Experience won this absorbing provincial final for Tipperary, although it was a day of firsts for them.
Not only was this Eamon O’Shea’s first piece of silverware, at the third season of asking he has guided the team to a Munster crown. On top of that, it was done in tight and quite unpretty circumstances, a box that had not yet been ticked by Tipperary during O’Shea’s tenure.
In many ways, it was a victory perfect in its imperfections for a side so synonymous with blowing teams out of the water and being found wanting when the pressure gauge read deep into the red.
They’ll take so much from this considering they paid Waterford the utmost respect of remodelling elements of their system and had to readjust further when the Déise cover became too suffocating.
Indeed, so much of this game was played on Waterford’s terms but Tipperary, apart from three minutes towards the end of the first half, never went behind.
Bringing an end to Waterford’s unbeaten run in 2015 is as prized as the cup that kept them company last night and should help to keep them ticking over as they bridge the next five weeks. It was the largest attendance for a Munster final since 2008, so many of the 43,084 crowd in Thurles yesterday had made the short trips expecting from their team. And they delivered.
They did so without inflicting any sort of permanent damage on Waterford who will rue the series of wides they amounted at the start of the second half, a period when Tipperary have struggled in their last two championship games.
Derek McGrath will be able to move onto their All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin without much difficulty. They actually troubled Darren Gleeson more than Tipperary did Stephen O’Keeffe and were only put away in the final couple of minutes of normal time.
Seamus Callanan was held scoreless from play and until John O’Dwyer roamed further out, leaving substitute Lar Corbett inside, it was left to Niall O’Meara to trouble Waterford.
McGrath recalled: “If you look at the job that Barry Coughlan did, even, on Seamie Callanan... if you said to me this morning that you would keep the offensive six of Tipperary, not quiet now, but relatively more subdued than they have been, you would take that.
“I thought they were heroic like. And I thought that is the nature of the lads. They are very good lads. And getting the balance right between setting up well and breaking at pace, I thought there was a bit of emotional tiredness creeping in the second half. It was a big day for them and I think they learned from it.”
O’Dwyer began to work his magic from the 54th minute when he quickly turned to find the posts. A Callanan free followed to open up a two-point game and while Maurice Shanahan retaliated, O’Dwyer was on the mark once more.
Callanan might have been restricted in an attacking sense but his tracking of Colin Dunford in the 59th minute showed he’s developing an all-round game. Corbett added a brilliant point to move Tipperary ahead by four shortly afterwards.
Shanahan benefitted from a fortunate free in the 62nd minute when he had clearly fouled Shane McGrath seconds before, although in a way it compensated for some dubious use of the advantage rule by James Owens against Waterford early in the second half.
With the difference three once more, Callanan forced a save from O’Keeffe and converted the subsequent ‘65’. Waterford substitute Patrick Curran cancelled that out just before O’Dwyer pointed a gargantuan free from close to his own 45-metre line after some Waterford over-carrying.
That epic conversion hurt Waterford and Patrick Maher inflicted more pain when seizing on an attempted quick puck-out. Austin Gleeson and Shane Bourke exchanged scores as Tipp finally realised they were home.
“We have players who’ve been through games which have been very tight, and who’ve been through things,” said O’Shea.
“That experience is good but I was also pleased we stayed at the game and tried to play the way we wanted to play. It didn’t come off all the time, and it doesn’t show up on the scoreboard - and rightly so, because they (Waterford) were so good, but I’d be happy enough. It was an absorbing game.”
Tipperary led 0-10 to 0-9 at half-time, most of their best work coming in the opening quarter when they were finding space and time. They led 0-7 to 0-3 after 18 minutes with O’Meara, O’Dwyer and Patrick Maher finding their range.
Waterford composed themselves with four scores on the trot just after midway through the half, Shanahan exposing some awful Tipperary clearances although Waterford’s attack were making life difficult for them.
Darragh Fives picked off the first of two long-range scores to draw Waterford level on the half-hour mark before Kevin Moran sent over his second to edge them ahead.
Michael Breen’s 35th-minute leveller was actually Tipperary’s first point from play in 23 minutes and Callanan’s late free meant they held the advantage at the interval.
Scorers for Tipperary:
S Callanan (0-6, 4 frees, 2 65s); J O’Dwyer (0-5, 2 frees); N O’Meara (0-3); J Forde, P Maher (0-2 each); J O’Dwyer, M Breen, L Corbett (0-1 each).
Scorers for Waterford:
M Shanahan (0-8, 3 frees, 2 65s); K Moran, D Fives, A Gleeson (1 free) (0-2 each); C Dunford, P Curran (0-1 each).
D Gleeson; R Maher, J Barry, Pádraic Maher; C Barrett, S McGrath, K Bergin; M Breen, J Woodlock; J Forde, B Maher, Patrick Maher; N O'Meara, S Callanan, J O'Dwyer.
Subs for Tipperary:
L Corbett for M Breen (h-t); S Bourke for J Forde (67); C O’Brien for S McGrath (70).
S O'Keeffe; N Connors, B Coughlan, S Fives; A Gleeson, T de Burca, P Mahony; J Barron, K Moran; M Walsh, E Barrett, J Dillon; Stephen Bennett, M Shanahan, C Dunford.
Subs for Waterford:
T Devine for E Barrett, Shane Bennett for Stephen Bennett (both 44); P Curran for C Dunford (63); D Fives for J Dillon (67).
J Owens (Wexford)
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