Shane Stapleton: Can Waterford finally burst Tipperary's bubble to claim Munster glory?

Shane Stapleton looks ahead to the Munster final, and the impact of Bubbles O'Dwyer's red card

Tipperary, Waterford, Munster hurling final, hurling,

Image: Waterford's Kevin Moran and Tipperary's Brendan Maher at the coin toss with referee James Owens. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

A great many of us have been that drunken eejit poking keys in the general direction of the door lock. You know the way, trying to focus one eye, then the other, and half-biting down on your tongue as you prod and jab to the discordant jingle your hand is composing.

Eventually, more often than not, the key bites and you just about fall into the house. Job done, but you made hard work of it.

Tipperary must have known that very real struggle against Limerick in the Munster semi-final, a day they were down to 14 men and left plenty of scores behind them.

If Seamus Callanan had shown the unforgiving accuracy that resulted in 14 championship goals over the two previous seasons, Limerick could’ve been beaten by a-point-a-man. The game’s most lethal, most proven, and most consistent non-striped forward comes into the Munster final after a checkered afternoon in front of the posts.

The truth, truth and damned facts of it was that Drom-Inch’s favourite son missed ten scoring chances, and 11 of his 14 possessions in open play went awry.

The point is not to criticise Callanan, whose classy goal that day was so important, but it’s indicative of a man still searching for his best form across a season pockmarked by injury. 

Waterford’s Barry Coughlan will attach himself to the forward as he did 12 months ago, and hope to again keep Tipp’s talisman scoreless from play. Not that there won’t be help around, with Tadhg De Burca always aware of what’s behind him.

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

For this reason, and in the hope of helping the team, Callanan may have to accept being wrapped up, and perhaps becoming something of a pawn.

Let him draw the attention of defenders, keep them away from the action in the middle-eight, and let others grab the headlines. See decoy James O’Donoghue against Donegal in the All-Ireland final of 2014.

Perhaps the full-forward will get a sniff at some point, and he will need to be at his sharpest to take it. As evidenced last year, Waterford’s gameplan is not built for chasing a lead, but it certainly works as a counter-attacking dream when they’re afforded a headstart.

Clare wing-back Davy Fitzgerald gifted the Deise 1-1 at the beginning of the Munster semi, and it helped shape the pattern thereafter.

And while Derek McGrath has coached this team brilliantly from a tactical point of view, he also has them eating the ankles of the opposition every time they lose the ball.

Composure

Waterford turned over the Banner 23 times and tallied 1-5 from those winnings, but the little green shoots for the Premier was seeing Clare amass 0-4 from ten such instances. Composure will be key on Sunday.

As much as Kilkenny ground Galway into the mud, recall how the Tribe tossed away their chance last week by repeatedly panicking in possession.

Granted, when you’ve been hassled and harried in a game, you’re more likely to imagine you have very little time when you take the next ball. That’s a fine excuse; well, at least it is if you don’t have All-Ireland aspirations.

So for Galway, they lost by seven points and if you can believe it, that’s precisely how much the Cats scored after being gifted possession by maroon men under no great pressure.

Recall the introduction of David McInerney against Waterford, when the brilliant Clare defender engaged in a seven-shoulders showdown with Austin Gleeson.

That was all well and good until the Tulla man went on to hit a wide, a fresh-air sideline, lose the ball twice, and then hit a last-gasp 21-yard free that made as much sense as Harry Kane taking corners. To labour the point, it’s all about composure.

Which brings us back to the Munster final, where both Waterford and Tipp will find themselves in a melting pot, but being asked to keep their cool. Hit the space, find the man, switch the play.

The John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer red card is a bigger issue in the long run than this Sunday, even though we saw in last year’s provincial decider that he will stand up when it’s needed.

Image: Tipperary's John O’Dwyer celebrates scoring a point. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Should Tipperary win, he’ll have played just 13 minutes of championship action between the Cork game and the All-Ireland semi-final on August 14 (84 days).

Another day’s battle

Manager Michael Ryan has plenty of back-up just now, and whether Niall O’Meara or Jason Forde spend more time on the field in Bubbles’ place, both men know from 2015 that they can perform and score well against this opposition.

Do Waterford’s players know that? Well they’ve contested five provincial deciders since 2009 and Noel Connors, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and Kevin Moran will all start, survivors from the victorious 2010 final.

Here’s the flipside: they’ve lost the other four big Munster days to Tipperary (2009, ’11, ’12 and ’15). It’s been eight years — can you imagine it? — since Waterford last stood over Tipp after 70 championship minutes.

Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

The Premier are beatable, but we need to see a progression in the Deise’s play. They didn’t have Pauric Mahony or Shane Bennett 12 months ago, and now Austin Gleeson is honing his role further upfield. That's not to be dismissed.

When games are this tight you must look at overriding factors. Who has the very best players on the field? The most match-winners? More experience? The better bench?

Tipp will have to make do without Bubbles, are wondering if Callanan will bring his sniper rifle, and don’t know if the likes of Michael Breen can make the same impact against a less permeable defence. The suspicion is that Tipp on form — and with the harder edge they've been showing — won’t be stopped by a Waterford team that still feels a need to drop men back.

Still with half an invitation, and a decent start, we could see the Deise ribbons on the Munster Cup.

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