With five of last year’s Minors in the team Tipperary manager John Evans admitted he was nervous approaching last Wednesday’s Munster U-21 Football Championship Quarter-Final in Dungarvan. However his fears proved unfounded, as the holders coasted to a comfortable victory, one that lines up a semi-final meeting with Cork at Pairc Ui Rinn next Wednesday evening, 23rd.
Apart from a brief period in the first half, when Waterford scored 1-1, Tipp were always in control and this successful first defence of their crown was assured long before the finish.
They settled quicker, using the short passing game to good effect against the stiff breeze in the first half, and had early points from Aldo Matassa and David Butler before Conor Sweeney scored a peach of a goal in the 11th minute after good approach play by Eddie Kenrick and Thomas Hanly.
When Sweeney lobbed a free over the bar they held a 5-point lead midway through the first half, but Waterford quickly wiped out that advantage. Paul Whyte, from a free and Niall Walsh had points for the home team and when the Tipp defence parted like the Red Sea in the 17th minute Waterford centre back David Phelan raced clear before planting a shot in the net to level the scores (1-3 each).
However that was as good as it got for Waterford and this first match under lights at the revamped venue, with its impressive new surface, ended in huge disappointment for them. They didn’t score again for three-quarters of an hour, until additional time, when David Grey pointed.
“I’m delighted with the way we played, in the first half we played to the system. Waterford came at us and we replied when we had to”, said John Evans.
He also made the point that there were other goal chances that didn’t come their way – his team could have found the net on three other occasions in the first half. They were awarded a free (converted by Conor Sweeney to regain the lead) when captain, Peter Acheson had a clear run on goal; Billy Hewitt struck the post with a fierce drive, with the Waterford goalie beaten; and David Butler scored the sixth point with a rising shot that you feel was aimed lower.
“We did our job, we weren’t here to bury the ball in the net the whole time, we were here to win the game”, Evans added.
Acheson led by example from the centre of the field and when he scored on the stroke of half time Tipp led by 1-7 to 1-3 at the break.
David Butler, a brother of former Tipp senior hurler Seamus Butler, a player picked out by his manager for his “tremendous vision”, proved a highly effective target man. “He’s coming from a hurling background but he’s fitting in brilliantly with the others and a lot more scores could have come off him”, said John Evans.
The movement of his team mates in attack, especially top scorer Conor Sweeney (who bagged 1-6), Billy Hewitt and David McGrath was always impressive, as Tipp frequently bamboozled their opponents with their speed and mobility.
Waterford manager John Owens and his selectors remained on the pitch for a few minutes at half time to talk tactics, but their fortunes didn’t improve after the re-start. They will point to all their wides, 7 in the first half and 5 in the second, and among those they missed two easy frees from scoreable positions in the second half.
If anything they played slightly better at times against the wind with captain Ronan Cahill, Paul Whyte, David Phelan and Thomas Walsh leading the fight. But their shooting continued to let them down, although substitute Paul Drohan went close when he shot into the side netting when they were 7 points adrift.
Tipp, however, didn’t need to hit anything approaching top gear to wrap up the win. Their rate of scoring also slowed in the second half, although two points from Conor Sweeney (one from a free) and David Butler kept them comfortably in front.
Substitute Paul McEvoy had only been on the pitch seconds when he too found the target. Conor Sweeney added another pair of points, the second kicked with his right foot from play, before wing back John O’Callaghan – who defended superbly throughout, along with Donagh Leahy and Jonathan Ryan – got in on the scoring act to complete the rout.
Tipperary – Jack English (Ballyporeen), Robbie Kiely (Arravale Rovers), Jonathan Ryan (Ardfinnan), Mark Hanly (Aherlow), Donagh Leahy (Arravale Rovers), Eddie Kenrick (Cahir), John O’Callaghan (Ballyporeen 0-1), Peter Acheson (Moyle Rovers, captain, 0-1), Donagh Heffernan (Cappawhite), Billy Hewitt (Ardfinnan), Thomas Hanly (Aherlow), Aldo Matassa (Clonmel Commercials 0-1), David McGrath (Moyle Rovers 0-1), David Butler (Drom/Inch 0-3) and Conor Sweeney (Ballyporeen 1-6 including 0-4 frees).
Substitutes – Michael O’Dwyer (Arravale Rovers) for Thomas Hanly (38 minutes), Gavin Ryan (Rockwell Rovers) for Donagh Leahy (51 minutes), Paul McEvoy (Cahir 0-1) for Billy Hewitt (54 minutes), Liam Boland (Moyle Rovers) for David Butler (55 minutes) and Kevin O’Riordan (J.K. Brackens) for Peter Acheson (58 minutes).
Waterford – Kevin Williams, Mark Cummins, Shane O’Cuirrin, Mark Wyse, Thomas Walsh, David Phelan (1-0), Jamie Kirwan, Ronan Cahill (captain), Niall Walsh (0-1), Conor Buckley, Adam Brophy, James Coade, David Grey (0-1), Tadhg Houlihan and Paul Whyte (0-2, 1 free and 1 ‘45).
Substitutes – Eoin Walsh for James Coade (half time), Paul Drohan for Conor Buckley (49 minutes), Ian Power for Paul Whyte (52 minutes) and Sean Burke for Thomas Walsh (56 minutes).
Ref – Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry).