Pretty hurling at Nowlan Park it was anything but. Yet it’s seldom a classic is played on the sort of day that would have moved Saint Nick to keep his antlered transport indoors.
In the end, Waterford relinquished a title they won in such style last spring rather meekly, which was a surprise given that only a point separated the sides with 18 minutes remaining.
Yet following Dave Bennett’s well-taken free, a solitary Seamus Prendergast point was all that the Deisemen would add to their tally, with Tipperary finishing much the stronger side.
On a day more conducive for hurling at the same stage of the NHL last year, Waterford and Tipp played out a fast-moving cracker which came with the bonus of extra-time.
But as morning drifted into afternoon, with snow and hail the order of the day, the chances of a repeat humdinger this time around blew off in the wind that galed through Kilkenny.
Even the sport’s greatest lover will concede that a poor game of hurling is possible as a physical, 70-minute entity. But even the most skilled practitioners cannot produce silk purses given the pig’s ear weather that hit their chilled forms when hitting the sod.
There were innumerable occasions during Sunday’s match when players huddled over a fallen stick wielder spread-eagled over the sliothar.
Like council men standing over a pothole, or like cold lads looking for a bit of warmth off each other on a brass monkey Sabbath, such get-togethers were all too frequent during this physical encounter.
Thankfully, referee Brian Gavin justly ruled that a player on all fours crouching over the ball was in fact committing a foul.
It’s an offence not nearly punished enough and it would be welcome to see more refs doing what they can to clamp down on what’s become a ‘professional foul’, for want of a better phrase, in Gaelic games.
More often than not, the Offaly whistle-carrier made the right calls on a day when a less level-headed conductor might well have brandished a few red cards.
From the off, there was a lot of silly beggars/handbags stuff going on across various junctures of the pitch which required swift and decisive action from the man in black.
But, however unseemly some of Sunday’s altercations looked, none of it ever really threatened to kick off into anything too anarchic and Gavin kept the carta dearg safely tucked away.
And with nothing but handshakes shared by both sets of players after the final whistle, Gavin’s prudent approach was well-founded.
So let’s deal with the negatives and the positives. Not for the first time this year, Justin McCarthy’s attackers lacked the level of threat that has made them one of hurling’s great entertainers this decade.
Yet despite that, this remained a quarter-final which Waterford could still have won despite the lack of harmony demonstrated by the forwards.
Several national newspaper reports on Sunday’s game, along with Monday morning water cooler chat reflected on Dan Shanahan failing to get on the scoreboard.
This is what happens when a player attains miracle-maker type status: the rabbit is expected to be plucked from the hat game in, game out. And when that doesn’t happen, the inevitable ‘dip in form’ comments follow.
Now, it’s players and managers who utter ‘you’re only as good as your last game’ loudest and you can bet your week’s lunch money that Dan Shanahan is more annoyed than any supporter has been these past few days.
The Hurler of the Year hasn’t lost his mojo or anything like that, and anyone suggesting otherwise clearly doesn’t know one end of a hurley from the other.
For most of Sunday’s match, Shanahan was shackled in leech-like proportions by Conor O’Brien, and a second Tipp back was never too far away from the Lismore man at any time.
So let’s cut Shanahan some slack, shall we and give credit to an excellent display from the young Tipp corner-back. Big Dan will come good.
Yes, Waterford aren’t firing on all cylinders and, yes, there were far too many wayward pucks hit from depth.
But let’s be honest, if they were, there’d probably be even more supporters, fickle lot that we are, worried that the team was ‘peaking too early’. Such an accusation certainly can’t be made this time around.
But the ‘heart to heart’ that McCarthy is said to have shared with his players in the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat suggests that training between now and June 1st will carry an additional edge.
As for positives, Kevin Moran’s display at full-back was enormously encouraging. The De La Salle man was brave and bold enough to come looking for high ball rather than letting inswingers fall into his path and was assured and confident throughout.
Time alone will tell if Moran is the long-term solution for the position, but what an impression he made in a spot which has been a selectorial head-scratcher in recent years.
In the second half, Ken McGrath produced a few of those moments we’ve long come to expect of him – physical power on and off the ball, a cool head in possession and some trademark high fetching.
It’s a pleasure to see one of the game’s most consistent players continue to demonstrate the sort of application and desire that smacks of a hurler who’s got some unfinished business to tend to.
Credit too must go to Tony Browne and Jack Kennedy for their respective contributions to a cohesive half-back line display.
In equal measure, though most of his scores came via frees on Sunday, Dave Bennett’s ongoing service to the county merits mention.
He’s never been a headline grabber in the manner that McGrath, Flynn or Shanahan have grown accustomed to, yet Bennett has never failed to answer the call.
Be it in midfield or in the half-back line where he was deployed earlier this year, Dave Bennett’s contribution to the Waterford cause shouldn’t be underestimated.
His centre-field colleague Michael Walsh produced another storming display; with Brick’s head-to-head with Tipp’s Shane McGrath providing the game’s highlight.
While there’s ample room for improvement between now and the Munster Championship, and little doubt that Waterford remain a team searching for form, there’s no need to panic yet.
Things can only get better and in Waterford’s case they surely will.