Waterford 1-12 Tipperary 2-13
Despite facing ploughing match conditions for the second time in a month, the hurlers of Waterford and Tipperary still managed to serve up a lively 70 minutes in Sunday’s NHL opener.
Deprived seven regular players, Davy Fitzgerald, sporting golf shoes given the underfoot conditions, was reasonably pleased with his lot come full-time.
The same sentiment applied to opposite number Liam Sheedy, whose Premiermen would have won by a greater margin had it not been for the superb reflexes of Waterford stopper Clinton Hennessy.
It was an eventful day for the Ardmore man, who rifled home a 21-metre free to give the hosts aspirations of a grandstand finish just 10 minutes from time.
Yet before Hennessy had the chance to resume a normal breathing pattern, he was powerless to prevent Paul Kelly’s powerful drive zipping into the net, as Tipperary restored their seven-point margin, ensuring victory in so doing.
Despite the soft surface, which chopped up in a matter of minutes, both teams produced some terrific passages of play, with most of the quality being provided by Tipp in the opening 35 minutes.
Limiting Waterford to just a single first half score from play (a peach from Dan Shanahan), Declan Fanning, Conor O’Mahony and Benny Dunne excelled in the early exchanges, with Fanning enjoying a great tussle with Shanahan.
To Waterford’s credit, they excellently stuck to the cause, with James Murray and Eoin Murphy combining brilliantly on the left flank to stymie the threats of Willie Ryan and Patrick Kerwick repeatedly.
But Tipp’s greater share of territory and possession was destined to yield a goal, despite Hennessy’s heroics, and it eventually arrived through a well-struck Kerwick effort after 33 minutes.
Hennessy denied John O’Brien and debutant Patrick Maher certain goals in the 27th and 29th minutes (deflecting the latter’s effort over the bar) and smothered well on the half-hour after O’Brien advanced on goal.
Trailing by just six points at half-time thanks to their goalkeeper’s heroics, Waterford were still in with a shout and, as it was in Carrickbeg four weeks previously, they produced a much improved second half effort.
Despite two early points from Tipp captain Willie Ryan, the Deisemen didn’t panic and went on to produce their best hurling of the afternoon.
Stephen Molumphy kicked a point over from close range in the 39th minute, before Seamus Prendergast added another within 60 seconds.
Ryan fired over another free to put Tipperary eight points up, causing consternation on the Munster Express-sponsored scoreboard, which credited Tipp with 1-70 for a couple of minutes!
The exchanges grew in their intensity, but Barry Kelly kept the yellow card firmly tucked away on a day when another official might have chosen to brandish.
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, deployed at centre-back, produced some magnificent fielding, as Conor O’Mahony had in the first half; both proving a pleasure to watch over the 70 minutes.
And while Tipp went eight minutes without a score, Seamus Prendergast struck twice to leave six points between the sides.
Substitute John Devane registered a fine point in the 57th minute before Hennessy stepped up to the mark to lash the ball beyond Brendan Cummins.
Yet before you could get a verse of ‘Slievenamon’ in, Kelly had blasted the ball home at the other end to seal the deal for the defending champions.
Late points from Jack Kennedy, Stephen Molumphy, Patrick Hurney and Maurice Shanahan demonstrated the understrength Deise’s spirit on a day when Tipp’s greater experience and firepower proved the difference.
A trip to Ennis, which should prove an emotional homecoming for Davy Fitzgerald now beckons for Waterford.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy; Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors; Richie Foley, Michael Walsh, James Murray; Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle; Jack Kennedy, Gary Hurney, Seamus Prendergast; Shane Walsh, Dan Shanahan, Stephen Molumphy. Subs: Shane Casey for S Walsh (4 mins), Patrick Hurney for G Hurney (49 mins), Maurice Shanahan for Casey (59 mins), Thomas Connors for Nagle (69 mins).
Scorers: S Prendergast (0-5; 0-2f, 0-2 65′), Hennessy (1-0f), Molumphy (0-2), D Shanahan, M Shanahan, Kennedy, Nagle, P Hurney (0-1 each).
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins; Conor O’Brien, Declan Fanning, Paul Curran; Benny Dunne, Conor O’Mahony, Diarmaid Fitzgerald; Shane Maher, Thomas Stapleton; Pat Kerwick, Patrick Maher, James Woodlock; Paul Kelly, John O’Brien, Willie Ryan. Subs: John Devane for Kerwick (52 mins), Shane McGrath for Stapleton (62 mins), Pa Bourke for Ryan (67 mins), Seamus Callanan for Maher (70).
Scorers: Kerwick, Kelly (1-1 each), Ryan (0-4, 0-3f), Woodlock, Devane (0-2 each), O’Mahony (0-1 65′), Maher, Dunne (0-1 each).
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).