There have been many great days and nights in Waterford hurling this past decade, but few have been sweeter than Wednesday’s stunning 3-21 to 2-14 win over Tipperary in sunny Dungarvan.
From the superb Adrian Power between the sticks to hat-trick hero Thomas Ryan in the inside forward line; Wednesday’s display must rank as one of the greatest by any Waterford team in any era. This isn’t hyperbole: Waterford really were that good.
To Tipperary’s credit, led as one anticipated by Noel McGrath, a prodigious talent destined for greatness, their defeat couldn’t be attributed to poor play or a lack of effort.
Waterford simply imposed their will upon the defending champions, dominating in virtually every sector of play for three-quarters of an absorbing, enthralling, niggle-free tie. These were two teams who came to hurl and what an exhibition they provided.
Just hours before the Space Shuttle Endeavour finally surged into space, Waterford’s hurling was sprinkled with stardust in a performance full of guile, finesse and guts.
It was as if the Munster-winning minors had shared their sheet music with Shane Ahearne’s side, such was their work ethic, such was the cohesiveness of their play and such was the quality of their hurling. This was a ‘one for the grandkids’ sort of night.
At half-time, Waterford led by a single point (2-6 to 1-8), with Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan rueing a couple of wayward strikes that ought to have yielded a couple of scores for the visitors.
Tipp were the quicker to rise from the blocks and led by 1-2 to 0-1 inside eight minutes, with Pa Bourke billowing the ball beyond Adrian Power.
Initially over-run in midfield and struggling to win ball off either puck-out, Waterford introduced Shane Walsh for Abbeyside’s Sean O’Hare in the centre of the paddock after 22 minutes. The Ballygunner man’s impact was immediate, altering the complexion of a stirring tie.
Much of the supply into McGrath and Callanan was cut off thereafter and during the second half, Tipp’s half-forward line were increasingly forced outside Waterford’s 65 to try and gain possession. It made scores harder to come by against the free-flowing hosts.
Thanks to the lively Ryan’s goals and the unwavering free-taking of the magnificent Maurice Shanahan, Waterford settled into a rhythm and controlled much of the second half.
All 12 starting forwards in both teams scored on the night, reflecting the quality of the game. And while McGrath fought valiantly for Tipp, there was little doubt that Waterford, who registered 1-15 after the break, were value for their victory.
Tipperary’s graciousness in defeat has never been doubted, as one Premier supporter exemplified when striding across the superb playing surface to congratulate ecstatic Deise boss Shane Ahearne.
“I’ve one wish in the world,” he told ‘Shiner’ while shaking his hand. “Go on and win the All-Ireland. I know Clare had a big win tonight [over Limerick in the other semi], but ye had twice as big a one. Good man, best of luck to ye.”
On an evening when the spirit of the game equalled the quality of the hurling, the occasion could not have asked for a more suitable bookend. Na Déisigh abú!