It was a reprise of 2015 alright, but this time the wins came with added bonus points.
A drizzly, dreary event at the Gaelic Grounds, although the metaphorical sun shone for Tipperary.
Another double delight in Munster sees minors and seniors retain provincial crowns with huge surpluses.
The mood music was set by the minors and the seniors kept it all very sweet with that galloping second half against collapsing Waterford. A stress-free day of indulgence then by Tipperary as the bandwagon rolls on to Croke Park and bigger days in August.
Sport is fascinating in the way it can mock expectations. If anyone tells you they saw this coming then just nod your head and let it pass. A Waterford implosion of this magnitude was not part of any script and it’s intriguing to watch the reactions to the outcome.
The hurling public had become very uncomfortable in recent times. The traditionalists particularly were cringing at what they saw as football’s disease infecting hurling with its emphasis on sweepers and crowded middle thirds and a general suffocation of open, fluid play. Waterford seemed to epitomise that new trend.
Such an emphatic defeat of Waterford then has been interpreted in some quarters as a vindication of the old ways. Even watching a recording of ‘The Sunday Game’ you couldn’t miss the scarcely concealed delight of Michael Duignan with his expressed wish that this was the death knell of the sweeper system. He wasn’t alone in that view; Tipperary had some strange fans on Sunday evening.
Actually as one who has decried the sweeper system in the past I’m not so sure about the interpretations being put on Sunday’s outcome. Was it a defeat of the Waterford system or simply a defeat of Waterford – period? Remember Waterford has an unfortunate history of such collapses which pre-date any talk of systems, sweeper or otherwise. Maybe this was just an old rogue gene resurfacing once again.
In any case I think talk of a Waterford ‘system’ has been exaggerated. Okay they play a sweeper, sometimes two, but a more important aspect has been the mass mobility of the team where they’d defend in numbers and then move in waves. It’s a tactic that requires a lot of energy and an ensemble effort from everyone. There was always the danger that they’d hit a day when that energy wouldn’t be in the legs - and Sunday was such an occasion.
One second half incident illustrates the point. Austin Gleeson got possession around midfield, got stopped in his tracks and had to look for support. On other days he’d have had runners coming off the shoulder to feed but this time they weren’t there. He had to turn and back pass out to Pauric Mahony. Mahony actually pointed from distance, one of only two second half scores from play, but that little cameo indicates how their normal pattern was disrupted this time.
In part at least Tipperary’s savage work rate, ‘obair na gcapall’ as they say on TG4, was part of the problem for Waterford. This has been a Michael Ryan trademark where you work your socks off chasing down runners, getting in the little blocks, hooks, flicks and baulks. It’s a policy that has earned Dan McCormack his place on the team.
So did Tipperary suddenly find a secret code to unlock the Waterford system? I don’t think so. It was more a case of working slavishly and hitting the Deise on a day when their energy tanks ran dry.
Even our match-winning goals didn’t originate from any tactical bypassing of sweepers. The all came from long deliveries into a crowded goal area where you’d expect numerical advantage to be with the defence and its sweeper. Crucially however we competed strongly in the air and then fed off the breaking ball.
John McGrath’s role of course was critical in that attacking effort. He peeled away for the break on the first one and when Waterford goalie, Stephen O’Keeffe, made a hash of a simple shot, McGrath followed up with the tap in.
Then in the second half it was the McGrath show once more. Once again a high ball into the ‘kitchen’ was the Tipperary ploy. Credit Niall O’Meara’s competing on the second goal; John McGrath still had a lot to do when he got possession. A great fetch by McGrath set up Breen for the third goal. Callanan’s penalty brought the fourth and again the fifth resulted from a breaking ball, which the full forward buried.
In all of these there was no tactical, chessboard maneuvering to outflank the sweeper, instead just the ‘modh díreach’, a high ball in, compete for it and then pounce on the break. It can be a simple game really.
In the end it was all very smooth and one-sided though even at half time I didn’t sense that turnaround.
Okay we were well placed at the interval after facing the wind and taking a two-point lead to the dressing room. Waterford hadn’t looked particularly menacing, their emphasis on defence left us very secure at the back and their wides tally suggested a wayward day for the Deise. Against that John McGrath’s goal was the only score to come from our forwards where we were winning very little primary possession in attack. It still looked an open game albeit with advantage to Tipperary.
The second half fall-out was dramatic as you could sense each score further deflating Waterford. By the end it truly was a spectacular crash.
From a Tipperary perspective there was obviously much to admire. The defence looked very commanding, Cathal Barrett again the individual eye-catcher with those characteristic lunges outfield. Seamus Kennedy continues to enhance his reputation, strong in the air, great to block and sensible with his distribution.
Midfield continued the pattern of recent games, Breen once again finding that path to goal. I liked the tweet from a Cork source about a certain Kilkenny player double jobbing with Tipperary. The Michael Fennelly comparison continues.
John McGrath obviously was the main man in attack; he’s building some reputation. All the others too contributed well, ‘Bonner’ even getting on the score sheet and Callanan faultless on the frees; I loved his little tap up for a second half point, a real touch of class. Through it all nobody even mentioned ‘Bubbles’.
I’m genuinely disappointed for Waterford, not that they lost but because they suffered such a walloping. It won’t be easy to pick up the pieces from here and they’ve very little time to readjust. I like Derek McGrath, he comes across as honest and dignified in victory or defeat. I think they’ve got the easier qualifier draw and despite their critics I think it would be unwise to make dramatic changes to their style. The danger is that this will be such a deflationary moment that the damage will be longer term.
A final comment on the senior match: I’ve criticised Eddie Brennan in the past but must compliment him this time on his highlighting of the inconsistent refereeing calls on foul play. How that head-high tackle that sent the helmet spinning off Bonner’s head went without even a yellow card is incomprehensible. By comparison ‘Bubbles’ offence was minor.
Unfortunately for the minors their great achievement gets overshadowed by the senior event. It’s a pity because this has been a remarkable story since their initial defeat by Waterford back in April. They’ve regrouped, reshaped and re-energised to retain that Munster cup with some style.
This was a smashing display by the teenagers combining a heavy dose of hard graft with some really classy touches. How often did we see a Limerick player in possession get chased down and turned over without conceding a free.
As the game wore on they simply overpowered Limerick throughout the field and Liam Cahill’s job now will be to keep heads from inflating after such a resounding win.
Michael Bevans is getting a lot of praise for his coaching of this side and obviously it’s a management team that’s working really well. Galway will surely be a major roadblock later on but for the moment they deserve their day in the sun after such an emphatic win.
A final word on Munster final day: Munster Council needs to reconsider its venue selection. I know there are many factors that affect attendances but likewise I’ve no doubt that the venue was a significant one on Sunday. Whether it’s primitive toilet facilities, lack of covered accommodation (especially for loyal season ticket holders) or general accessibility there are simply too many negatives attached to the Gaelic Grounds. Having Hawkeye in Thurles is another consideration and I’d need a lot of convincing that Semple Stadium gives Tipperary any advantage on Munster final day. Maybe Waterford should reflect on their attitude to the venue issue too.
Finally it really has been an ‘annus horribilis’ for Cork hurling who just seem to hit new lows every time they play these days. Within a matter of less than two weeks U21s, minors and seniors were sent packing. It’s a horror story for such a proud county and obviously there’s no evidence that they’ll rebound any time soon.
P.S. Our U21s face Limerick on Thursday night. They’ll be outsiders so hopefully the present buoyant mood in the county will lift all boats. Good luck to them.