Examiner August 18 overview Waterford-Tipperary

August 22, 2008

D ON’T STOP believing.

The banner hanging in white
and blue on Hill 16 yesterday articulated five decades of longing for Waterford, and it was yesterday the heartbreak ended before 53,635 spectators. They edged out Tipperary in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final, 1-20 to 1-18, and now face neighbours Kilkenny in the final next month.

So much for the accountancy. Nails were gnawed to the bone and grown men wept as Waterford hung on for their historic win; it was their sixth semi-final in 10 years and when Tipp got their noses in front in the 58th minute, it looked like another evening for the Kleenex if you were in the white and blue corner. However Eoin Kelly – the Waterford version – continued his irresistible form of late to help the men from the southeast over the line with some late, late points.

They’d begun well enough: after the parade Waterford kept marching, right through the ranks of the Artane Boys Band, and the synchronisation continued into the game itself. With Ken McGrath returning to centre-back and Declan Prendergast on the edge of the square, Waterford’s alignment looked smooth, and they wired into the game.

“We tried to play a high tempo from the start,” said Waterford’s Ken McGrath after the game. “That’s always part of the plan! We tried to start well. We knew Tipp would come back into it, but all year we haven’t been panicking, which is a good sign for the team.”

A six points to 0-0 lead after eight minutes was another good sign for Waterford. Tipp corner-back Conor O’Brien had collected a yellow card, John Mullane’s direct running at every corner of the Premier County’s defence and Tipp were gasping for breath. If a stranger had been asked to name the side which had played three games since mid-July and to choose the outfit which had been idle in the same period, he would have had no problems picking out Waterford as match-fit.

Tipperary’s lay-off since their Munster final win was visible up front when even the elegant Seamus Callinan dropped a ball over the sideline, and at the back Tipp were carved open when Kelly and Dan Shanahan worked a point-scoring opportunity from a sideline.

They were so slow out of the blocks, in fact, that it took 12 minutes for their triumphant monosyllable to ring around the ground: an eternity in relative terms.

Coming to half-time, however, Tipp had the work-rate going. Waterford needed four players to effect a clearance from their left corner, and Lar Corbett sniffed an opening before Declan Prendergast and Clinton Hennessy slammed the door shut. At the break it was 10 points to 10. Tighter than an Olympic swimming hat.

“We were happy enough at half-time,” said McGrath. “We’d played well in the first quarter of an hour but then we slackened off. We knew what we had to do. There was no panicking.”

The exchanges were as keen after the restart, with the teams trading points, until Dan Shanahan delivered a forehand smash goalwards: Kelly forced a fine save from Brendan Cummins but was alert enough to reach across and poke home the rebound. The last lightbulb on the scoreboard had barely lit to announce that goal when Tipp retaliated. Seamus Callinan, more involved in the second half, slipped through and goaled in return.
With the game entering the last 10 minutes it took a decisive twist. Tipp were a point down and missed two chances to level; that was followed by another Callinan goal chance, but Hennessy saved. The ball rebounded to Michéal Webster but with the goal yawning, the ball then squirted like a bar of Palmolive out of his hand, aided by Declan Prendergast’s deft flick. Waterford then smuggled the ball away at the expense of a ’65, and when Eoin Kelly – of Tipp – put that wide, it was a dagger in blue and gold hearts, though it’d be cruel to assign blame to a man responsible for so many Tipp victories on his own.

 
 

THE last few minutes were viewed
through the fingers by many in
white and blue, but the final whistle sparked what could politely be termed scenes of jubilation, and what could accurately be termed joy unconfined.

A bad weekend for favourites, then, but a good one for romantics. Even Tipp boss Liam Sheedy articulated the neutrals’ views after the game: “Waterford are a class side – we knew that coming up, and nobody would begrudge them where they’re at. If there’s been a team of the last five-six years, it’s Waterford.”

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Ken McGrath. “After losing five semi-finals I suppose we had to get one right at some stage. Thankfully at the final whistle we weren’t crying into the jerseys. We’ll enjoy the next few days and go back training Tuesday or Wednesday.”

That blue and white banner, by the way, borrowed ‘Don’t stop believing’ from the chorus of an old Journey song, though most people now associate the song with the last episode of The Sopranos. Unsentimental executioners await the men in white and blue in the final: Kilkenny have called time on many opponents’ dreams and Waterford will be underdogs. However, like Scarlett O’Hara, they’ll worry about that tomorrow and concentrate on the next line of that Journey song.

Hold on to that feeling.

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