The writing was on the wall from the off. Not only did Waterford bomb out of the traps and hit five of the opening six points, in the early stages they twice blocked down opponents on the North Stand side of the field. Omens. Portents. Auguries. Entrails.
These are the kind of things that happen when one team is a little sharper, a little faster, a little more sanded and planed from their recent momentum - and, dare one say it, a little younger and faster and more athletic.
The winners might even have bagged the first goal but Stephen Bennett was blocked down at one end and moments later Seamus Callanan had the sliotar in the net at the other end. Decide for yourself whether this was a six-point swing or merely a four-point swing.
It was already apparent, however, that green flags were top of the agenda for both sides, Waterford because they wanted them – what easier way to take down vulnerable opponents? - and Tipperary because they needed them simply to hang in there.
As we saw against Limerick, the 2019 All Ireland champions no longer possess a change of gear and were always going to be in trouble if required to chase the game. They’d done well to go in at the interval trailing by the minimum margin but there now followed the period where they’d come undone in the Munster final: the dreaded third quarter.
True to his word, Liam Sheedy got fresh legs on: Seamus Kennedy at the start of the second half, Mark Kehoe in the 43rd minute, and Willie Connors four minutes after that. It made little difference, the quarter ending with the gap having opened out to eight points. The backside had fallen out of it again and the horse had bolted almost beyond recall. Yet, as it emerged, not quite…
With the last puck of the afternoon, Bennett sent a lineball wide at the Blackrock End. That didn’t matter. It was Waterford’s first wide of the second half. That did matter and in spades.
Play the match all over again and even if Waterford are once more the better team – no argument about it, their seven-point winning margin was a reasonable statement of their superiority - do Tipperary somehow contrive a victory against the head because this time around they’re a little more careful with their shooting?
On another day, Seamus Callanan puts that ground stroke a couple of inches the right side of the far upright, though kudos to Shaun O’Brien for his save in the first place. On another day – perhaps on every other day from here to eternity – O’Brien doesn’t deny John McGrath with that stupendous deflection. And on another day, the closing ten minutes do not witness Jason Forde (of all people) fluffing a free, Ronan Maher plucking a delivery from the skies but driving it wide, and the elder Maher missing the target with a shot on the run.
In total Tipp had nine wides in the second half, most of them avoidable. It mattered. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the more precise and economical team won. That’s the way it ought to be.
In any case, just when Tipperary had got both hands on their throat Waterford broke free and Neil Montgomery finished the job. For the second Saturday in a row, the Déise compiled a deserved lead, saw it whittled down but prevented mass cardiac arrest among their supporters by finishing powerfully. Nothing wrong with their fitness and conditioning regime.
Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, the original They Died With Their Boots On chaps, were wiped out to a man at the Little Bighorn. Nobody from Tipperary died in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. While they’ll rue those wides when they wake up tomorrow, they’ll also know they couldn’t have given any more deeply, more manfully, or more generously of themselves.
Had they somehow scraped a win, returning to the well next weekend in an All-Ireland semi-final would surely have been a step too far. For that reason, it’s not too early to suggest that bowing out of Championship 2021 when and how they did may not have represented the worst of exit strategies.
The memories that Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, and Brendan and Padraic Maher have given Tipp folk are imperishable. They’ll last and will continue to give warmth long after Saturday has been forgotten.