end in the first half, with last season’s Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year, Austin Gleeson, getting a roving commission up front though named at centre-back.
Tipperary’s John McGrath and Waterford’s Pauric Mahony swapped frees early on as both sides got to know each other, hitting some poor wides in the process.
At the end of the first quarter, the sides were level with five points apiece, neither team gaining an advantage or working a clear goal chance.
McGrath and Mahony swapped frees to the break, when Jason Forde popped up with the lead score for Tipp: 0-11 to 0-10.
Tipp stretched that lead to three 10 minutes into the second half, at which point the game livened up, with some hard exchanges, though Waterford struggled to make inroads on the visitors’ lead.
Steven O’Brien won a Tipp penalty on 52 minutes which Bubbles O’Dwyer took — only for Ian O’Regan to save brilliantly.
Entering the final quarter another brilliant O’Regan save — from Noel McGrath — rebounded to John McGrath, whose goal made it a six-point game on 57 minutes, giving Tipperary some breathing space, and they enjoyed that cushion to the end.
Waterford manager Derek McGrath was pin-sharp in his analysis.
“It was point for point in the first half but I thought we were chasing it, even in the first half. Someone said to me there that we had a couple of wides in the first half, I’m not sure how many wides we had but I thought we were doing well to be only a point down at half-time, if I’m honest.
“I just thought they were a little bit more clinical and — I won’t say a skill deficit, but just very sharp. I thought Tipp were very impressive now, I can’t be any more honest than that.
“I thought the depth to their play, there was one crossfield pass from Noel McGrath to Bubbles (O’Dwyer) just near the end I think, that Bubbles put wide, and Noel was picking up possession 90 yards from the goal, crossing 60 yards to a fella that’s 80 yards from the goal.
“I just found it hard to know whether to go with them as half-backs and therefore you’re opening up the space for inside, or to hold their shape, and I just thought we got caught a little bit in that.”
Waterford left their home field with plenty to ponder: last year’s talisman with a game under his belt as a positive, but a lack of goalscoring opportunities— and some poor wides — will be filed in the minus column.
Those wides didn’t help Waterford last year, and McGrath and Co will be keen to sort that particular issue.
Resurgent Dublin will ask tough questions of them in their next game, though an outing in Croke Park will certainly be welcome in terms of experience for the younger Waterford cohort.
Yesterday’s winners looked to be in fourth gear for much of the game, and were able to produce considerable quality from the bench — in terms of forwards, particularly — to run out winners.
Grounded, efficient and lively: So far the Tipperary focus on how this year will pan out, rather than dwelling on the achievements of 2016, looks laser-sharp.
P. Mahony (0-9, 8 frees); B. O’Halloran (0-2); M. Kearney, T. Devine, A. Gleeson, G. O’Brien (0-1 each).
J. McGrath (1-7, 4 frees); J. O’Dwyer (0-4, 3 frees); J. Forde, S. O’Brien (0-2 each); K. Bergin, B. Maher, N. O’Meara (0-1 each).
I. O’Regan, S. Fives, B. Coughlan, N. Connors, C. Gleeson, T. de Burca, S. McNulty, G. O’Brien, K. Moran, M. Kearney, P. Mahony, T. Devine, Shane Bennett, J. Dillon, A. Gleeson.
D. Lyons for McNulty (43); Stephen Bennett and C. Dunford for Dillon and G. O’Brien (48); M. Shanahan for Kearney (60); B. O’Halloran for Dunford (inj., 61).
D. Mooney, D. Maher, J. Barry, J. O’Dwyer, S. Kennedy, T. Hamill, P. Maher, B. Maher, K. Bergin, D. McCormack, J. Forde, S. O’Brien, A. McCormack, J. McGrath, N. O’Meara.
John O’Dwyer for A. McCormack (28); N. McGrath for Forde (50); M. Breen for Bergin (54); S. Callanan for O’Brien (57); M. Cahill for Joe O’Dwyer (65).
D. Kirwan (Cork).