What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, almost to the day, Waterford came to Páirc Uí Chaoimh to take on Tipperary in the Munster senior hurling final with high hopes but left with flags lowered, on the wrong end of a seven-goal beating.
Yesterday they were back in Cork, back in another Munster final, and even though they again came out the wrong end, pride at least was restored. Ironically they scored less than they managed last year (16 points here, 19 points in 2011) but the critical point is they defended much better.
Where in 2011 everything went right for Tipperary in front of goal, Lar Corbett finishing with four majors, yesterday the same Lar was guilty on several occasions of taking the wrong option with goal again at Tipp’s mercy.
Waterford too missed their goal opportunities, denied on three occasions in the second half by the giant figure of Brendan Cummins between the Tipperary posts.
Overall then this was probably a fair result, and a much more accurate reflection of the true difference between these two teams.
It began well for Waterford, really well in fact, 0-4 to 0-1 in front after eight minutes, making light of the slippery sod following the earlier heavy showers.
Then one man above all in a dangerous Tipperary attack that Waterford needed to curb, centre-forward Patrick Bonner Maher, announced his presence. A rob of Waterford centre-back and captain Micheál ‘Brick’ Walsh, solo, hand-pass to the lurking John O’Brien, goal from point-blank range, Waterford keeper Stephen O’Keeffe given no chance. Stephen though, would go on to have an excellent game for the Déise, as would Brendan Cummins at the other end for Tipperary.
That goal lifted the champions and roared on now by their greater support in the 26,438 attendance they began to hit their rhythm, led by a goal in the 23rd minute (1-7 to 0-7), the rampant O’Brien adding two points, wing-back Padraic Maher charging forward for another, Noel McGrath and free-taker Pa Bourke also getting in on the act. Bourke, however, tightly marked by veteran Tony Browne (his 21st championship season), would end up being called ashore, replaced by Eoin Kelly in a tribute to Browne’s enduring excellence.
The minutes before half time were when Tipperary did the damage last year, four goals in a deadly five-minute spell. Not alone was there going to be no repeat of that, Waterford actually regained the initiative with four points from the lofty Maurice Shanahan, closing out the half and leaving the sides level at the break, 1-8 to 0-11.
Anyone’s game at this stage and indeed a shock even looked possible. Noel Connors, in the right rather than his usual left-corner back slot, was outstanding for Waterford, the middle third (half-back/midfield/half-forward) was more than holding its own, while the inside line had contributed five points from play in the opening half, John Mullane with three, full-forward Shane Walsh with a brace.
The underdogs began the new half well, twice went a point ahead through Stephen Molumphy and Shanahan, but gradually Tipp began to wear them down. Points from Noel McGrath, John O’Brien, corner-back Michael Cahill and Eoin Kelly, in reply to yet another Shanahan free, had Tipp two ahead in the 54th minute (1-13 to 0-14), when disaster struck for Waterford.
First, a very softly-awarded free won by a falling Brendan Maher out around midfield, wide on the left; next an under-hit shot from Eoin Kelly; ball broken out by Waterford keeper O’Keeffe to sub Shane Bourke, who scored.
That was it for Waterford really, the stake through the heart. Five points behind, they now needed things to go their way but they couldn’t catch a break. Too many shots went astray and even when they were on target, Cummins was just in one of those humours where he wasn’t going to be beaten.
A deserved win for Tipperary, who emphasised their recent dominance in the province, this their fourth title of the last five years. They did what they came to do, completed a nice treble for the weekend (the senior footballers beat Wexford on Saturday, minors actually did a double of their own, having already won the Munster football crown), but the form shown here won’t win an All-Ireland title.
Pride restored for Waterford but there’s even more in this team and the All-Ireland quarter-final will give them another shot at progressing.
Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Brien 1-3, S Bourke 1-1, N McGrath, E Kelly (2f) 0-3 each; B O’Meara, P Bourke (2f) 0-2 each, M Cahill, Padraic Maher, S McGrath 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: M Shanahan 0-8 (5f, 165), J Mullane 0-3, S Walsh 0-2, S Molumphy, Pauric Mahony, E Kelly (1f) 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; C O’Brien, P Curran (c), M Cahill; T Stapleton, C O’Mahony, Padraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; B O’Meara, Patrick Maher, P Bourke; L Corbett, N McGrath, J O’Brien.
Subs: E Kelly for Bourke (34), S Bourke for O’Meara (53), D Maher for Stapleton (64), S Callanan for N McGrath (66).
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; N Connors, L Lawlor, S Daniels; T Browne, M Walsh (c), K Moran; S Molumphy, Phillip Mahony; M Shanahan, S Prendergast, Pauric Mahony; J Mullane, S Walsh, G O’Brien.
Subs: P O’Brien for Pauric Mahony (45), E Kelly for O’Brien (45), M O’Neill for S Walsh (61), J Nagle for Browne (62).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
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