Improving Deise might test Tipp strength in depth with key absentees

Despite the Seamus Callanan suspension and Cathal Barrett being added to the injury list, Tipperary still go into Sunday’s league semi-final against Waterford as strong favourites.

Despite the Seamus Callanan suspension and Cathal Barrett being added to the injury list, Tipperary still go into Sunday’s league semi-final against Waterford as strong favourites.

Yet the Deise come to this fixture on a spring tide of rising form and look well set to challenge those lopsided betting odds.

League semi-final day at Nowlan Park promises fascinating entertainment then. Tipperary’s resources should be tested in the absence of the BBC contingent of Barrett, Bergin and Callanan. We’ve been smugly confident that our panel pool has deepened this year with the addition of newcomers – well, Sunday should test the depth of the well given Waterford’s present buoyancy.

Aside from the first round blip against Dublin it’s been a comfortable league journey thus far. Critically, though, Callanan has been at the heart of it all and Sunday now throws the spotlight on the supporting cast. Presumably ‘Bubbles’ will resume in attack in Callanan’s place beside the other five who started versus Offaly, though precise positions may be adjusted. Either way the main man is absent so it’s up to the likes of ‘Bonner’ or Brendan Maher or Noel McGrath to take on the baton. Forde and O’Meara will also be looked to for increased input.

Kieran Bergin was making impressive progress towards a return when his introduction at the weekend against Annacarty brought that unfortunate finger damage. In his absence perhaps the McGrath/Woodlock pairing will again feature at midfield. Michael Breen will be in the frame for the centre too or perhaps at wing back where he has tended to revert to in past games.

I’d expect the two Mahers to start on the half back line. Ronan’s progress has been steady and substantial this year. Joe O’Dwyer was back and playing well for Killenaule at the weekend so he offers another option at half back and indeed you can add John Meagher into the reckoning and James Barry. I’d assume O’Mahony will again play full back beside Paddy Stapleton with Conor O’Brien among the options for the other corner.

There are certainly lots of decisions to be made around defence unlike the attack where options are more limited. Darren Gleeson returned for his club recently so I’d expect him to man the posts for this important fixture.

Waterford presents an interesting challenge on Sunday. Derek McGrath has rebuilt the team following the departures earlier of players like Stephen Molumphy, Seamus Prendergast and Shane Walsh. He’s drawn on the underage talent and has adopted a style based on massed defence, pace and a huge work ethic. ‘Working like dogs’ is how Austin Gleeson describes the Waterford approach.

Gleeson is one of the new boys rapidly establishing a reputation. In previous rounds he’s been wing back beside Tadhg de Burca and Philip Mahony with de Burca often deployed as an extra man as they try to clog up the half back/midfield area.

Jamie Barron and the experienced Kevin Moran have done very well at midfield and in the new format that they’ve adopted ‘Brick’ Walsh finds himself at half forward beside top-scorer, Pauric Mahony, and Jake Dillon. Brian O’Halloran, Stephen Bennett and Colin Dunford often man the full forward line with their last line of defence featuring Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan and Noel Connors in front of either O’Keeffe or O’Regan in goal.

At the start of the league not too many anticipated that Waterford would make such rapid progress. They certainly swept through division 1B dropping just a single point when drawing with Limerick and scoring an eye-catching win at Wexford Park. Then came their resounding quarter-final success over Galway. It’s an impressive form line and given the Tipperary defections really opens up this contest.

Tipperary’s past record against the Deise is impressive. We’ve won thirty-two out of forty-two previous meetings and the last ten clashes show Tipperary winning six with two draws and two Waterford wins.

Interestingly our last league semi-final against Waterford was back in 1988 when Nicky English scored 2-11 and we won by 4-19 to 1-8 at Croke Park. Our last league clash with our southern neighbours in Nowlan Park was in a quarter-final in 2008 when we got through narrowly enough, 1-16 to 0-14, before going on to beat Galway in the final.

Last year we had a narrow opening round win over Waterford at Semple Stadium and already this season we’ve met them twice in challenge fixtures, losing narrowly down in Dungarvan and playing a draw in Clonmel.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Waterford set themselves up for the game and how Tipperary cope, or otherwise, with this football-style tactic of massed defence and then pacey breakaway. The bookies have us listed at 2/5 with Waterford generously on offer at 9/4. I’ll be surprised if the game reflects those odds.

Otherwise the week just past was a happy one for Tipperary in general with the minor hurlers and U21 footballers giving ample reason for celebration midweek. The football win was obviously the highlight item, depriving Cork of that five-in-a-row – aren’t we developing something of a reputation as the five-time stoppers? They now face Dublin in a Saturday semi at Tullamore; good luck to them.

We haven’t been doing well in the minor hurling grade in recent years so there was obvious interest in the present crop when they launched their campaign against Waterford midweek. A one-point win was welcome even if the quality was poor.

Waterford looked lively and athletic and deserved to be better placed than a point adrift at half time. Tipp’s minimal lead came courtesy of the game’s only goal, scrambled home by Ruadhan Mulrooney from the Portroe club.

It remained that sort of tight affair for the second half and the Tipp lads deserved credit for stubbornly holding the line to the end. Brian McGrath’s two pointed ‘65s’ were critical as our defence survived a few scary moments. The free taking of Daragh Carey was influential too and it needed to be because the Deise had a sharp-shooter of real quality as well in Jack Prendergast.

Overall there was a worrying lack of scoring threat; Mulrooney’s goal was the only flag from play to come from the starting forwards. Substitute Lyndon Fairbrother did hit a valuable pair of points and there are some players injured whose return will hopefully bolster the attacking end.

Our half back line of Jack Skehan, Brian McGrath and Darragh Peters was probably our strongest. Team captain, Stephen Quirke, caught the eye with some great aerial fetching at centre forward. Maybe not enough came off the possession he won but he certainly has a great paw for the high ones, the type of skill whose absence we often bemoan at senior level. Roscrea’s Alan Tynan, who earlier won a Leinster Colleges’ rugby medal with Cistercian College, looked quite useful when he moved outfield. He’s a grandson of Joe whom followers will recall from the great Roscrea era of the seventies. He’s also a grand-nephew of Francis Loughnane, which is indeed a rich hurling pedigree.

Goalie, Padraig Hayes, deserves mention too, having to be alert early on and coming off his line bravely to bat one away in the second half even if we were lucky to survive on the follow up.

Overall then a win after a moderate performance. Liam Cahill and colleagues will know that improvement is needed but they have time to work on it before Clare come to Thurles in late June for a crucial semi-final.

Finally local club action kept followers busy over the weekend with some interesting outcomes. In the top tier Clonoulty thrashed Ballina and Brian Horgan’s Templederry put one over on Nenagh. The Kenyons seem to have resumed where they ended last year. Elsewhere Killenaule scored a boring win over Eire Og Annacarty on a weekend in which the West fared very poorly overall.

The Western Kickhams came up just two short after a brave effort against J.K. Bracken’s and Cappawhite were a point adrift of Moneygall in another crucial game. Boherlahan fell to a pair of Philip Ivors’ goals for Ballingarry, so already the shadow of relegation is looming for some sides.

Some interesting results too from the intermediate grade. Davins were whitewashed by Newport and Cashel could only score five points in defeat to Galtee Rovers. No fast-track return to senior, it seems, for the recently relegated.