The old order changeth, Tennyson tells us, giving place to the new. Was yesterday’s Munster final an example of the new or the old, though?
Not by the result, maybe, with Tipperary running out facile winners over Waterford: 5-19 to 0-13 was as emphatic as you could ask for.
“A Munster championship is cherished in Tipp,” said their manager Michael Ryan afterwards, clearly delighted with the victory.
“A Munster title is a big thing. That’s what we came to do. We were under no illusions, it’s been a three-week turnaround since Limerick and we had Waterford in our sights. We knew exactly how good a team they are.”
In the process the new game was clear to see. You had a corner-back, Cathal Barrett of Tipperary, free to roam his own half of the Gaelic Grounds to sweep, mirrored by the nominal wing-back opposite, Waterford’s Tadhg de Burca, doing the same.
At times Barrett had Waterford centre-back Austin Gleeson behind him in the full-forward line, while on other occasions Barrett had Gleeson 60 yards outfield taking sideline cuts, and pointing two of them.
For all the tactics and alignments, however, first principles also served Tipperary well yesterday. Putting the ball in the danger area quickly has been an article of faith since Cú Chulainn’s time; it proved durable in the laboratory conditions of the Ennis Road yesterday as well.
“Any analysis of us has to be balanced by how good and how clinical Tipperary were,” said Waterford manager Derek McGrath.
“We have a young group, it’ll be hard to lift them based on the demoralising nature of the defeat. It’s very hard to quantify how they’ll respond.”
After the half-time break, Darren Gleeson’s lengthy route-one puck-outs with the breeze caused havoc in the Waterford defence, and John McGrath skated through to kick home his second goal early in the second half.
Within a couple of minutes, Tipperary had a third goal, scored exactly the same way, with Michael Breen hammering through the middle to goal on the run. Less than ten minutes gone in the second half, 3-11 to 0-10. McGrath duly completed his hat-trick with a 47th-minute penalty, and the game was done and dusted.
It was a long final quarter for the supporters in white and blue, Callanan’s late fifth goal a fitting flourish for the winners.
Their goalkeeper was a crucial element to the team’s success yesterday. Early on he tried to pick out a couple of teammates with short puck-outs which went awry — could there be an Alex Ferguson-esque explanation with the Tipp jerseys melting into the background of the crowd? — but his long deliveries bore fruit.
Gleeson often looks like an adult deliberately taking it easy with his striking, as though pucking the ball to small kids, but yesterday he hit the ball hard and long, and Waterford suffered accordingly. Gleeson put the ball into the red zone and Tipperary always looked likely to score.
In the wide open spaces of Croke Park that may not be as viable, but the Portroe man was a potent attacking weapon yesterday.
Before the game we had the obligatory player-availability rumour about another attacking weapon — this one centred on the health of Seamus Callanan’s thigh — but there the traditional resemblance to the great hosting ended. The rain didn’t help there, of course: A great hurler once said that the best players come out in the rain, but a wet Munster final...
In the first half in particular there was quite an amount of both spillage and slippage, and the game’s eighth-minute goal owed a little to the conditions, too. An awkward ball escaped Waterford ’keeper Stephen O’Keeffe for a split-second, but a split-second is all it takes: John McGrath converted.
A run of eight consecutive wides in the first half for Waterford coincided with another scare for their goal, Dan McCormack’s effort being eventually scooped off the line. Waterford were only two adrift at the break, 0-8 to 1-7, but they weren’t motoring. Those wides were the evidence.
Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan hit sweet points on the resumption, but then came the onslaught, starting with that second goal.
Waterford awaken to a grim Monday. The defensive alignment they’ve spent so long working on was torn apart more than once in Limerick yesterday, with Michael Breen’s strike in particular likely to set off alarm bells.
The Tipp midfielder ghosted down the blind side of the defence in precisely the kind of attack Waterford are set up to turn away with bodies in the channel. Yesterday they were sucked towards the ball far too easily.
Derek McGrath won’t be too happy with the ragged edge to their discipline either: Not so much their tackling but their shot selection in that crucial first-half period when they couldn’t buy a score for twenty minutes. It doesn’t augur well for their test with Wexford in a fortnight.
“The reality of how good Wexford are was struck home on Saturday night,” said McGrath. “But all I can really fathom now is how poor we were today.
“It’s very hard to take and we’re just questioning ourselves — did we overtrain... that’s all going through my head at the moment.”
Their one consolation may be the old maxim from the corrida — that the bull learns more in five minutes than the bullfighter does in a lifetime. That lesson is hard earned, however, and Waterford have it all to do to recover from yesterday’s goring and become competitive again in two weeks’ time.
In the blue and gold corner the positivity continues, surely. They faced yesterday without John O’Dwyer, for instance, but still amassed 5-19. They have swatted aside so many different formations in 2016 alone that an opponent lining up in regulation 15-on-15 would surely cause them a nosebleed.
Just joking. A performance graph for Tipperary would see a steady climb through their provincial campaign, overcoming a variety of challenges like losing John O’Dwyer early against Limerick, and finding an answer every time.
Those challenges will be different outside the province, and it was significant that captain Brendan Maher stressed the new phase of the championship.
“We kept working to the 74th minute, the boys who came in kept working, which was great to see, but we need to draw a line now under the Munster championship.
“We were in this position last year and we didn’t turn over Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. We want to learn, try a few things maybe differently.
“We said we’d do that and hopefully we’ll get those things right for the semi-final.”
“It was exactly at this juncture last year that we fell, and fell flat,” agreed Michael Ryan. “We’ll enjoy this Munster final, but tomorrow we’ll begin to plan for five weeks’ time.”
At the moment they are the form team; they have one cup in the boot of the car and, based on what we’ve seen, remain most people’s favourites for September.
The question is no longer whether they can do it; it’s whether anyone can stop them from doing it.
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