When asked what were his special memories of Munster hurling finals in Thurles, Tipperary full-back James Barry immediately referenced the epic encounters between Cork and Waterford that illuminated Semple Stadium .
That a Tipperary fullback should point to such classic Munster Finals that did not involve Tipperary but Sunday’s opponents illustrates perfectly the special relationship Waterford have with Semple Stadium.
It represents Waterford’s favourite ground in the country and their record in Thurles justifies their desire to take on Tipperary there on Sunday.
Waterford have won three Munster titles, twice against Cork and Limerick in Semple Stadium between 2004 and 2010 which compares favourably with Tipperary’s Munster title haul in their own stadium, two titles since 1960 - a 2009 victory over Waterford and a replay against Cork in 1991.
Both teams go into Sunday’s much anticipated clash on the back of comprehensive semi final displays. It is quite some time since Tippeary made such an emphatic statement of intent in opening their Munster chamionship campaign as they did against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds when they demolished their tormentors of the previous two years.
That victory on the same day as Kilkenny saw off a Wexford challenge in similar fashion put in perspective who were the main contenders for All-Ireland honours this year. Galway were dispatched by Kilkenny last Sunday in the Leinster final and now Tipperary have to match that by accounting for a rapidly emerging Waterford team to back up their credentials as the most likely team of the chasing bunch capable of dethroning Kilkenny.
Securing a first Munster championship win for manager Eamon O’Shea was the perfect start to a campaign for a Tipperary team focussed on securing silverware in September following last year’s Hawkeye heartbreak and subsequent defeat in the replay.
If Tipperary are to prevail on Sunday they will have to find their way through a Waterford defence that has performed very well throughout their impressive unbeaten run this year.
Waterford have a settled back six, a combination that has served them well in their league promotion success, their league final victory and championship victory over Cork.
They conceded just one goal, an injury time penalty to Patrick Horgan, in the two Cork games in Semple Stadium and they now have the security of having top defender Darragh Fives back traning after a lengthy injury and in contention.
Throughout that entire league campaign Waterford’s defensive set up, with Tadgh de Burca acting as a sweeper, proved very effective.
Tipperary however were the team to cause the biggest problems for Derek McGrath’s strategy during the league when Seamus Callanan ran the full back line ragged in the opening quarter of the league semi final in Nowlan Park.
Callanan won every ball, laying off for a brilliant Bonner Maher goal and Bubbles O’Dwyer struck for another goal in a blistering thirteen minute opening spell.
Waterford in previous years would have folded under such intense scrutiny but they recovered to keep their unbeaten league run intact which was a measure of the progress being made by Derek McGrath’s charges and the system they adhere to.
Sunday’s outcome will hinge on the ability of Callanan, O’Dwyer and the in-form Jason Forde to repeat what they did against Limerick with every Tipperary player involved applying the same workrate and level of intensity they brought to the Gaelic Grounds showdown. Four Tipp goals was a huge haul and of the twenty three points scored all but four came from play. If Tipperary can put in another consistent scoring performance on Sunday they will have to apply the utmost discipline not to give away frees.
Waterford have lost their freetaker supreme in Pauric Mahony. Of the thirteen points he scored agasint Tipperary in Nowlan Park, twelve were from frees but Maurice Shanahan has proven to be an able stand-in and Tipperary have to keep the free count down to the minimum. Something has to give in this Semple Stadium battle, either Waterford’s unbeaten run this year will come to a halt or Tipperary’s opening statement of intent will crumble.
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