There was a huge crowd in Walsh Park on Sunday last for the visit of All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the second round of the Allianz National Hurling League. Both Waterford and the visitors had put up winning performances in their opening round against Kilkenny and Dublin so this was a huge game as far as league position was concerned. With Deise bainisteoir Derek McGrath and his Tipperary counterpart Michael Ryan still in the process of formulating their panels, it was again an opportunity for players to lay down a marker for the Summer championship. The weather played it's part as the afternoon turned out quite pleasant although, as one would expect with the rain during the week, the underfoot conditions were soft. There was nothing by way of advantage in the elements with just a very slight breeze with Waterford defending the "country end" in the opening thirty odd minutes. Before the game commenced Waterford made four personnel changes with Gavin O'Brien, Shane Bennett, Mikey Kearney and Tom Devine in the starting fifteen. Tipperary opened with a full compliment as per the programme.
The visitors were quickly "out of the blocks" and John McGrath fired over a point from a free in the opening minute. Full forward Tom Devine levelled within two minutes but again McGrath edged the Premier ahead with a free. The ever accurate Paudie Mahony had two successful frees for Waterford which put them ahead with just seven minutes passed. Both teams had shots off target before both McGrath and Mahony converted and Waterford were in front again 0-4 to 0-3. The game fell flat at times and didn't have the same intensity as Nowlan Park. As the time passed the quarter hour mark Niall O'Meara had a levelling point for Tipperary. Both Mikey Kearney and Brendan Maher added a point apiece for their respective teams before the home side very nearly breached the visitors defence only to see Shane Bennett's shot "scream" across the goal. A superb effort from Roanmore clubman Gavin O'Brien on eighteen minutes saw the Deise ahead but within thirty seconds John O'Brien had the score back to 0-6 apiece, Waterford through the freetaking of Paudie Mahony edged a point ahead on twenty minutes and created two further chances which sailed narrowly wide from the hurleys of both Austin Gleeson and Gavin O'Brien. In the 24th minute Tipperary centre forward hit over a superb point from over his shoulder but again it was Mahony with a magnificent 100 metre plus free who put his team back in front. There was precious little between the sides as they both sought for supremacy. Niall O'Meara put Kieran Bergin through for a point but Paudie Mahony converted after tireless work from Kevin Moran 0-9 to 0-8. Waterford hit two more wides before John McGrath with a brace of scores saw Tipperary ahead 0-10 to 0-9. In the final minutes, before referee Diarmuid Kirwan called time on the opening half, both Paudie Mahony for Waterford and Jason Forde, receiving from Niall O'Meara, exchanged points to leave the half time score 0-11 to 0-10 in favour of the visitors. While there was no goal in the opening half it was the Deise who perhaps created the main chance that slipped away. One felt that a goal could be a real deciding factor in the pendulum swing.
The opening minute of the second half saw Shane Bennett just wide before Tipperary wing forward Stephen O'Brien added a point 0-12 to 0-11. Austin Gleeson, operating at full forward, added a point for Waterford. Kieran Bergin added a point from midfield and John O'Dwyer, in as a substitute, added another to see the visitors 0-14 to 0-11 ahead. Dungarvan replaced Shane McNulty in the Waterford defence as John McGrath added a point for Tipperary. In the 46th minute some superb interplay from Tomas Hamill, Padraig Maher and Brendan Maher saw John O'Dwyer convert a point. Manager Derek McGrath brought both Stephen Bennett and Colin Dunford into the strike force. Paudie Mahony had a point as Noel McGrath saw action for Michael Ryan's team. In the 53rd minute a penalty ensued for Tipperary as John McGrath was fouled within the parrallelogram. Most penalties are now being converted at intercounty level. We feared the worst but Waterford keeper Ian O'Regan had other ideas as he dived full length to his right to save. Could this be the flip that Waterford were looking for?
A free in the 54th minute for Tipperary was pointed by John O'Dwyer as Tomas Hamill and Austin Gleeson saw yellow cards.. Paudie Mahony closed the deficit to three points with a point in the 57th minute. The home defence was finally breached in the 58th minute. Noel McGrath escaped the clutches of the backs but his close in effort was brilliantly saved by Mount Sion clubman Ian O'Regan. However John McGrath was first to react and he batted the ball, tennis style, to the net. Between the 60th and 63rd minutes Waterford had two chances of a goal but both passed with no reward. In the remaining time Brian O'Halloran hit a brace of points for Waterford either side of one apiece from Tipperary attackers John O'Dwyer and John McGrath.
All in all Tipperary showed why they are the number one rated in the country by grinding out a win. On the other hand Waterford appeared a little "flat" maybe coming back off that superb win in Kilkenny. However the management will surely be pleased with the performance of some of the players most notably that of Tadhg de Burca who was outstanding at centre back. Next up for the Deise is a trip to Croke Park to face the Dubs on Saturday 4th March.
CLASH OF SOUTHEAST NEIGHBOURS
On Sunday next in Innovate Wexford Park the footballers of Waterford and Wexford will square off with a huge two points at stake. Both teams are unbeaten in the league thus far with the Slaneysiders having accounted for both Limerick and Leitrim while Waterford beat London before putting in a very impressive effort in defeating Wicklow. Wexford manager Seamus McEnaney will probably rely very much on the team that has accumulated both wins with Shane Roche between the sticks. The defence will be marshalled by Jim Rossiter and Joey Wadding in the pivotal central positions. Midfield will see Daithi Waters and Colm Kehoe looking to gain control. Up front Wexford possess some match winners in PJ Banville, John Turbitt and Ciaran Lyng although they will be without the services of the influential James Stafford who was red carded in their last win.
Tom McGlinchy and his Waterford troops have done all that has been asked so far in the league. A win over London followed by a hugely impressive win over Wicklow in Carriganore Arena will see the lads coming into this game with a huge amount of confidence. No doubt the management will again put their trust in the majority of the team who came through at the Waterford city venue with Stephen Enright in goal. The defence so watertight on the last outing will see Tomas OhUallachain, Tomas O'Gorman, Brian Looby and Stephen Prendergast with Tommy Prendergast and Michael Curry manning the engine room midfield. Up front there appears to be danger signals for opposition with Donie Breathanch, Conor Murray, freescoring Paul Whyte, Michael O'Halloran, Joey Veale and Podge Hurney all staking a claim for inclusion. Mind you among the substitutes Liam Lalor and goal scoring Gavin Crotty might not be far off the starting fifteen.
All in all if this Waterford outfit can string a number of wins together the confidence gained could well give reason to believe that they are real contenders for promotion. However that is all for another day. The job continues with a win in Wexford Park next weekend.