What an ask it is of Waterford: to try and topple the All-Ireland champions on what will be their fourth consecutive Saturday stepping in action and seven days after another scintillating 55-minute effort that once again emptied the fuel tank and left Liam Cahill’s charges gasping for air in the game’s dying embers.
Climbing back into the ring this weekend, Waterford will have in their corner momentum, confidence, form, and a game-plan they so clearly thrive off and have executed to near perfection these past two weekends.
The unknowns are the energy levels they will bring to Croke Park, how long they can sustain their relentless running game for, and what toll their taxing endeavours against Galway and Tipperary have taken on Liam Cahill’s group.
“It is going to be a big challenge,” replied Cahill when asked how difficult it will be to reach the required heights for the fourth weekend running.
“Four weeks in a row at that level and that intensity is tough, but these boys are well conditioned. It is all about recovery, sleep, and getting the right people, nutritionists and all that, in around us again to make sure we are energised because it is going to be a massive battle again at the weekend.
“The confines of Croke Park find you out if your energy levels are not where they need to be. That is a big ask for me and the players during the week now to make sure we are right and fully ready to go again this weekend.”
What has already been proven is the step up in Waterford’s fitness and hurling sharpness by comparison with Cahill's maiden year in the job.
Prior to Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final, never in championship history had a Tipperary senior hurling team been taken for a 40-point total.
Of Waterford’s 4-28, 3-25 came from play and was spread among 13 different scorers. And of the 1-3 from placed-ball efforts, two of those points were sumptuous Austin Gleeson sideline cuts, while the goal was a superbly put away Stephen Bennett penalty on 46 minutes that shoved the Déise seven in front and contributed greatly to their eight-point advantage — 3-21 to 2-16 — at the second water break.
As they did against Galway, Waterford set a breathless tempo down by the Lee. They ran, they slalomed, they popped off the shoulder. They even found time to reverse handpass, Gleeson producing this sublime piece of skill to tee up Peter Hogan for the first of his three points from play on 35 minutes.
The Déise surged 0-5 to 0-1 clear inside four and a half minutes and would have bagged the first goal in the subsequent action but for a fine block on Stephen Bennett. Tipperary seized on this let-off, with Seamus Callanan hitting the net at the other end less than 20 seconds later.
Liam Cahill’s side came desperately close to cancelling out this major in the ensuing play, Gleeson drilling his shot across the face of Barry Hogan’s goal and wide.
Waterford’s second missed goal opportunity was followed by Tipperary’s second major, Conor Prunty’s misjudgment under the dropping ball allowing Callanan in for his second to leave the scoreboard reading 2-1 to 0-6.
Such was Waterford’s superiority in general play, the Déise needed only four minutes to restore parity. They were never led from the first water break on, the standout difference between the sides being the pace and energy Waterford brought to proceedings.
After a slow start to their summer, Waterford have found their mojo.
“The players are getting to understand us a little bit more this year, definitely. They are really getting what we, the management, are trying to implement. Mikey Bevans works extremely hard with them on the field and they do their utmost to carry it out. Some days it works and some days it won't,” continued Cahill.
On Saturday, it most definitely worked, even if the half-time scoreline of 2-14 to 2-13 did not reflect such.
Ten white flags from Jason Forde and John O’Dwyer had kept the Premier in contention, but for the second game in succession, Liam Sheedy’s side came undone in a third quarter where they were outscored 1-7 to 0-3. Equally, though, Waterford’s intense running game meant they clattered against a wall during the final quarter for the second game in succession.
Momentum and verve ebbed from them, with Forde, Ronan Maher, Michael Breen and subs Mark Kehoe, John McGrath, and Willie Connors paring the margin back to two as the clock spilled into second-half stoppages. No closer could they come, the vanquished Premier left to rue a series of missed goal chances and poor wides from Forde and the Maher brothers.
Waterford’s latest injury-time revival was rooted in a 1-2 contribution off the bench from Neill Montgomery, with fellow sub Colin Dunford also chipping in to move the Déise within 70 minutes of a second successive All-Ireland final appearance.
“Brilliant heart again,” said Cahill of his team’s late surge to halt Tipperary’s comeback.
“Tipp looked to be coming at us in droves. Usually when they come at you like that they get you done. They were unlucky maybe with one or two chances near the end where they could have got something out of the game. But overall, Waterford played the better, consistent hurling throughout the game. Tipperary lived off a lot of our scraps and mistakes to keep with us.”
Tipperary’s failure to find the net with any of their four second-half goal chances. Waterford ‘keeper Shaun O’Brien repelled a Jason Forde batted effort shortly after the second water break, with Seamus Callanan whipping wide the rebound; Ian Kenny blocked a John McGrath drive on 66 minutes; and most important of all was O’Brien’s save to tip over McGrath’s rasping effort on 72 minutes.
Seamus Callanan brought his championship goal tally to 39 on Saturday. He sits third on the hurling championship all-time goal-scoring list, behind Nicky Rackard (59) and Tony Doran (40).
A first championship win for Waterford over Tipperary since 2008. Prior to Saturday, Waterford had failed to win a single one of their eight most recent championship clashes with Tipperary.
What now for Liam Sheedy and the long-serving members of this Tipperary team? Who of those in their early thirties will go again in 2022 and for whom did Saturday represent the end of their time in blue and gold?
With three points from play inside the opening seven minutes, Jamie Barron was once again the piston engine at the heart of Waterford’s latest lightning start. Conor Prunty recovered so well from the setback of two early Seamus Callanan goals and proceeded to deliver an excellent defensive showing. Austin Gleeson and Dessie Hutchinson also merit mention for their skill and top-drawer score-taking.
Tipperary simply did not do enough to stop Waterford’s running game between the two 45s. The shadowing of Jamie Barron and, to a lesser extent, Peter Hogan was, at times, similarly below par as Waterford’s midfield pair struck seven points from play. Then again, perhaps Tipperary just didn’t have the legs to carry out what was asked of them in the middle third.
When asked if Iarlaith Daly will be available for this weekend’s semi-final, Liam Cahill replied: “We’d be hopeful he’ll be back. Nasty enough injury, albeit it happened very simply. We’ll get Iarlaith scanned again during the week and see if he can make the matchday 26.”
Liam Sheedy described as “inconclusive” the Michael Breen challenge on Austin Gleeson that prompted referee Colm Lyons to award Waterford a 45th-minute penalty which Stephen Bennett successfully put away.
This Saturday, Waterford step back inside the whitewash for the fourth weekend running. Limerick provide the opposition and up for grabs is an All-Ireland final place.
Stephen Bennett (1-0 pen, 0-1 free), A Gleeson (0-2 sidelines), D Hutchinson (1-3 each); N Montgomery (1-2); J Barron (0-4), P Hogan (0-3); K Bennett, J Fagan, M Kiely (0-2 each); S McNulty, C Lyons, P Curran, C Dunford (0-1 each).
J Forde (0-12, 0-7 frees, 0-2 ‘65s); S Callanan (2-0); J O’Dwyer (0-4); M Breen, R Maher (0-3 each); J McGrath (0-2); N McGrath, W Connors, M Kehoe (0-1 each).
S O’Brien; S McNulty, I Kenny, C Prunty; C Lyons, Shane Bennett, K Bennett; J Barron, P Hogan; Stephen Bennett, P Curran, J Prendergast; J Fagan, A Gleeson, D Hutchinson.
M Kiely for Curran (45); N Montgomery for Prendergast (59); D Lyons for Fagan (64); B Power for P Hogan (66); C Dunford for Gleeson (70).
B Hogan; C Barrett, P Maher, B Heffernan; P Cadell, B Maher, R Maher; A Flynn, D McCormack; M Breen, J Forde, N McGrath; S Callanan, J O’Dwyer, J Morris.
S Kennedy for Heffernan (HT); M Kehoe for Morris (44); W Connors for McCormack (48); N O’Meara for O’Dwyer (53); J McGrath for Callanan (56).
C Lyons (Cork).