All-Ireland Semi-Final Preview

From gaa.ie

There can be no escaping the one statistic that will haunt Waterford in the build-up to Sunday’s showdown with Tipperary: The Deise have lost all five All-Ireland semi-finals since their return to hurling’s top table in 1998.

–Sunday, August 17–
All-Ireland SHC Semi-Final
Croke Park: Tipperary v Waterford, 3.30pm

There is one sliver of hope that will sustain the Waterford players, however: semi-final heartache has up to now usually come after they have cut a swathe through the Munster championship.

Their breakthrough year and 2006 have been the exceptions, of course. But the impression that the semi-finals represent Waterford’s glass ceiling persists. Some will argue that Davy Fitzgerald’s arrival will render history redundant, and that suggestion is not without its merits.

The Munster defeat to Clare was a low point for Waterford hurling, and while pride was restored with the win over Wexford in the quarter-final, it must be remembered that Kilkenny had destroyed the Models by 19 points in the Leinster final.

Fitzgerald needs big performances on Sunday from some of his old adversaries. Ken McGrath has yet to settle at full back and David Moran’s inclusion in defense could be the safety net needed should McGrath find himself under pressure against Lar Corbett.

Corbett has been in imperious form at full forward for Tipperary, his six points in the wins over Cork and Clare failing to fully capture the influence he exerts on the edge of the square.

Dan Shanahan rediscovered his goal touch against Wexford, but the 2007 Hurler of the Year has failed to hit the heights he achieved last year.

Once again Waterford will look to Eoin McGrath and Eoin Kelly – the latter has scored an amazing 5-24 this year, albeit he racked up his biggest scores against Antrim and Laois – in attack, with McGrath proving a vital cog this year after spending much of the last few seasons gathering splinters on the bench.

Tipperary’s Eoin Kelly has been the Premier County’s top scorer this year with 1-13, but the scores in Liam Sheedy’s side have been evenly spread throughout the team. The win over Clare proved that. John O’Brien’s form on the half-forward line has supplemented the brilliance of Seamus Callinan, who looks a shoo-in for an All Star at centre-forward, even though he moves out to the wing for Sunday’s encounter to make way for the returning Hugh Maloney.

Sheedy has shown he is not afraid to change a winning team again, with Maloney parachuted into the side after prolonged shoulder problems in place of Pat Kerwick. Tipperary’s renaissance has to be attributed to Sheedy and his much-vaunted backroom team, whom the players have frequently referred to throughout the championship and in their run to the National League crown.

Eoin Kelly is back in the form of his life and the introduction of Shane McGrath to the midfield and Conor O’Mahony at centre-back have proven to be a breath of fresh air after the staid atmosphere that existed in recent years.

Tipperary remain unbeaten this year and their strength is illustrated by the fact that Paul Curran is able to keep Declan Fanning out of the side at full back. Fanning claims he is content to make cameo appearances this year, having won an All Star in 2007, a sign, if ever there was one, that Sheedy has fostered a brilliant team spirit that Waterford will find all but impossible to overcome.

Expect Tipp’s band of brothers to overcome a Deise side with bitter memories of their last few Croke Park experiences. Then Kilkenny, the ‘prize’ for the winner.

Waterford: C Hennessy; E Murphy, K McGrath, A Kearney; D Prendergast, T Browne, K Moran; M Walsh, J Nagle; D Shanahan, S Prendergast, S Molumphy; E McGrath, E Kelly, J Mullane.

Tipperary: B Cummins; E Buckley, P Curran, C O’Brien; E Corcoran, C O’Mahony, S Maher; J Woodlock, S McGrath; S Callinan, H Maloney, J O’Brien; E Kelly, L Corbett, S Butler.

Verdict: Tipperary

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