McGrath the master as Tipperary get out of the starting blocks

An eventful game that wasn’t short on drama and incident ended with All-Ireland champions Tipperary finally returning to winning ways, as they recorded their first victory of the National Hurling League campaign with this defeat of Waterford in front of a disappointing attendance of 4,947 at Semple Stadium on Saturday night.

A much improved display helped the home team dig themselves out of the mini rut they had slipped into during the early stages of the season, although they closed out the victory against a Waterford team that played for most of the second half with just 13 players after midfielder Shane O’Sullivan and goalkeeper Clinton Hennessy were sent off in the space of 3 minutes.

O’Sullivan was given his marching orders 4 minutes after the re-start when he landed a blow on Gearoid Ryan’s head as the ball dropped between the players. To his credit O’Sullivan immediately acknowledged the foul and his manager Davy Fitzgerald subsequently claimed he lost sight of the ball in the floodlights, although his swing still bordered on the reckless.

However if there was some doubt about the first dismissal the second just 3 minutes later was more clearcut, as goalkeeper Hennessy felled Patrick Maher with a dangerous high challenge.

Waterford supporters were calling for a similar punishment for Paddy Stapleton when his high challenge stopped Thomas Ryan in his tracks as the sub raced towards goal seven minutes from the end, although this foul wasn’t on the same scale as Hennessy’s.

Stapleton, though, deserved the yellow card he received, while Paul Curran was also booked in the same incident. Apart from those few flashpoints, this could never be labelled a dirty game.

Despite the numerical imbalance between the sides, the match didn’t turn into the expected Tipp procession. Pa Bourke put them 6 points ahead when he converted the free awarded for Hennessy’s foul on Patrick Maher but Waterford rallied. If anything they were galvanised by the sendings off, hurling with something of a siege mentality, and with 5 minutes left they were just 4 points adrift.

Tipp deserved their hard-earned win, although they were grateful for Paul Kelly’s goal, the game’s most important score, which gave them a cushion from the time it arrived in the 13th minute, helping them to lead by 1-12 to 0-10 at the end of a lively opening half. When David Young’s sideline broke in the danger zone the Mullinahone player still had some work to do as he turned and swept the loose ball to the net with a crisp ground stroke.The sideline had been earned with a shoulder challenge by a typically combative Patrick Maher.

Apart from the dismissals (both of which followed straight red cards), there were many more positive talking points to this encounter, not least the stellar performances of each team’s centre forward. For Tipp, Noel McGrath hit 7 points from play in an outstanding performance, with many of those scores confidently struck from distance, as he gave Michael Brick Walsh a torrid hour.

For Waterford, Richie Foley was no less superb, eclipsing McGrath in the scoring stakes with 12 points. Nine of those came from frees and Foley certainly had his eye in, missing just one free midway through the first half when he claimed that David Young walked across his sight line and distracted him.

In the 25th minute Foley struck a mighty point from play close to the touchline from some 40 yards, a score matched in its quality by a gem from Padraic Maher less than a minute later when he produced a trademark burst out of defence and soloed for more than 30 yards before splitting the posts.

Maher was a pivot of a defence in which the full-back line of Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran and Michael Cahill also played their parts, restricting Waterford to the merest sniff of a goal, which came when Seamus Prendergast’s weak effort (which was probably going wide anyway) was diverted from danger by Brendan Cummins.

Elsewhere in defence Clonoulty wing-back John O’Keeffe turned in a decent display on his competitive debut.

Pa Bourke was another of Tipp’s success stories, shrugging off the inconsistency that sometimes plagues him with a much more rounded display that was embellished by some quality scores, while Brendan Maher and Gearoid Ryan were always busy.

The Borri-Ileigh Maher set up the first score of the evening after just 28 seconds, passing for David Young’s point, an early sign that Tipp meant business after successive defeats to Kilkenny and Dublin. Collectively the side had much more of a pep in its step and they seized the initiative with Paul Kelly’s goal, after the teams had been level four times in the brisk opening exchanges.

Apart from a Maurice Shanahan point, Richie Foley did all the early Waterford scoring from frees, one of which helped his team lead by 0-5 to 0-4 in the 11th minute before Paul Kelly struck two minutes later. After that Tipp never really looked back.

They stretched their advantage with two points from Noel McGrath, the first of which was a really stylish effort when he caught Brendan Cummins’ puckout and steered a shot over the bar. Pa Bourke also contributed three eyecatching scores before half-time.

Eoin Kelly was introduced at half time and he played his part in copperfastening the win with two points from play, the first of which came in between both sendings-off.

Waterford hung on grimly against the odds after that. Richie Foley led the fight, scoring from frees and from play to keep the game alive, while Shane Walsh and Thomas Ryan also found the target. Tipp didn’t help themselves by giving away possession with some careless passes and, as so often happens when a player is sent off, they were unsure how to cope with the extra players, although the free roles that corner backs Stapleton and Cahill enjoyed ensured that Waterford were outnumbered in attack and unlikely to find the net.

In the end Tipp did enough to secure the win. Despite shooting 9 wides to Waterford’s 5, they remained in control in the last quarter with some more classy scores from Noel McGrath, before Pa Bourke put the seal on a tonic victory with an additional time point.

Tipperary - Brendan Cummins, Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran (captain), Michael Cahill, David Young (0-1), Padraic Maher (0-1), John O’Keeffe, Brendan Maher (0-1), Shane McGrath, Gearoid Ryan, Noel McGrath (0-7), Patrick Maher, Paul Kelly (1-0), Pa Bourke (0-8 including 4 frees) and Brian O’Meara.

Substitutes – Sean Carey for Shane McGrath (29 minutes), Eoin Kelly (0-2) for Brian O’Meara (half time), Benny Dunne for Sean Carey (64 minutes), James Woodlock for Gearoid Ryan (65 minutes) and Shane Bourke for Noel McGrath (69 minutes).

Waterford – Clinton Hennessy, Darragh Fives, Shane Fives, Jerome Maher, Wayne Hutchinson, Michael Walsh, Jamie Nagle, Shane O’Sullivan, Stephen Molumphy (captain 0-1), Shane Walsh (0-1), Richie Foley (0-12 including 9 frees), Pauric Mahony, Maurice Shanahan (0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-2) and Eamonn Murphy.

Substitutes – Adrian Power for Eamonn Murphy (44 minutes), Shane Casey for Pauric Mahony (56 minutes), Thomas Ryan (0-1) for Maurice Shanahan (62 minutes), Ken McGrath for Seamus Prendergast (65 minutes) and Eoin Murphy for Wayne Hutchinson (66 minutes).

Referee – James Owens (Wexford).