Tipperary v Waterford Match Reports and Reaction

Day of delight for Davy’s Déise


By Jim O’Sullivan

Waterford 1-20 Tipperary 1-18

PUT aside the huge challenge of actually playing in the All-Ireland hurling final, not to mention taking on the might of treble-chasing Kilkenny.

For the Waterford players and a generation of followers who weren’t around in 1963, getting over the hump of a semi-final at the sixth attempt in a decade was pure magic and an occasion to savour at the end of a classic contest in Croke Park yesterday.

And, it was all the more melodramatic in terms of them being able to survive late Tipperary raids – of perhaps having the luck they were denied in more recent times. Substitute Michael Webster wasted a great opportunity for a winning goal before another "goal" which came off an Eamonn Corcoran sideline ball was disallowed for a square infringement.

Conversely, of course, it was heartbreaking for Liam Sheedy and a team which conquered all before it this year, demoralising for players like midfielder Shane McGrath. For a long time shaping up as the man-of-the-match, he not only helped inspire a recovery after Waterford virtually monopolised the opening 20 minutes, but in the second half he pointed to give them the lead for the first time. And, later he regained the lead for them after a Waterford rally which was testament to the character which saw them triumph.

Coming in as underdogs, but performing in a manner which reflected their greater experience on the big stage, Waterford raced into a six-point lead in eight minutes. The tally featured two pointed frees from Eoin Kelly, who was to make the single biggest contribution to victory with his tally of 1-10 and big scores from the like of John Mullane and Eoin McGrath.

The net effect (if not the intention) was to lay down a marker for Davy Fitzgerald’s excellently prepared team, but it was inevitable that they wouldn’t stay in control after ‘showing’ so early. However, apart from the fact of Tipp being able to lift their game – starting with a tightening up in defence, especially in the full-back line – Waterford’s tendency to foul under pressure resulted in them losing considerable ground and, in time, their grip.

With team captain Eoin Kelly pointing a ninth minute free (with his first real touch), Tipperary clawed their way back, helped by some marvellous hurling from McGrath and, later, strong play from Seamus Callinan after moving to the centre. In general play, Kelly always posed a threat, but aside from Eoin Murphy’s tenacious marking (continuing to do so after an injury from a flying tackle from Lar Corbett nearly got him sent off), he never saw enough of the ball to do real damage. And in the overall context, that was a negative for the league champions, as was Corbett’s inability to reach his potential against in-form Aidan Kearney.

Elsewhere, Waterford’s backs looked solid under pressure, with Tony Browne a success at full-back and Ken McGrath (starting in the centre) influential until Callinan posed problems in the period leading up to half-time.

At the other end of the field, Waterford were gaining minimal return from a fair degree of possession, because Tipperary defended so well under the dropping ball. This had the effect of severely limiting the threat from Dan Shanahan and Eoin Kelly in particular.

After earlier preventing Hugh Moloney from getting to a breaking ball, Waterford ‘keeper Clinton made a vital save in the 31st minute from Corbett. And that was after Shanahan forced Brendan Cummins to come off his line to smother his shot. At the break the sides were level at 0-10 each, with Callinan hitting two great scores.

The third quarter didn’t really separate them because of the excellence of the defences. But it was notable after a great point from wing-back Shane Maher brought Tipp level, McGrath put them in front for the first time in the 43rd minute. And after the teams were tied (for the second last of five times) at 0-14 each, he availed of a poor clearance to give them the lead.

This period also marked the loss of some good opportunities by both sides and while things were beginning to look more promising for Tipp, the contest was thrown wide open when Eoin Kelly goaled for Waterford in the 56th minute. However, Callinan had the ball in the net for Tipp inside a minute to give them renewed hope and an immediate response from substitute Pat Kerwick had them in front by two points with 11 minutes left.

By now, Ken McGrath was dominant at centre-back, team captain Brick Walsh, Stephen Molumphy and Jamie Nagle were all making an impact (as well as substitute Jack Kennedy) and they came charging back to draw level. As the game turned in their favour as Kelly put over a lead point from a 63rd minute free, the final drama was yet to be played out.

A surge down the middle by centre-back Conor O’Mahony made the opening for Webster to goal, but he missed the chance. From a resulting 65, Eoin Kelly lost the chance to equalise. And, at the end of normal time, before an additional three minutes were played, Tipp lucked out again. By then, Waterford were like men possessed, fighting for every ball and wishing the final whistle to blow. When it did, they got their reward.

Scorers for Waterford: E Kelly 1-10 (0-8f); J Mullane 0-3; S Molumphy & E McGrath 0-2 each; M Walsh, J Kennedy & J Nagle 0-1 each.

Scorers for Tipperary: E Kelly 0-8 (0-6 frees); S Callinan 1-2; S McGrath 0-3; C O’Mahony (f), S Maher, L Corbett, P Kerwick & B Dunne 0-1 each.

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

Subs: J Kennedy for Prendergast (51); P Flynn for Mullane (66); G Hurney for Nagle (69); S O’Sullivan for Shanahan (72).

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 (capt), S Butler, L Corbett.

Subs: M. Webster for Butler (43); B. Dunne for O’Brien (48); P Kerwick for Maloney (57); P Bourke for Woodlock (63).

Referee: D. Kirwan (Cork).

Attendance: 53,635.

Waterford reach the final frontier


Monday August 18 2008

THE scenes at the end were reminiscent of an All-Ireland final as Waterford players and supporters united in a blinding flash of blue and white to celebrate the liberation of a county that had endured so much semi-final heartbreak since 1998.

They had come to Croke Park on five August Sundays over the last decade seeking a place in the All-Ireland final but were denied each time, quite often in the most painful of circumstances as close calls went against them. And when they trailed Tipperary by two points on the hour mark yesterday it looked as if the misery was about to continue.

Tipperary had wiped out a six-point lead which Waterford had built up over the first eight minutes and also countered Waterford’s 56th-minute goal with one of their own a minute later to give themselves every opportunity of clinching a place in the final.

But there was something different about Waterford this time. Burrowing deep into their spirit, they unleashed a powerful finish which yielded five points over the closing 10 minutes. They remained calm and focused under pressure, almost as if they felt that the gods were on their side as they pursued one of the most vital victories in the county’s history.

A place in the All-Ireland final for the first time since 1963 was the least they deserved after as brave a performance as Waterford have ever produced. Underpinned by an unyielding desire to vindicate their revolt against manager Justin McCarthy last June and with careers on the line if they lost yesterday, they displayed a level of intent which eventually wore down Tipperary.

This was Tipperary’s first defeat in what had been a trouble-free season, but just when it looked as if Liam Sheedy’s fairytale debut campaign would see them into a first All-Ireland final since 2001, Waterford raised their game and drove on to a stunning victory.

That it should be presided over by Davy Fitzgerald has added to the romance of a wonderful tale of recovery and self discovery. Forcing a change of manager was a huge risk by the squad who put their necks very much on the line in a very public way.

Indeed, that may well have been the catalyst for the rousing finish, as they knew there would be very little sympathy if, after making that defiant gesture in early June, they failed on another big Croke Park occasion.

They queued up in search of work and responsibility over the closing stages as Tipperary desperately tried to re-establish the momentum which had seen them out-score Waterford by 1-17 to 1-9 between the 10th and 56th minutes.

Tipperary led by 1-17 to 1-15 on the hour mark but managed just one more point whereas Waterford fired over five. Tipperary had a goal chance in the 65th minute but Seamus Callinan’s shot was blocked and Michael Webster just failed to score from the follow-up.

It was a real let-off for Waterford, who were then mighty relieved to see Eoin Kelly’s 65 drift wide. Tipperary had the ball in the net in the 70th minute but the goal was ruled out for a square infringement.

While Tipp’s Eoin Kelly will be disappointed to have missed that crucial 65, his namesake on the Waterford team will look back on this game as one of his greatest triumphs. He scored 1-10 (0-8 from placed balls) to keep his championship average this season at a remarkable 13 points per game.

He deserved the man-of-the-match accolade on a day when corner-forwards John Mullane and Eoin McGrath were also outstanding. Mullane’s pace caused all sorts of problems for the Tipperary full-back line while McGrath imposed his busy style from start to finish.


Waterford exploded from the starting blocks like Olympic sprinters, hitting Tipperary for six unanswered points in the first eight minutes. It was a worrying period for Tipperary but they gradually locked onto their routine and set about reining in Waterford.

With Conor O’Mahony, Shane Maher and Shane McGrath doing well in the half-back/midfield zone the scoring opportunities increased and by half-time Tipp looked to be in a very good place with the scores tied at 0-10 each.

Tipperary led by two points at the three-quarter mark and looked poised to press on over the home stretch. However, Stephen Molumphy reduced the margin to a point before Eoin Kelly nudged the ball to the Tipperary net in the 56th minute.

Tipperary’s response was rapid and effective with Callinan, who had a fine game, beating Clinton Hennessy with a crisp stroke. Sub Pat Kerwick increased the lead to two points but Waterford refused to take no for an answer and produced a finish which Tipperary simply couldn’t match.

Waterford’s experience at this level proved crucial in the closing minutes. They cut their error rate right down whereas Tipperary tended to rush things in their anxiety to chase down a game which ran away from them in a hectic finale.

They shot seven wides in the second half, which was to prove costly in a tight finish. Callinan and Kelly did well in attack but it wasn’t a day Hugh Maloney, John O’Brien, Seamus Butler or Lar Corbett will remember with satisfaction.

Tipperary’s main momentum came from further out but they failed to sustain it as Waterford powered through the gears in the final 10 minutes. Ken McGrath, who played at centre-back in an anticipated switch, had his hands full with Callinan but got in some telling clearances during that late blitz, while Michael Walsh and Jamie Nagle improved the supply rate from midfield.

And with Kelly, Mullane and the younger McGrath all in a highly productive mode, everything came together at exactly the right time as Waterford finally made the semi-final breakthrough.

Scorers — Waterford: E Kelly 1-10 (8f), J Mullane 0-3, E McGrath, S Molumphy 0-2 each, J Nagle, M Walsh, J Kennedy 0-1 each. Tipperary: E Kelly 0-8 (6f), S Callinan 1-2, S McGrath 0-3, L Corbett, S Maher, P Kerwick, B Dunne, C O’Mahony (f) 0-1 each.

Waterford — C Hennessy 7; A Kearney 7, D Prendergast 7, E Murphy 7; T Browne7, K McGrath 7, K Moran 7; M Walsh 7, J Nagle 7; D Shanahan 5, S Prendergast 6, S Molumphy 7; E McGrath 8, E Kelly 9, J Mullane 8. Subs: J Kennedy 8 for S Prendergast (52), P Flynn for Mullane (67), G Hurney for Nagle (69), S O’Sullivan for Shanahan (72).

Tipperary — B Cummins 7; E Buckley 6, P Curran 6, C O’Brien 6; E Corcoran 6, C O’Mahony 8, S Maher 7; J Woodlock 7, S McGrath 8; S Callinan 9, H Maloney 5, J O’Brien 5; E Kelly 7, S Butler 5, L Corbett 6. Subs: M Webster 7 for Butler (43), B Dunne 7 for O’Brien (48), P Kerwick 7 for Maloney (57), P Bourke 6 for Woodlock (64).

REF — D Kirwan (Cork).

Waterford finally get their reward



Waterford 1-20 Tipperary 1-18: This Waterford team’s journey seemed certain to end without the experience of September hurling. But 53,635 people were present at Croke Park today to see them progress to an All-Ireland final for the first time since 1963 after finally clearing this hurdle at the sixth attempt in six years. That Davy Fitzgerald only became their manager in June, after a player coup removed Justin McCarthy in the wake of defeat to Clare, adds another dose of romance to their story.

Tipperary went through the whole season unbeaten until this juncture, with Liam Sheedy’s young charges picking up the national league and provincial title. Alas, it was a lack of experience and composure that saw them stumble at the crucial moment.

The 57th minute seemed the high water mark in this dramatic encounter. Eoin Kelly had just put Waterford two points clear with a goal, on the second time of asking, after Dan Shanahan’s first time delivery. As Waterford fans were still celebrating Brendan Cummins whipped the ball down field for Seamus Callinan to immediately respond with a Tipperary goal. Pat Kerwick added a point with his first touch moments later and Tipp looked to have the winning of the contest.

This is where Waterford usually falter but instead they rattled off four successive points through Michael Walsh, Jack Kennedy (another sub to make an immediate impact) and two Kelly frees.

Tipperary’s riposte came up short with the surprisingly anonymous Larry Corbet, Pat Kerwick and their version of Eoin Kelly all missing the target. The otherwise excellent Shane Maher was also guilty of a late wide.

Tipp did put the ball in the net before the finish but referee Diarmuid Kirwan had no hesitation in calling a square ball.

A Benny Dunne point made it a two-point game entering injury time but down the other end Kelly forced Brendan Cummins into a remarkable reflex save that glanced the sliotar over the crossbar.

The opening 35 minutes provided a delicious appetiser for what was to come. Waterford began like a whirlwind, threatening to completely envelope the Munster champions.

Before Tipperary could gage sight of the uprights they were six points adrift as the Waterford half back line, where Ken McGrath was restored with Tony Browne filling the troublesome fullback role, cleaned up the dropping ball while everything John Mullane touched turned into a score. Tipp corner back Eamonn Buckley was having a nightmare coping with Mullane’s pace.

Eoin Kelly picked up where he left off through the qualifier campaign, while his namesake down the other end was subdued figure – finishing up with eight points but just two from play.

Eoin McGrath rattled off the sixth Waterford point after just eight minutes before a Waterford lull coincided with a Tipperary response through a Kelly free and long range effort from Conor O’Mahony.

By the time Eoin McGrath ended a ten minute scoreless period for Waterford, Tipp had pulled within four. Matters largely levelled out thereafter with Kelly continuing to punish any indiscretion while Shane McGrath and Seamus Callinan began to find their range.

Corbett even had a half goal chance, as did a lethargic looking Dan Shanahan down the other end, but both men were put under enough pressure and failed to find clean contact. It was that type of game.

The only flash point of the game was a Corbett yellow card after he caught Eoin Murphy with a shoulder to the face. It led to a few minutes of posturing as Murphy received treatment but the booking seemed harsh as Corbett’s momentum meant he couldn’t check his challenge.

The result sees Waterford progress to the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny on September 7th.

WATERFORD: 1. C Hennessy; 4. Murphy; 6. T Browne, 3. K McGrath, 7. K Moran; 8. M Walsh (capt; 0-1), 9. J Nagle (0-1); 10. D Shanahan, 11. S Prendergast, 12. S Molumphy (0-2); 13. E McGrath (0-2), 14. E Kelly (1-10, eight frees), 15. J Mullane (0-3). Subs: 17. J Kennedy (0-1) for S Prendergast (52 mins), 18. P Flynn for Mullane (67 mins), 20. G Hurney for Nagle (69 mins), 19. S O’Sullivan for Shanahan (72 mins).

TIPPERARY: 1. B Cummins; 2. E Buckley, 3. P Curran, 4. C O’Brien; 5. E Corcoran 6. C O’Mahony (0-1, free), 7. S Maher (0-1); 8. J Woodlock, 9. S McGrath (0-3); 10. S Callinan (1-2), 11. H Moloney, 12. J O’Brien; 13. E Kelly (0-8, six frees), 14, S Butler, 15. L Corbett (0-1). Subs: 29. M Webster for Butler (43 mins), 19. B Dunne (0-1) for J O’Brien (49 mins), 24. P Kerwick (0-1) for Maloney (57 mins), 17. P Bourke for Woodlock (64 mins).

WATERFORD: Goals 0/1/1, Points 10/10/20, Wides 4/4/8, 65s 0/1/1 Frees 8/5/13, Yellow 2/1/3, Red 0/0/0

TIPPERARY: Goals 0/1/1, Points 10/8/18, Wides 2/7/9, 65s 0/1/1 Frees 9/4/13, Yellow 2/1/3, Red 0/0/0

Yellow cards: Waterford – Browne (20 mins), Kearney (35 mins), Mullane (36 mins)

Tipperary – C O’Brien (4 mins), Corbett (26 mins), O’Mahony (38 mins).

Red: None

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).

Attendance: 53,635

© 2008 The Irish Times

Players give credit to past and present managers

‘KEITH DUGGAN at Croke Park


ALL-IRELAND SHC SEMI-FINAL/WATERFORD v TIPPERARY: EOIN KELLY strolled into a room underneath Croke Park and sat down behind a desk. He rubbed his eyes and slouched over the table. He wore a T-shirt with cartoon figures that read: The Unusual Suspects. It could become the tag line for this renewed Waterford now. He rubbed his eyes and suddenly looked drained.

"Like being back at school again," he said about finding himself suddenly sitting at a desk. Minutes earlier, Kelly had been up above on the grass, transported to a place that is both new and traditional. Yes, Waterford are back in an All-Ireland final but for these players, it is a first time. They have broken new ground.

You only had to watch John Mullane in those last minutes to know what was going through Waterford minds. The De La Salle man had been taken off by Davy Fitzgerald and he paced the sideline like a man waiting to discover if he was going to be saved from the electric chair after all. When it was over, he raced to the field, met Davy Fitzgerald racing the other way and the two men dived into each other. The wonder was the pair of them did not spontaneously combust. Suddenly, after 10 years of trying, Waterford were bound for that that rare place, an All-Ireland hurling final.

"It hasn’t sunk in," Kelly admitted. "It probably won’t sink in until tomorrow. The one thing is that I hope it doesn’t pass us by. Like, we are in a final and we haven’t been there for a long time but there is no point in just making up the numbers. We will have to get back to work."

When Davy Fitzgerald eventually sat down, he appeared to be already thinking about the days ahead. For one of the most high-profile and voluble players in Gaelic games, there has always been something distant about "Davy Fitz", something unknowable. His latest act, coming in to revitalise a team that seemed washed up, surely emulates his greatest days on the field. Already, though, he was talking of the tasks ahead in that rhapsodic way of his.

"We don’t place any illusions on today. We know today could have gone to Tipperary just as easily as we won it. Tipperary had the chances and the wides. But I think we showed a lot of character when the Tipp goal went in. Normally that would break a team. Didn’t break ’em. And it was a great win for those boys and I am proud of ’em. But I did expect a performance out of them. This is straight up.

"Anyone that watched Kilkenny last week will give no one in the country a chance. They brushed Cork aside. Now we have two choices. We can go up and enjoy the day and give ourselves no chance. Or we can get down to work again tomorrow night and let’s go up and tear into it and see what happens. These guys will be big-time underdogs. But we have been that all year. These players have taken a lot of stick. They are still there. I have tremendous respect for Kilkenny. I know the players they are, I know the manager they have. And they are awesome. But on any given day for 70 minutes, you don’t know what will happen."

Liam Sheedy looked shattered afterwards but he handled defeat with the same class he showed when Tipperary won the National League and Munster titles. No complaints or recriminations, just a fair-minded account of the breaks of the game.

"Ah look, Waterford have been here before, they came at us really strong at the start of the match. Six points to one up. But the lads got to grips with it and we were happy enough at half-time. But in fairness to Waterford, they showed their experience and played lovely hurling. They cracked 1-20 and we cracked 1-18. Waterford are a class side and nobody would begrudge where they are at. If there is a team of the last five or six years it has been Waterford.

"We came here with all guns blazing and we just came up short. We will come back stronger for this. We maybe lacked a killer punch and that bit of experience of an All-Ireland semi-final stuff but you learn from that. The match hung on things. That is hurling."

Somewhere, in the back of everyone’s mind, were thoughts of the man who was not there. There were surely traces of Justin McCarthy’s hurling craft and six years of work in the Waterford scores yesterday. Eoin Kelly nodded solemnly when he agreed that when the players sat down together and made a move that ended with McCarthy resigning his position, it had been a last, desperate effort to revive their summer and, in many cases, their careers.

"We didn’t like doing what we did. Justin is a nice man and a good hurling man. But we did think that there was a little something we didn’t know if we were going to get from Justin. There are lads in there in their 30s who never got to play in an All-Ireland final until now."

Ken McGrath paid tribute to his former mentor as well. "Look, we won three Munster titles with Justin coming from playing Division Two hurling back in 1997. You don’t forget that. We had great times with Justin. We have respect for him. And I hope, and I am sure, he is happy for us. Davy came in the first day with unbelievable passion and enthusiasm. He played like that as well. It is a pure professional set-up and the attention to detail is top notch. He is a double All-Ireland medal winner and we knew he had it in him.

"We are back in the final now. If you said that to me last year, I would have laughed. We are not panicking and that is a good sign of a team. We were happy enough at half-time. We were always calm on the field. Davy was calm on the sideline. Don’t know if he looked calm. But he was. He made the right decisions."

© 2008 The Irish Times

Fitz revival going all the way to Croker


By Cyril Farrell

Monday August 18 2008

WHAT is it they say? Sixth-time lucky?

Waterford’s revival under Davy Fitzgerald continued yesterday when they booked their first All-Ireland final appearance since 1963. In an entertaining contest that could have gone either way, it was the first last four clash the Deise have won in six attempts since 1998.

It’s ironic too that it was Waterford’s greater experience that saw them through when many people had written them off for having too many ‘miles on the clock’.

Fitzgerald’s men got off to a blistering start as Tipp showed a little bit of rustiness and had six points on the board inside a frantic eight minutes. But it was the Premier boss Liam Sheedy who would have been the happier of the two managers going in at the break. His side were level and had yet to really found their stride.

On the restart, Waterford kicked on again as they were on top in all the crucial areas with the full forward line of John Mullane, Eoin Kelly and Eoin McGrath in superb form. And despite his relative inexperience of management at this level, Davy Fitz got all the big calls spot on.

The decision to restore Ken McGrath to centre-back tightened them up no end and the Tipp half-forward line struggled in that area with both Hugh Maloney and James Woodlock being replaced. And even when ‘Brick’ Walsh moved to the forty and Stephen Molumphy switched to midfield, it still worked for Waterford.

As it was, it came down to a shoot-out between the two Eoin Kelly’s. Waterford’s version hit the back of the net on 56 minutes but sixty seconds later, Seamus Callinan showed his eye for goal once more when he capitalised on some hesitant defending to restore Tipperary’s one point lead and it seemed as if the Deise’s old failings had come back to haunt them.

Unlike on other losing occasions, Waterford maintained their cool and kept knocking over the points and taking their chances. Jack Kennedy made an excellent impression when introduced and Fitz put faith in his bench and those subs were good enough to see them into the final after a pulsating 70 minutes of hurling.

Liam Sheedy and Tipp will be absolutely gutted as it was a game that could have went either way but they can still look back on 2008 with huge pride. They have won both the league and Munster championship and yesterday’s loss was their first in all competitions this term. There is definitely a few more years left in that Tipperary outfit and their day will surely come in the near future.


Waterford move on to the final and they certainly won’t fear Kilkenny who will obviously go in as overwhelming favourites. The Deise have momentum and form and, perhaps more importantly, nothing to lose going into this final where all the focus will be on Brian Cody’s treble chasing side.

Finally, there was a much needed boost for Galway hurling when the county’s minors progressed to the All-Ireland final with a win over Cork. They seem to have improved from their last outing against Wexford and are another side who can head into the All-Ireland final with some confidence where they will also face a very fancied Kilkenny side.

Fitz raises the Déise banner high


By frank roche

Monday August 18 2008

What a weird and wonderful year for those unusual bed-fellows, Davy Fitz and Waterford.

The year began with Waterford setting out to defend National League and Munster titles won under Justin McCarthy. By the evening of June 1, they had surrendered both — and within a matter of days, they had also lost a manager.

Now, incredibly and against all expectation, they are through to their first All-Ireland final in 45 years.

And Davy Fitzgerald — whose initial ambition in ’08 was to recover fitness and win his place back on a Clare team no longer managed by his old sparring partner, Tony Considine — now finds himself through to this third All-Ireland SHC final.

Only this time he’ll be stalking the sideline, not guarding goal. And seeking deliverance for the Deise, not his native Banner.

"There’s two bits of emotion for me," Fitzgerald revealed as he savoured yesterday’s 1-20 to 1-18 ambush of a hotly fancied Tipperary.


"I’m probably after the most difficult year and a half of my life, with everything that’s gone on. I wasn’t able to say anything and I still won’t say anything. But isn’t it always funny at the end of the day? There’s swings and roundabouts and personally, myself, I’m delighted to be there.

"But most of all, when I went down the first or second night of training, I could see the likes of the older Waterford players. You don’t have any idea what it means to them to be able to contest a final. These guys’ heart and soul is in it."

Where next for this roller-coaster ride? Surely not the Liam MacCarthy itself — a prize that has eluded this hurling-obsessed county since 1959?

Stranger things have happened — and similar things too, such as Offaly’s mid-summer renaissance under a new boss in ’98. Cold logic, though, would still suggest that history of a different sort will ensue on September 7; that those cold-blooded Kilkenny assassins will complete the three-in-a-row.

Still, Waterford will happily take their chances now that they have finally negotiated a semi-final hurdle that proved beyond them on five previous occasions over the past decade.

Tony Browne, Ken McGrath and Dan Shanahan have been around since that first semi-final heartbreak — against Kilkenny in ’98 — and so yesterday’s nerve-tingling triumph will have been particularly sweet.

Against the odds, they scuttled the unbeaten ship of Tipperary who — just like Waterford last summer — have followed up league and provincial coronation with a shock fall at the second last fence.

In truth, Tipp could just as easily have won this game as lost it, and Fitzgerald admitted as much afterwards.

In the last 10 minutes, with this gripping tie balanced on a knife edge, Tipperary had two goal chances in the same move and failed to convert either: Seamus Callinan’s initial effort was well saved by Clinton Hennessy and Michael Webster’s touch deserted him when the rebound fell invitingly in his direction.

When you add three costly wides to the equation — hit by Lar Corbett, Pat Kerwick and Eoin Kelly from a ’65 — you get a sense of how Tipp panicked in the home straight. Maybe it’s a sign of their relative inexperience: the fact that they have journeyed so far, so quickly, under Liam Sheedy.

But if yesterday was one that got away, only the hardest heart could begrudge Waterford after all they’ve endured.

There has been much talk in recent years about Deise destiny as they fought valiantly but in vain to reach the All-Ireland final. But it was the feeling that this destiny was slipping beyond their reach that prompted their high-risk power play in the grim aftermath of that tame Munster exit to Clare.

Some might call it the seven-year itch: McCarthy was in the seventh season of a marriage that had delivered three Munster titles, one league and unrivalled excitement when the players took the nuclear option and pressed for divorce.

In doing so, all of the pressure suddenly transferred onto their shoulders. Time to get off the pot — and they’ve duly delivered, albeit in slow-cranking fashion. They ambled past Antrim and then stuttered over Offaly and Wexford without really suggesting there was one more kick in this team.

Yesterday disproved that perception: they set the template with a stunning early blitzkrieg, hitting six unanswered points inside eight minutes. Their two jet-heeled corner-forwards, Eoin McGrath and John Mullane especially, were on fire and the favourites were temporarily shellshocked.


By half-time, though, Waterford’s early fizz had evaporated and the sides were deadlocked at 0-10 apiece. Again, the cosy consensus ordained that Tipperary would press on but, instead, the second 35 minutes was nip-and-tuck in a gloriously edge-of-the-seat way.

Twice, Tipp went two up only to be hauled back, the second time by an Eoin Kelly goal (56 minutes) to edge Waterford two clear. Within 30 seconds, though, Seamus Callinan had goaled at the other end.

That set the scene for a fraught finale during which a run of four unanswered Waterford points — coupled with those costly Tipperary misses — ultimately separated winners from losers.

"It hasn’t sunk in yet," gasped Kelly afterwards. "The one thing is I just hope it doesn’t bypass us. Like, we’re in the final, we haven’t been there for so long; there’s no point in going up to make up the numbers."

Waterford’s 1-10 hero was then asked if finally reaching the final vindicated their actions after Munster meltdown to Clare. "I suppose it looks like it does," he replied. "We didn’t like doing what we did. Justin was a nice man and a good hurling man.

"But we think we were missing that little something that we didn’t know if we were going to get out of Justin … there’s lads in their 30s who never got to play in an All-Ireland, and all they wanted to do was to play in an All-Ireland."

Now their big moment has arrived. Waterford will know there is more in the tank: for example, Shanahan’s strange summer continued with another scoreless performance from the 2007 Hurler of the Year, although he contributed a swashbuckling assist in the build-up to Kelly’s goal. And the older McGrath — even while clearly relishing his return to old centre-back haunts — still leaked some scores to Tipp’s young dynamo, Callinan.

Waterford will need plenty of ‘Dan the Man’ magic and lots more besides against Kilkenny, who ruthlessly showed against Limerick last year that they don’t do September sentiment.

"Anyone who watched the Cork/Kilkenny game last week would give no one in the country a chance (against Kilkenny)," Fitzgerald suggested.

"Now, we’ve two choices. We can go up and enjoy the day, and give ourselves no chance, or we can get down to work again tomorrow night and let’s tear into it and see what happens. We will be big-time underdogs, but we’ve been that all year."

Just how he likes it, you suspect.

Nobody said there’d be Déise like this

KEITH DUGGAN at Croke Park



Waterford 1-20 Tipperary 1-18:

AT LAST. Na Déise have reached the promised land. For the last 10 years, watching the Waterford hurling team play in All-Ireland semi-finals has been as compelling and dangerous as getting caught in a lightning storm.

This team has singed the very souls of their people in their long quest to make it back to the September stage for the first time in almost half a century.

Five times they came here on days like this since 1998 and on each time they discovered new dimensions of heartbreak. On a transcendent afternoon at Croke Park, it was as if all that fury and despondency were transformed into a performance that, in truth, not many people believed Waterford could still give.

They met a young and fearless Tipperary team on the rise here. And during several periods when they might have respectably faded from the contest, Waterford rebelled against what seemed to be their fate in life. It finished 1-20 to 1-18 after 53,635 people were treated to a genuine classic, a match that will reverberate through the years. They could not take their eyes off it. They could hardly bear to watch.

"Unbelievable when that whistle went," Ken McGrath mused afterwards. "On other years, we were on the wrong side of it. Thankfully, when the whistle went today, we weren’t crying into the jersey. We were delighted."

McGrath, along with Tony Browne and Dan Shanahan, has known all five of those doomed attempts and he must have felt his best chances of playing in an All-Ireland final had passed.

When Waterford last reached the big stage in September 1963 John Fitzgerald Kennedy was still a president.

They last won the McCarthy Cup in 1959 – against Kilkenny.

That was then. Years became decades for Waterford hurling and hurling people turned white waiting for this.

Before the National Anthem here, a minute of silence was observed in honour of Joe Coady, the Waterford hurler from the 1959 gang who died this week.

Maybe then, standing tightly together beneath the photograph of Coady holding his Celtic Cross medal in his grandfather years, this generation of Waterford players came to understand that for all the skill and bravery, for all the roaring days in Croke Park, hurling is a game of ghosts.

And just this June, Waterford looked a haunted team. They were eviscerated by Clare in a match that brought a sad end to the reign of Justin McCarthy.

And then, from left field, in stepped Davy Fitzgerald, the Clare goalkeeping legend, who swapped a turbulent retirement for a dramatic entry to big-time management.

It made sense in retrospect.

If anyone could understand the pains and hurts of Waterford hurling, it was the pale-eyed man from Sixmilebridge.

"There are two bits of emotion for me," he said later. "I am probably after the most difficult year of my life with everything that has gone on in it and I wasn’t able to say anything. I still won’t say anything.

"But isn’t it always funny that at the end of the day there are swings and roundabouts. Personally, I am delighted to be there. But most of all, when I went down the first or second night to training, I could see in the older Waterford players – ye don’t have any idea what it means to them to be able to contest a final.

"These guys’ hearts and souls are inside of this. I knew I had a special group of players when I went down there. All these guys want is a chance to win Liam MacCarthy and they have it."

And how they earned it, against a fine team. Tipperary made this hurling season. There has been splendour in their honesty as much as their stick craft.

They recreated themselves through the persona of their manager Liam Sheedy, a man whose pulse, one suspects, would remain the same if he found himself swimming with sharks.

Calmness has been the key Tipp quality this year. Yesterday, Waterford opened with a series of points that illuminated all their years of magic, all the sweeping ambition of their scoring.

John Mullane flickered like tungsten wire and lit the sky with one early score that signalled Waterford’s intent.

Within 10 minutes Tipperary trailed by six points. But they never blinked. It was 0-10 apiece at half-time and slowly, then, the pace and drama of the match kept soaring until it had reached that delicious, torturous stage where every second seems loaded with possibility and doom.

With 20 minutes to go, Tipp went in front when Shane McGrath, magnificent all season, clipped a point from nothing. The turbo-paced Lar Corbett added another and we waited for the old doubts to destroy Waterford.

Instead, Eoin Kelly, who finished with 1-10, drew a brilliant save from Brendan Cummins and, while lying on the floor, reached out to tap in the first goal.

The Déise fans were still cheering when Séamus Callinan goaled for Tipperary at the other end. History was up for grabs.

Maybe it all hinged on a Tipperary surge in 64 minutes – Conor O’Mahony breaking upfield and releasing Callinan with a perfect pass. And the young Drom and Inch man rolled with the soul of the game and let loose on Clinton Hennessy’s goal.

" I was egging him to go for it," Sheedy said afterwards. "And you know, it was a great save – it broke to Micheál Webster and very unlucky, he just pulled. Then the 65 going wide . . . there it is.

"Still two points down when we thought we would be two up.

"Waterford are a class side and nobody would begrudge them where they are at. If there is a team of the last five of six years it has been Waterford."

And so Kilkenny, the habitual September men, face their neighbours as they bid for their third All-Ireland in succession. Waterford would dearly love just one.

Kelly grinned wryly when it was put to him that, at least in a league final, Waterford had proven they could beat Kilkenny.

"Yeah. But they have 30 All-Irelands."

And so to a glorious last stand.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Hunger helps drive Waterford over the line


HURLING ANALYST: Waterford’s great start proved crucial and, without producing their best, they were good enough to beat Tipperary and reach that elusive final, writes Nicky English

EVEN FROM a Tipperary man’s perspective, you have to be happy for Waterford. Looking at the delight on the faces of Ken McGrath and Tony Browne at the full-time whistle was perhaps the best indication of what it means to this group to finally make it to September. It has been a long old road.

Hurlers of their stature belong on the biggest stage of all and after so many years of anguish they will finally get their day. That it is against the relentless force of Kilkenny is for another day.

Waterford’s lightning start proved crucial in the end. The worry was Tipperary would be content with their achievements so far in 2008 and therefore struggle to find another gear in Croke Park. This proved correct.

They were horribly flat from the outset and were bullied all over the field, none more so than the half-forward line where Seamus Callinan eventually scored 1-2 but Hugh Maloney and John O’Brien were replaced.

The Maloney experiment didn’t work. He is a defender by trade and was dropped into centre forward to win the ball that would spark the Tipperary forwards’ fuse. It was a risk-reward strategy that didn’t pay off. Even when Callinan switched to centre forward they were under pressure.

A crucial moment came when Callinan forced a good save from Clinton Hennessy but the ball broke unkindly for Micheál Webster who, moving away from goal just couldn’t get a clean shot away. You felt at that point it wasn’t to be Tipp’s day.

Larry Corbett has been the team’s best forward all summer but looked to be burdened by the residue of injury and with little ball coming off the half-forward line, Eoin Kelly was left to largely soldier alone.

The tone for the match was set early and while Tipperary got back into it and nearly made it over the line, Waterford’s six points without reply planted the seeds of doubt in the younger opponents’ psyche. It reinforced the notion that Waterford had no fear of Tipp. Another aspect was Tipperary’s continued poor results in Croke Park.

That Eoin Kelly and John Mullane posted a few wides before half-time kept Tipperary in it. Otherwise it would have been a huge mountain to climb while in fact they emerged from the early bombardment relatively unscathed.

I felt at half-time they had a chance and the early malaise would trigger the necessary response. There were patches of excellence but ultimately the Tipperary players will be disappointed with their individual performances. The corner backs in particular found themselves under severe pressure.

Shane McGrath is a honourable exception as he carried his magnificent league form through Munster and into the All-Ireland series. He has certainly come of age as one of the country’s top midfielders.

Even though Tipp got on top for most of the second half, I never felt comfortable. Waterford didn’t seem to reach their best and yet it was enough. That is the most disappointing aspect from a Tipp point of view. They remain a work in progress and this year really has ended too soon.

I don’t want any criticism of Waterford to be construed as sour grapes. The fact that Dan Shanahan remains a shadow of his 2007 self and "Brick" Walsh was a few notches down from his best can be seen in a positive light. It means they can still go up another gear. Heaven knows they, like every team in the country, need to find an extra level when coming into contact with Brian Cody’s Kilkenny.

The irony of this victory for Waterford is in the past five seasons they have blazed into the All-Ireland semi-final only to falter. It has been the opposite this year. Hunger and maybe the memory of defeat to Limerick got them past Tipperary. Desire played a big part and they rode their luck – something they have not been blessed with in previous semi-finals.

By removing Justin McCarthy in June they backed themselves into a corner. That they came out fighting is testament to the character of men like Ken McGrath, Eoin Kelly and especially the performance of Eoin McGrath yesterday.

Davy Fitzgerald must also be credited for his tactical contributions. Jack Kennedy made a significant impact and the late substitutions helped run down the clock with the arrival of Gary Hurney and Shane O’Sullivan slowing puck-outs.

They can now ride a confidence wave into the All-Ireland final. The odds will be stacked against them but there has to be one massive performance left in the tank. If they can get it out, even Kilkenny will struggle against them.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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