A glorious 12th awaits in Tom Semple’s famed field

July the 12th is traditionally a day celebrated by those who view William of Orange’s success by the Boyne 309 years ago as a good thing.

This year, south of the border, those sporting white and blue as well as blue and gold will be pounding the tarmac towards Tom Semple’s field to make that particular day their own.

In this, the 125th anniversary of the GAA, in Dúrlas Eile where the Association was founded, Tipperary, the Munster champions of 2008, will take on Waterford, the Munster champions of 2007.

A thunderous Munster final surely lies in store between the counties separated by the Suir, which just happens to flow through Thurles.

For the modern day Waterford supporter, trips to the Munster final have almost come to be expected. Historically, unlike Tipp or Cork, we’ve never been in the position to entertain the notion that a place in the final came as a sporting birthright.

But the current group of players, along with all those who have proudly worn the county colours since the late 1990s, have truly spoiled us rotten in this respect.

A fortnight on Sunday, Waterford will compete in their sixth provincial decider since 1998, their fifth final in this decade alone.

In that time, there have also been three National League final appearances and of course last September’s long-awaited All-Ireland final trip: that’s 10 finals in a dozen seasons.

It’s a point that those who like nothing more than a good moan about our team’s fortunes (or so-called lack thereof) should reflect upon.

And should any readers be troubled with the prospect of ‘another’ trip (hopefully trips) to Croke Park this summer, then please consider the following.

The 2009 Munster final represents Waterford’s 24th appearance in the southern province’s hurling showpiece. Sixteen such finals had been held before the Deise reached its first final in 1903, which they went on to lose by 5-16 to 1-1 to Cork. A further 22 years passed before Waterford shadows were cast across a Munster final sod again, but this time it was Tipp dishing out the punishment to the men in white (6-6 to 1-2).

Further defeats to Cork (1929 and 1931 – after a replay) and Limerick (1933 and 1934) were experienced before the Deise, captained by Mick Hickey, finally became Munster champions in 1938.

In 1948, Waterford exacted retribution for their 1943 Munster final loss at the hands of the Rebels when turning Cork over by 4-7 to 3-9, en route to their maiden All-Ireland title.

The ‘golden generation’ led by Frankie Walsh, Tom Cheasty and Philly Grimes inspired Waterford to three successive Munster final appearances from 1957 to ‘59, defeating Cork in both while losing to Tipp in ‘58.

Fifty years on, Waterford await Liam McCarthy’s return. Provincial success over Tipp in their own backyard this time around would see them through to the All-Ireland semi-final yet again. It’s a tantalising prospect.

While the great Waterford team would win another Munster crown in 1963 (defeating Tipp by three points), they went down to Kilkenny in a classic All-Ireland, despite scoring a half-dozen goals.

In 1966, the Deise were turned over by Cork (4-9 to 2-9) and didn’t appear in another final until 1982, when Cork dished out the heaviest final defeat in Waterford’s history (5-31 to 3-6). Twelve months later, John Galvin and co again lost heavily to Cork, but ‘only’ by 19 points on that occasion.

In 1989, the first Munster final to be screened live on RTE, Waterford were defeated by a Nicky English-inspired Tipperary (0-26 to 2-8), with the Premier going on to win a first All-Ireland in 18 years.

Almost a decade would pass before the Deise would return to the provincial final and Gerald McCarthy’s side hurled brilliantly to tie with Clare in Thurles. Alas, things didn’t go so well in a rain-sodden replay when the Banner surged to a 12-point victory.

Since the turn of the century, Waterford have won three titles, defeating Tipperary in 2002, Cork in the 2004 classic and Limerick two years ago. In 2003, they went down to Cork by four points, a game marked by John Mullane’s magnificent hat-trick.

Look at it this way: between 1963 and 1989, Waterford played in five Munster finals, failing to feature in a single edition during the 1970s. They’re now preparing to play in their fifth such final in eight years. Heady hurling times indeed.

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