Once, when sitting down beside my friend in school our teacher came down and went through his mock exam results which were not good.
His reply to our geography teacher's stern words with regards to his performance were: “Sir, the mocks are like the league, there is no point in showing my hand now, it's all about the Leaving Certificate, that is championship”.
On the 13th of June, Tipperary played Waterford in the last round of the National League and this game probably acted as a mock exam for Liam Sheedy’s team. Waterford won that game by five points but the manner of performance will have acted as a warning as to what Waterford can do when they get into their flow.
In that game Waterford scored 2-14 (20) from turning over Tipperary inside the Déise 45-yard line and counter-attacking down the pitch. Waterford ran possession into the Tipperary half of the pitch on 15 occasions and statistics showed Waterford’s ability to work the ball inside the Tipperary’s 45 yard line.
They generated 34 shots from that area in that league game and this high number of shots seemed to be a once-off when compared to other games played by Waterford.
In Waterford’s seven games over the league and championship this year, Liam Cahill’s men have generated an average of 19 shots per game inside the opposition’s 45-yard line.
Did Tipperary not show the hand in that game?
Was the game a sign of the well-worn narrative that Tipperary do not have the legs?
Do Liam Cahill and Michael Bevans have the knowledge on how to set up their Waterford team to play against their native county?
In the league, Waterford conceded an average of five goal shots per game and in the last 22 minutes of their game against Galway they conceded three goals. This was when Galway went with a more orthodox full-forward line with pace and their delivery of possession really improved. Tipperary have scored three goals in each of their two championship games and are combining the use of the ball with the pace of their forwards. The only team that have really threatened the Waterford full-back line is Galway in that final quarter as Clare and Laois withdrew some of their players from the full-forward line during play. Waterford conceded five goals against Cork in the league and this will be an area that Tipperary will go after with a more orthodox setup in their full-forward line.
Waterford’s full-back line may also be targeted on their puckout as Clare showed a template of how to combat the Deise’s short puckout by standing off their full-back line and clogging up the middle third of the pitch. Tipperary have practised this tactic against Cork and Limerick in the league so it could be a method of play that they roll out in the quarter-final. The question for the Waterford team is have they learned from this experience and gained the ability to counter this tactic?
For Tipperary, the league game shows a template for their demise if their players do not fully commit to pressing up on their men during play. In that game the Tipperary half-back line committed to a half press which left them in no man's land. This resulted in them being neither tight on the Waterford half-forward line or able to protect their full-back line during play.
An ocean of space was created between the Tipperary 65 and 45 which Waterford were able to expose by runners into the space or by playing ball in front of their full-forward. If Tipperary do sit off the Waterford full backline on the puckout, the second and third press by the Tipperary players in the middle third will be crucial if the Déise try to work the ball from their full backline.
The role of Noel McGrath will be important if Tipperary are to compete with Waterford in the middle third of the pitch. The nature of Waterford’s running game sees them being turned over when in possession while they are getting out of trouble in areas packed with players. Tipperary are a team who generate a high amount of turnovers with the likes of Alan Flynn, Dan McCormack, Michael Breen working themselves to a standstill in the championship to date.
McGrath’s performances have been criticised but in an area where turnovers will occur a player with his vision and comfort in possession is needed when the ball is won back. This was something that Galway lacked in the middle third against Waterford in the first half last Saturday and it was only when Johnny Coen came on and got into the game that Galway had that calming influence in the middle third.
We know what we are going to get from Waterford in relation to their running game and they will provide a screen in front of their full backline.
With Tipperary we know they have the players to win the game, we know they will be up for the fight, the only question is will they be able to quell the Waterford running game with their plan? Will Sheedy’s players be able to cope with Jack Prendergast and Peter Hogan roaming deep and running hard at them in possession?
People have question marks over the elder statesmen in the Tipperary team and their ability to live with Waterford. But Joe Canning assisted seven scores last Saturday against Waterford so it may be time to hold back on the obituaries for the likes Callanan, the two Mahers, and McGrath.
The question for Waterford is can they replicate their first-half performance from last weekend and can they cope with the loss of Conor Gleeson, who could have nullified the influence of John ‘Bubbles’ Dwyer or Jake Morris.
This has the ingredients to be a classic and one that may need extra-time or even penalties to separate the clash of two different styles.
If it goes to penalties, Sheedy may be getting his county secretary Timmy Floyd to check up the rule book and see can one of his selectors stand in goals and take a penalty. As Tipperary selector, Darragh Egan saved and scored the winning penalty in last year's Senior B relegation final between Kiladangan and Liam Cahill’s native Ballingarry.
My friend rose his performance for his geography exam in the Leaving Certificate or the championship as he called it. He has his own business and just built a fine house but his sense of direction is not great and has often got lost on the backroads of North Tipperary.