Will Waterford marksman Eoin Kelly be pleased if they dethrone Kilkenny tomorrow — not if it doesn’t lead to an All-Ireland title, he tells Michael Moynihan

‘There’s no good in being remembered
for good matches’

FOR Waterford, the present bumped into the future in the Semple Stadium tunnel before this year’s Munster hurling final. Eoin Kelly and his Déise colleagues had watched some of the minor decider but had to go in and tog out for the Tipperary game before it finished, and they didn’t know who’d won.

“When we were coming out, we saw the minors lining the tunnel with the cup,” says Kelly.

“That was a great boost – pity we didn’t do the same ourselves – but it was great for them, and great for hurling in the county. They were written off before that game, much like we’ve been written off for tomorrow, but they went out and played their own game, and they got the win.”

Waterford may have been disappointed with their Munster final defeat at the hands of Tipperary, but the quarter-final win over Galway was a comeback for the ages. Six points down with time running out, they beat the westerners to the tape with John Mullane’s late, late point.

“Obviously it was a great win to get, and one we needed badly, but at the same time, that’s in the past as well, just like the All-Ireland final last year. If the bad games stay in the past, then so do the good ones.

“If you look back at last year Cork did the same – they got a win over Galway against all the odds, but then they were beaten by Kilkenny by eight points. So unless you keep winning it doesn’t matter.

“You don’t get anything for beating Galway – or even for beating Kilkenny. We’re not even in an All-Ireland final, that’s the way we’re looking at this. There’s no good in being remembered for playing in good matches – you play in order to win medals. You can’t say it’s a good year otherwise, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Galway game, it was a stepping stone for us, and now it’s forgotten about.”

What hasn’t been forgotten by supporters is the annihilation in last year’s All-Ireland final by tomorrow’s opponents. Kelly says he and his team-mates are looking forward: “That’s gone – Kilkenny are saying it’s gone, anyway. It’s last year now, so we can’t do anything about it. We can only look to the future and hopefully do better than we did last year in the All-Ireland final.”

He’s keen to stress the positives.

“We’ve a good panel, that’s the main thing. What we have on the bench is nearly as good as what’s on the field, which is a great boost for us. Then you have the minor team winning the Munster championship this year and the U21s being very unlucky not to win the Munster final in Dungarvan.

“People are always saying that hurling in Waterford is dead again when this team is gone, but there are some good young players there, and that drives on the older lads, the fellas who are there a good few years.

“The likes of Tony (Browne), Dan (Shanahan), John (Mullane) and myself have to work harder, and that has to be good for the team.”

AFTER the annihilation in last year’s All-Ireland final there was plenty of blame being assigned, but Kelly stands by his manager and the team’s preparations.

“Expectations are lower this time round but this is our seventh All-Ireland semi-final, and that’s not something a lot of Waterford teams could have said over the years.

“Last year we were probably nervous without even knowing it, if you like. It’s a lot more low-key this time round. The build-up last year was perfect, for the All-Ireland final, but there were one or two differences. For instance, when we ran out it was the first time that Croke Park was actually full for a game we played. That caught us. Up to that I’d have changed nothing. The preparation was perfect.

“Did we freeze or did we meet a wave no-one could stop? It could have been a bit of both, maybe. I didn’t feel nervous that day, we just met a team that nobody could have stopped on the day.”

Manager Davy Fitzgerald came in for plenty of criticism but Kelly defends the former Clare ‘keeper.

“Nobody’s perfect, but in fairness to Davy, he’ll come out and say so when he makes a mistake, and he’ll act on that. We’ve improved with every game this year and that’s down to him, he’s open to suggestions as to how we can improve. It’s good that he’s open-minded and can take on advice – and give it out. He’s improved every player on the team.”

Kelly knows there’s no great secret to what Kilkenny will plan to do to Waterford tomorrow.

“In 2004 they got three goals within about ten minutes in the semi-final against us and though we came back well they still beat us. They did the same last year in the final, those early goals killed us.

“They go for goals, and fair play to them, that’s what good teams do. We gave away soft goals in the Munster final as well but we also missed good chances for goals as well that day. You give teams three or four goals and you won’t catch them, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”

MANY people are forgetting, of course, that the All-Ireland final wasn’t the last meeting of the two teams. Waterford edged out the Cats in a tight league game earlier this season in Walsh Park, but Kelly isn’t drawing too many conclusions from that match.

“We won that day but they went on from that game and won the league. They can raise it a couple of gears, which is what sets them apart, while we hit a slump after that. We lost to Limerick, Dublin and Galway, and two of those games were at home.

“We should have kicked on from that but we didn’t. You have to keep improving, that’s the big thing for a team, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

They’re underdogs tomorrow, of course. Kelly accepts that. He cites Waterford’s team spirit as a cause for optimism, however.

“The last game the odds were 3/1 against us and we overturned them, but you don’t see too many bookies going around on bicycles. They don’t get it wrong too often, we’d like to make tomorrow one of those days.

“Training has been good all year, and very good going into the Galway game. We wanted the chance to show we weren’t as bad as it looked last year in the final, and that’s driven training all season.

“We’ve been together for the last eight or nine years and we’re the best of mates with each other. We want to do well together and hopefully tomorrow will be our day in the sun.”

Waterford-Galway July 28 2009

September 25, 2009

IMMORTALITY comes with a reddish crew cut.

Waterford beat Galway yesterday by the width of a singlet, with John Mullane’s late, late point putting a spear in maroon hearts, as their manager said afterwards. Mullane’s game mirrored his team’s experience overall — a long slog through a scratchy 70 minutes before finding glory in time added on. Galway, battle-hardened after two good wins over Clare and Cork, were purposeful and precise all through, but when the hero of a thousand battles, Dan Shanahan, was thrown into the mix by Déise boss Davy Fitzgerald, it introduced the right note of chaos. Shanahan won a free and skimmed the woodwork before creating the game-breaking goal for Shane Walsh with four minutes left, and Galway wavered. Stripped of a four-point lead, the men from the west crumbled under Waterford’s waves of attack, and when Mullane steamed into space and peeled over the winning point, the Hollywood script was complete: roll credits and curtain. Galway will be heartbroken about this defeat for some time. For the neutral observer there was more evidence of the compression of play in hurling — frequently Galway and Waterford had two players in their full-forward lines, making the area between the two 45-metre lines as crowded as the opening of a new Ikea, but Galway often found Cyril Donnellan free on the opposing 65 with clever cross-field passes, and he kept the Waterford rearguard under pressure. At the back, Galway were cruising, with John Lee able to bat the ball down to Ger Farragher in a routine straight from the training ground, while Ollie Canning swept up imperiously. Waterford had to rely on Eoin Kelly’s remorseless accuracy from frees to keep a toehold in the game, while Michael Brick Walsh and Stephen Molumphy were ferocious in their resistance. Galway were four points up with the clock winding down and looked ready to streak away. Waterford’s Eoin Kelly begged to differ. “No, there was a strong breeze there and we knew we’d finish strongly,” said Kelly. “Even in the Munster final we could have caught Tipperary if we’d taken our chances. We always knew we had a chance of catching Galway, we’ve been finishing games wicked strong. “We’d given ourselves too much to do point-wise. Dan came on and made a goal, and nearly got one himself. I’m delighted for him, he’s after coming in for a lot of criticism.” Galway boss John McIntyre conceded that the Waterford goal was the turning point. “We had an attack that broke down, maybe the wrong option was taken, and Waterford worked the ball down the field for a goal. “I knew straightaway it would be a dogfight from there to the finish and it was a case of us holding on. Hopefully.” Galway couldn’t hold the line, however, and Waterford now face Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Cats have not played — we hesitate, naturally, to use the actual term ‘idle’ — since July 5. For another team that lack of competitive action might be a disadvantage. For another team, that is. Yet Waterford will go into the game as rank outsiders, and they’ll pack away a score to settle after last year’s All-Ireland final annihilation into their gearbags for the trip to Croke Park. Good ammunition to have. Their manager was enjoying the moment yesterday, though. “Days like this makes it all worthwhile,” said Davy Fitzgerald. “I love being involved in this thing, I really, really love being involved. I love being involved with a bunch that will give you everything they can. “We were wrote off big-time during the week and this is absolutely fantastic for the boys but it’s a quarter-final and we’ll remember that tomorrow morning.” In the opening game, Limerick did well to recover from an opening few minutes in which Dublin scored early and often, like a voter scoring the ballot in a 60s by-election. The men in sky blue have been a highlight of the season, with their entertaining brand of muscular support play, but one of the imperishable principles of hurling defence left them down yesterday. The importance of a full-back with a zero tolerance appetite for nonsense around the square was underlined as Limerick goaled through the direct approach — Paudie McNamara — before adding a penalty won the same way. Brian Murray’s emphatic finish tied the scores at half-time and Dublin’s good work against the breeze was instantly undone. The teams were locked in a death embrace until the last 10 minutes, when Gavin O’Mahony’s sideline cut soared over the bar to set Limerick free, and they kicked on from there. Anthony Daly won’t want praise for this season’s progress, but Dublin have ended the year in credit. This season will stand to them, though it may be Wednesday or Thursday before they have a mind to see it like that. Genetically speaking Limerick have no problem facing Tipperary, and the Premier County will see uncomfortable similarities between last year’s semi-final and this season’s – they face familiar opponents who are expected to act as sacrificial lambs and a second-half fade-out would be fatal. By the same token, if Limerick start as slowly as they did yesterday — and against Laois — it could be a long afternoon for them. But in either case we’d settle for an ending half as enjoyable as yesterday’s.

MAKE sense of that. Beyond the pageantry and the pitch invasions, four Tipperary goals should have copper-fastened victory over Waterford yesterday in Semple Stadium’s Munster SHC final, but the Premier county were, surprisingly, only four ahead at the close.

Should we disregard that points difference? Are there now lies, damned lies and scoreboards? Tipp should have had plenty to spare over the Déise yesterday, and once they managed that fourth goal just after half-time the difference should have been expressed in stark black and white, but Waterford were a live option into the closing minutes.

The game wasn’t a classic. A Munster hurling final is usually a steak that doesn’t need the sizzle, but the razzmatazz of the GAA’s 125th anniversary celebrations were a major ingredient yesterday. The Munster championship-winning captains of the last 25 years were introduced at half-time in the senior game, the Artane Band provided the entertainment and Jimmy Doyle of Tipperary brought a lit torch into the stadium to culminate the triumphant procession from Hayes’ Hotel.

Hey, in the new Ireland everybody gets to march on the 12th of July.

In the game itself, Waterford boss Davy Fitzgerald admitted afterwards that his plan was to go for goals early, and Eoin Kelly proved that after five minutes. He lined up a 21-metre free after five minutes and decided to test the Tipp concentration, squeezing in a goal.

Tipp settled, and Seamus Callanan and Lar Corbett were prominent in establishing their rhythm. With the elegant Noel McGrath getting involved they carved open goal chances at the Waterford end, taking three of them. Corbett surged along the end line before the break for the third to seal a terrific Tipp half.

In 35 minutes Tipperary
had racked up three goals and 10 points. The only question
at half-time was whether
they could avoid the 20-minute sabbaticals which afflicted them against Cork and Clare.

The answer seemed to arrive minutes into the second half: a defensive mix-up in front of the Waterford goal allowed Corbett a simple ground pull for Tipp’s fourth goal. At that stage it was 4-11 to 2-6 and Waterford looked in need of snookers.

But once again, Tipp faded. Waterford managed the last six scores of the game and could maybe count themselves unlucky that their best goal chance in the second half fell to the inexperienced Maurice Shanahan, whose shot was blocked with quarter of an hour left.

If that had fallen to another Waterford predator,
the ending might
have been far more nervy for Tipp boss Liam Sheedy.

“Waterford outhurled us for long stretches in the second half,” said Sheedy afterwards. “At times we were hanging on with the odd point. We’re glad to be back in Croke Park. At times some of our play was top class, we just have to continue with the struggle for that consistency.”

Sheedy was acknowledging that Tipp’s second-half fade-out would drive today’s agenda. So did star midfielder Shane McGrath. Kind of.

“I don’t really care,” said McGrath. “We’ve the cup in the dressing-room. Ah, I know it’s a worrying thing for us, but we’ll sit down next week and have a chat about that. We’ve four or five weeks to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final. Another step to get to where we want to be, an All-Ireland final.”

Waterford have their own worries. A ruthless edge in front of their own goal has been missing from their armoury for years, and yesterday proved that all over again.

“Tipp were in control of the game for a lot of it,” said Fitzgerald. “It wasn’t that Tipp slackened — we kept going with it, we kept driving and I’m proud of the lads for that.

“We have to look at our mistakes. The first goal, the one just before half-time and the one just after half-time came from mistakes we made. Bad errors. But we’ll put down the heads and work away. We have the character and I’m glad to put that to rest after last year.”

Tipperary have their own work to do. Consistency is something to improve; is discipline another area to focus on? They picked up four yellow cards to Waterford’s one, and at one stage in the first conceded a 20-metre free, defended that — and then conceded another 20-metre free for off-the-ball foolishness when the ball had been cleared outfield. Costly.

There were green shoots yesterday for Waterford. They picked up a first minor title since 1992 with a team staffed by youngsters who have spent summers following their heroes to All-Ireland semi-finals. Some of those should join Noel Connors in the rebuilding.

It’s the same for every county: the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Teddy Kennedy said that nearly 30 years ago. The men who met in Hayes’ Hotel 125 years ago would have endorsed it.

PAUL FLYNN may not be playing for Waterford any more, but that doesn’t mean his radar is missing any star players. You only have to ask. “Who do you have your eye on”?

“Well . . . Noel McGrath from Tipperary,” says Flynn. “Our Eoin Kelly, John Mullane; Richie Power. Joe Canning.”

No defenders? A longish pause. “Eoin Murphy,” he says eventually. “Mark Foley. Lads I’d have played against. But mostly forwards, yeah.”

Flynn put down 17 seasons with the Déise. Good days, bad days, happy and sad. But now it’s gone and he’s not looking back.

“The lads who’d know me well would know when I played hurling I played hurling, and that’s it. I packed in last year
after 17 years, and I enjoyed most of it and I’ll move on now.

“I don’t want to go back to saying I wasn’t fanatical about it, but I wasn’t. Maybe that helps. It was something I was able to do, I can’t do it any more, so you move on.”

He moved on to sitting in Thurles for the first Waterford-Limerick game. Then he decided to move on again.

“What goes on in the stand would really wake you up to what lads are being called. Some of the things being said about Waterford lads – great Waterford players – by Waterford people would open your eyes. I won’t say it upset me but for the
second game I couldn’t go to the stands and listen to that. If I went again I’d be bringing a
radio. It’s incredible.”

There have always been hurlers on the ditch, but Flynn doesn’t enjoy other, more recent developments.

“You can’t really compare nowadays to 1992 and those early years because with no backdoor we were preparing for one game, which we often lost. But the point of driving to Dungarvan to have a session of walking in the water . . . you’re gone at 5, on Clonea strand at 6, after grub you’re maybe home at 9, or half past. Just to recover.

“Or being at the beach for 7 am the morning after playing a game. I never saw the sense to that and there’s no secret that I wouldn’t be a fan of it.”

FLYNN traces the new regimes to Kilkenny’s dominance and managers wishing to emulate that.

“There’s no doubt a lot of it is down to the lack of managers wanting to be different or innovative. A lot of is counter-productive, I think; if a fella is tired after a game what’s the point in getting him out of bed at half-six the following morning?

“Justin (McCarthy) would have had the idea, and I wouldn’t have been far off it myself, that hurling is hurling and athletics is athletics. The more hurling you do the better and the whole canoeing, or mountain-climbing, or walking around blindfolded . . . some fellas might get something out of it. Not me. But, definitely, if it got out that Kilkenny were all playing with 32-inch hurleys, then every team would be using them then.”

Some of the innovations he approved of — “the Nutron diet wasn’t bad; one night at training I lapped a few fellas, so it had to be good,” – while others aren’t so obvious.

“I’d say the major difference that people don’t realise is that with the previous (Waterford) management there were no great instructions, it was a case of going out and playing. Okay, defenders would be told to be in front, to pick out their men, to handpass to a better man for a clearance. But there were no great patterns or set plays further up the field. Waterford seem to be playing a more controlled game now, whereas I’d prefer to go out and play instinctively.

“It’s possible with set patterns that fellas get locked in, and the fear factor can come in – lads can get fearful over losing the ball. But the win over Limerick will definitely have brought lads on, in fairness.”

Regarding Sunday, he’s realistic. “I wouldn’t say I’m worried, but I’d have concerns — Limerick were so bad in the first game, they were almost like a club team for the first 20 minutes. I’d say they couldn’t believe they were still in it in the second half.

“The weather was shocking, fair enough, but take John (Mullane) out of it . . . Waterford are playing the ball to him, but you can’t rely on one player chipping in with all the scores.

“From Waterford’s point of view – will Stephen (Molumphy) and Tony (Browne) be right? They’re big worries.

“As against that, Tipp’s big players last year have been doing well for 20 -minute stretches, but they’ve also been disappearing for long stretches. If Waterford can stay steady then they’ve a chance. And Waterford have a good record in recent years against Tipp.”

THAT’S been with Ken McGrath, of course – Flynn is frank about the loss of the Mount Sion man: “The difference in having the Ken of last year and previous years and no Ken at all is . . . it’s not immeasurable, but it nearly is.”

There have been other spin-offs, however. Surely the Waterford minors of today are kids nourished on the Déise’s championship voyages since 1998? “I’d say so. I grew up watching John Fenton, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Tom Cashman, all these lads, but that time the All-Ireland semi-final would be the first games on telly, and it would have been Cork, Galway, Tipp.

“So these lads are ahead in that sense. They’re competing in Thurles – and hopefully Croke Park – at an earlier age. In 1998 for the All-Ireland semi-final the bus went to the wrong door in Croke Park; we didn’t know any different. You can see that Waterford are more competitive in the Harty and in other Munster colleges competitions, so hopefully that’s a start.

“Tipp have a good minor team, but it’s still progress. You have to make progress at minor, at U21 – not necessarily winning, but competing. So I’d say yeah, some of those lads are lads who wanted to be Ken (McGrath) or Dan (Shanahan) when they were younger.”

Not to mention the lads who wanted to be Paul Flynn. That vacancy exists now in Waterford, but it’ll be a tall order for the youngsters trying to fill it.

Why Rock knows it’s time to roll

SOME rocks eventually become precious stones. A few are gems from the start.

Diarmuid O’Sullivan has three All-Ireland medals and a sackful of memories, but he knows it’s time to go.

“I loved coming down the tunnel, out onto the field. It’s a drug. It’s like you’re giving yourself an injection, the light, the supporters…

“I’ve given 12 years to the full-back line, and any fella will tell you about the pressure. Take Brian Murphy — the pressure that man was under was incredible, marking the top dog every day, and if Eoin Kelly or John Mullane gets a goal, he’s castigated.

“I’ve always believed in my own abilities going out on the field, that I could do a job. Even on the poor days I still believed that.”

The pressure comes in different forms.

“There are journalists but there are also what I call ‘computer hurlers’, fellas on websites criticising people. Their opinion doesn’t matter, and never has, but your family has that, they have to listen to radio stations reading out texts.

“I’d have felt a lot of hurt about that, but I’m a big boy, I can handle that.”

There was hurt last year. He nearly walked away after the Clare game but he stayed on for one last stand against Kilkenny.

“I had one thing on my mind for that game — my own performance. I know there were images of me crying and so on, that I’d retired — I had no decision made at that stage, I was just glad the season was over.

“The whole thing, the pressure — it was just relief that it was over. It was almost physical. Only for a couple of my close games I probably would have walked away after the Clare game, the criticism was so personal.

“That’s just how it is. In the last few weeks, for instance, I’ve met people who were criticising me all last season, yet they’ve been saying ‘when are you coming back’!”

He remembers the friends — Cork team trainer Jerry Wallace (“The work he put into me was nobody’s business”), his employers Lagans, his new mates in Highfield RFC (“They’ve been outstanding, I’m sorry I didn’t do it years ago”).

And his teammates. He e-mailed them yesterday with a simple message: they’d done it all, all together.

O’Sullivan is aware of how Cork are perceived after not one, but two
winters of discontent.

“People will always have their own opinions. Mistakes were made on all sides, and everybody would admit that — on all sides. Since 2002 people have built a persona up about this Cork team that they’re a law unto themselves. That’s not true.

“It’s always been about getting better. Teams prepare to give a performance, but it’s different in Cork, it’s different in Kilkenny. You’re preparing to win because you want to win. That’s what it has always been about, wanting to get to the top of the ladder.”

Having his father Jerry as Cork County Board chairman was another complication. “That was extremely difficult, but only once was it drawn into the gutter, by a certain man who got a phone call.

“My relationship with him has never been anything but unbelievable. He’d be the first person I’d talk to, for instance with this decision.

“Your family is your family. I’m
finished with intercounty hurling now, he’ll step down as county board chairman in a couple of years, he’ll look to new things and so will I. That’s part of life.”

O’Sullivan knows the rumour mill won’t be long cranking up, so he puts his retirement into an exact context.

“I said to (Cork manager) Denis Walsh a few weeks ago I wasn’t
interested in playing in the full-back line but felt I might have something to offer elsewhere on the field, we had a conversation about it.

“I went away, trained with Cloyne for a few weeks and when I spoke to him again he said they’d reviewed it and they’d decided to move on with the younger fellas.

“That’s fair enough, I knew that was the chance I was taking, and best of luck to them. Talking to the players, they’re very happy with him, and I even said to Denis on the phone today, ‘If you get these guys going in the right direction you will have the 30 most committed lads you’ll ever come across; this team can be very good for you and you can be very good for this team’. I think they can be an unbelievable combination.”

Good times? O’Sullivan and Cusack were strolling through Thurles after a game last year when a car pulled up and a voice echoed from within: “I didn’t see the two of ye since I carried you around Thurles.” It was Paul Shelley, reliving the 2000 Munster final. Other notables? The big man is generous.

“Colin Lynch has carried that Clare team for eight years on his own, since Daly and McMahon stepped down. Unbelievable. That’s a man I’d respect.

“Joe Canning — I consider myself a strong man but he just pushed me to one side last year and finished.

“The first player I’d buy for Cork if there was a transfer market would be Mullane. His commitment to Waterford in last year’s All-Ireland final (was) incredible. And a good man to talk out on the field, too.

“Shefflin has been incredible, too. What has he scored in the championship? He’s big, he’s physical, he can look after himself. Comerford, incredibly talented. Offaly, some of the best hurlers you’d meet in John Troy, the Dooleys. That’s the quality you’re up against.”

A last question about the good days gets an emphatic response.

“Highs? It’s a high every day you play for Cork. I have no regrets when it comes to hurling. None. You’re in that Cork jersey, you’re bulletproof.”

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.

Y OU can forget the Lisbon
Treaty. You can forget the
Democratic primaries. The most pressing question of the last few months was answered in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday. Tipp are back, asserting themselves after early nerves to beat Cork in the Munster SHC in front of 42,823 spectators. Not a focus group or a super-delegate in sight.

In real terms Tipp have never really gone away, but yesterday had an air of revival all the same. The blue and gold supporters can look forward to a long hot summer, and the lyrics of Slievenamon will be echoing far beyond Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the next couple of months.

Though Cork threw starting debuts to two of their full-forward line, it was their old guard who conjured a goal early on. Timmy McCarthy broke the ball towards Ben O’Connor, who found an avenue through the Tipperary defence slightly wider than the Marina. One-on-one with Brendan Cummins, the Cork man held his nerve to finish calmly to the net.

With Cathal Naughton flummoxing Tipperary by operating in the middle of the field, Cork were on top, and the evidence was empirical: over 17 minutes had gone before the first chant of Tipp-Tipp-Tipp was heard.

“We showed a bit of nerves,” said Tipp boss Liam Sheedy, referring to his side’s rocky opening. “No matter how you do in the league, the Munster championship is a different animal. We were a bit jittery early on.”

True enough. Cork were rampant, running up a seven-point lead, but anyone expecting a collapse from the Premier was disappointed. Lar Corbett used his pace to range to and fro in front of the City End, and Eamonn Corcoran and Shane Maher came into the play. When a Seamus Callinan shot was half-blocked it ran to Eoin Kelly on the 21. The Mullinahone man was well-marshalled in the first half by Brian Murphy apart from those couple of heartbeats in the 24th minute; that’s all the time he needed to test the rigging.

“Eoin’s goal was the vital score,” said Sheedy. “The game might have been slipping a bit from us then, and if Cork had slipped over another point or two at that stage…”

At half-time there was a point in it (1-8 to 1-7). The game wasn’t in the melting-pot so much as the saucepan they use to melt down the other melting-pots.

Naughton blazed through for a point on the restart; Seamus Callinan retorted. Cork may draw comfort this morning from the great save Pa Cronin forced from Brendan Cummins, but three wides in a row saw the initiative slip away from them.

If the second half had a turning point it came on 42 minutes, when Pa Cronin won a Cork penalty. Surprisingly, debutant Paudie O’Sullivan took it, only for Cummins to save. In a neat reversal of 2005, when a Donal Óg Cusack penalty save spurred Cork to victory, Tipperary drew strength from Cummins’ stop, and their defence began to get on top.

Lar Corbett bore down on goal and was grounded in desperation. Seamus Callinan was winning more and more ball. With Tipp’s half-backs resolute, the supply improved to Eoin Kelly with inevitable results.

As Ol’ Blue Eyes never sang, Kelly and scores go together like a horse and carriage. Even the couple of hundred auxiliary Cork men forced to watch the game from the pitch perimeter — having been allowed out of the Blackrock Terrace by the gardaí — would have been hard pressed to keep him quiet had they been allowed beyond the whitewash.

At the end there was six points in it, and the Tipperary support drank in the victory as only Tipp fans can.

Cork will face a chorus of second-guessing: about the strike, about their selection, about their substitutions, about the decision to go for a goal from their penalty, but their real worry will be the lack of a second wind. This is the second time in 12 months that Tipperary have outpaced them coming down the stretch.

Having scored four points in the second half — and replaced four of their forwards during the game — they’ll hope improving their shot selection will bring them back into contention. If results go according to expectations they’ll face Waterford next month, a game that now assumes huge significance for both teams, as the losing side is likely to break up and face a rebuilding process.

A disappointed John Gardiner agreed with the Tipperary boss that Eoin Kelly’s goal had been critical.

“The first 10 or 15 minutes went well for us,” said the Cork captain. “But then Tipp turned the tables. The goal was the main turning point.”

“At the end we were chasing the game,” said his manager, Gerald McCarthy. “We tried very hard to turn it around, we made a lot of substitutions, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

For Tipperary the news is better, obviously enough. Liam Sheedy had his face to the heavens as the clock wound down yesterday, but divine intervention wasn’t needed.

“We finished quite strong,” said Sheedy. “We played a lot of tight games in the league, and I think that stood to us in the last 15 minutes. We’ve a lot of work done, and every one of them who went on the pitch today did well.”

Though Sheedy was careful to rein in expectations — he referred to Cork’s wides tally, pointing out that the game might have ended differently had the Rebels been more accurate — but even the downside can be given a positive spin.

The jittery opening Tipp went through yesterday can be improved for the Munster final. Shane McGrath confirmed the promise of spring. And the Premier County now look to have momentum, a handy asset facing into the high summer.

Cork bet. The hay saved. And better yet to come?