Deise can take the next step

Waterford’s Jake Dillon about to dispossess Tipperary’s Shane McGrath during the counties' dramatic NHL semi-fi nal at Nowlan Park

Waterford’s Jake Dillon about to dispossess Tipperary’s Shane McGrath during the counties' dramatic NHL semi-fi nal at Nowlan Park

Brian Flannery Reports

It’s really great that common sense has prevailed and we head to Semple Stadium for Sunday’s Munster Final.
There really is no disadvantage in playing in Thurles and as the saying goes if you can’t hurl in Semple, you can’t hurl.
Waterford are no strangers to the famed venue with two major victories there already this year and certainly nothing to fear in familiar surroundings.
Despite the fact that Waterford are the only unbeaten team in the country and were recently crowned League champions, it’s Tipperary that will justifiably carry the favourites tag going into this game. This is primarily based on the fact that the Premier have been the most consistent team in providing opposition to the all-conquering Kilkenny teams of recent years.
Tipperary were the width of a post from being crowned All-Ireland champions less than a year months ago and remain one of the favourites for this year’s title. An impressive performance last time out against Limerick confirms their current form isn’t too shabby either.
Much of the discussion this week concerned the contrast of styles between the two sides. It’s true that this Waterford has a very distinctive look which isn’t quite the swashbuckling style of the Justin McCarthy teams of the noughties.
It’s a more disciplined and organised side that is more like the Davy Fitzgerald managed Clare sides of recent years than any other. Waterford have perfected a game with Tadhg De Búrca laying deep to protect his full-back line with Jamie Barron, Colin Dunford and Kevin Moran adding further cover for the half back line.
Maurice Shanahan will once again play the ‘lone striker’ role with Jake Dillon, Stephen Bennett and likely Shane Bennett flooding the danger zones when the team is attacking.
The control and intelligence in possession displayed so far this year has been a winning formulae. Phenomenal work rate by all players has also been crucial in getting Waterford on the front foot this year.
The talent displayed by the likes of Austin Gleeson, Noel Connors, Michael Walsh and the rest of the team has elevated Waterford to title contenders.
The performances of goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe has also been important. The Ballygunner man is on the current All-Star shortlist with very competent displays together with accurate puck outs making him arguably the best no.1 in the hurling.
I expect that Shane Bennett’s recent displays against Cork in both senior and Under-21 grades will be enough to earn a starting berth this Sunday, most likely at the expense of Brian O’Halloran. O’Halloran with Tom Devine and Patrick Curran give manager Derek McGrath plenty of options off the bench if a change in attack is required.
Tipperary have some injury concerns with corner backs Paddy Stapleton and Cathal Barrett both struggling to recover from injury in time.
Noel McGrath of course is continuing his recovery from cancer but great to see the talented former All-Star well enough to attend last month’s semi-final.
The strength of this Premier side is their ability to score goals. They have a forward line with genuine goal threats. Seamus Callanan and John O’Dwyer are currently two of the best forwards in the country and have the ability to win games on their own. I’m sure Waterford management have noted this.
I expect Noel Connors will be assigned duty to pursue O’Dwyer with Barry Coughlan having Callanan for company.
This is Eamon O’Shea’s Tipperary so they will play a fairly regular formation with their forwards rotating from position to position, making them difficult to mark.
As always, the quality of the ball they receive will determine their success levels. Padraig Maher and Kieran Bergin have been the linchpins of their defence and much of their hopes rest on their shoulders.
I don’t imagine the Waterford backs will be as generous as their Limerick counterparts so it will be a tough existence for Tipp’s attack. In the league semi-final Tadhg De Búrca played almost the entire game in front of Seamus Callanan reducing his influence on the game considerably.
In this game Tipperary failed to convert a series of long range point attempts as Waterford players clogged the supply lines to the likes of Callanan & Co.
Jason Forde the former Nenagh CBS star is beginning to deliver on the underage promise he showed. In the semi-final Forde, the flame haired ‘Mines man was on fire hitting 1-3 to announce his arrival at senior level.
Tipperary have a number of weaknesses though. Their full back line is far from settled with both injuries and form being a problem. They still don’t quite know what to do with their team captain Brendan Maher.
A half-back on the 2010 All-Ireland title side, Maher now finds himself marooned at centre-forward. Unless he rediscovers his best form, Maher could easily find himself playing the ‘Tony Jacklin’ role, i.e. the non-playing captain.
Last time out Shane Bourke from JK Brackens was the option they used when they needing a change up front and let’s be kind and say that Shane Bourke isn’t causing any defender sleepless nights. This Tipperary team lack genuine strength in depth.
Waterford have a big decision to make regarding opposition puck-outs. I believe it is a risk to allow Tipperary easy possession from game restarts as they might just have the hurling to work the ball into positions that will make you pay.
If you push up on them you will force them to strike long and they haven’t shown to date any ability to win the high ball.
However, if you do man mark on their puck outs you won’t be able to assemble the kind of defensive screen that has worked so well to date. Decisions, decisions then.
But this is just the opposition and kind of game that may require a Plan B. If Plan A isn’t working have Waterford the ability to change on the hoof? Let’s hope we don’t need to find out.
Discipline and rigidity has worked to date. This occasion may require more subtly though. Waterford have the ball players to play it either way.
Champions do as required and get it done and Waterford are already League champions. Win, lose or draw the ultimate goal will remain come Sunday evening.
However, winning is infectious and I believe we can get ready to celebrate once more. Best of luck to players and management.

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