Tipperary’s Conor Bowe pulls away from Waterford’s Jack Prendergast and Stephen Bennett.

Players show they have the mentality, now for Tipp to do it consistently

Waterford v Tipperary analysis

By Shane Brophy

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a talented team under-performing on a consistent basis. Sometimes it can be easily fixed, while there are also other occasions when you have to hit rock-bottom before you realise what you are doing isn’t enough and last Saturday was one of those for Tipperary.

Their hurling can be better but this game against Waterford was primarily about redemption, proving to themselves that they weren’t as poor as they showed against Limerick. Every aspect of the group, from the players to the management and the timing of the pre-championship training camp was questioned as to why Tipp looked so far off the pace.

Not only was the response everything that Tipperary supporters desired, they got it and more, as not only did they also have to overcome adversity pre-game, they had to endure so much more of it in-game, but they never lost focus as with every set-back, either self-inflicted or big refereeing decisions going against them, they kept responding in a positive manner. When the latter happens, mentally weak teams can throw in the towel and play in a frustrated way, conceding cheap frees and in some cases, getting sent off.

Seeing the way Noel McGrath greeted Liam Cahill coming off the field following his substitution is an indication of how united this group of players is with the management, and that bond is going to be crucial if Tipp are to build on this performance.

Arguably the next two weeks will be as difficult for the group as the six days were prior to last Saturday’s game, as they now have to find a way of re-producing the same level of passion, grit, determination, and teak-tough mentality. That won’t be easy as it is hard to tap into that for every game, but the players now know how important a steeled mentality is to have themselves primed to perform.

Every player to a man rose their levels against Waterford, but none more so than Mark Kehoe. A talented player, his lack of consistency is frustrating but here he produced his best performance in a Tipp jersey, not just with his four points from play, but also his sheer leadership to get on the ball, and his ability in that regard grew as the game went on, particularly in those closing stages when he got onto two puckouts that had to be won which resulted in key scores, including Sean Kenneally’s late goal.

Waterford will say that goal was a square-ball, off the save from Shaun O’Brien, but Tipp will argue the break was earned, as well as the last gasp Alan Tynan free. Any another time in the game, you can see that free not given but Tynan’s run forced Tadhg de Burca to engage and when he went into challenge around the shoulder area, he gave the referee a decision to make and in that situation in a one-point game, the referee will always award the free in.

Coupled with the high challenge by Patrick Maher on Darragh Lyons not long after entering the fray, Waterford will rightly argue the late calls went against them but still overall they pale into those that went against Tipp as all three Deise goals had controversy attached.

Both the first and third green flags were similar in nature as it is hard to see where the fouls were, firstly on Michael Kiely for the awarding of the penalty, exacerbated by referee James Owens running across the eye-line of both goalkeeper Barry Hogan and the striker Stephen Bennett, which should have been re-taken.

The third goal came off a free where Tipp were penalised for lying on the ball which again was extremely harsh as all the players were attempting to win possession. That being said, Tipp learned a harsh lesson in switching off from the free, particularly Bryan O’Mara who moved to the wrong side of the semi-circle, failing to observe that Bennett was lurking unmarked in the vicinity of Dessie Hutchinson who was standing over the free. It was ballsy stuff by the Waterford duo as if Tipp stopped the shot, it was an easy point not taken but the gamble paid off.

The second Waterford goal in the 28th minute was equally controversial as O’Mara was blatantly blocked off by Kevin Mahony in his attempt to get a challenge on Dessie Hutchinson who then had extra space to pick out the unmarked Jack Prendergast who fired to the net. The linesman saw the incident and brought it to the attention of the referee who booked Mahony but incredibly still allowed the goal to stand.

At this point, frustration among the Tipperary fans in the stand was boiling over with the big calls not going their way, including two fouls in quick succession on Cathal Barrett, the second by Michael Kiely a border-line red card offence with a high challenge despite, following which Waterford got a point from the subsequent line-ball.

Despite all that, the Tipperary players still managed to keep their heads and play some decent hurling, it can be better as the first touch was off, and that was understandable considering the pressure they were coming in under as another loss here and their championship hopes were hanging by a thread.

If Tipp can hurl to their confident best, there is so much more to come from his group. It helped that the team selected was boosted by the return of the experienced Cathal Barrett and Noel McGrath. In his first game of the inter-county season, Barrett was simply outstanding and silenced the doubters over the risk of starting a player with so little top level game-time.

He was part of a strong full-back line where Craig Morgan had his troubles with Dessie Hutchinson but holding him to three points from play was arguably a par score. Michael Breen was detailed on the marauding Stephen Bennett and while the Waterford man caused Tipp difficulty at times, this was the Ballina clubman’s best defensive display for his county.

The balance of the defence was helped by captain Ronan Maher moving to centre-back and from early on provided the leadership and assurance the rest of the team fed off, including wing backs Conor Bowe and particularly Bryan O’Mara who showed his true ability on the wing.

Eoghan Connolly took the game to Waterford in the early stages as his hard running yielded two points but also negated Jamie Barron for long spells, along side Alan Tynan who once again proved that midfield is his best position where he can get on ball and landed two big second half points.

Going forward, more can be expected from the half-forward line where Noel McGrath’s influence grew in the second half, as did Gearoid O’Connor, while Darragh Stakelum will get a lot of confidence from his first senior start. Things still aren’t fully flowing for Jake Morris either, particularly in terms of his silky touch, but he still never stopped going on the evening.

Jason Forde is having a tough time of things at the moment. Like a golfer, he is suffering a crisis of confidence with the yips from placed balls. One good game and the Silvermines clubman will be back to his best and maybe taking the frees off him next time out might see him hurl with less pressure and find his flow again.

The impact from the bench showed that Tipp’s depth remains strong with Partrick Maher and Willie Connors making notable contributions, while John McGrath looked somewhere near his best in his twenty minute cameo, getting on the ball, and needs to feed off that positivity as he still has a lot to contribute.

Sean Kenneally’s 1-1 contribution once again highlighted him as a young player of substance as well as his ability as the finish for the goal wasn’t straightforward with the ball under his feet but managed to manoeuvre himself enough to send the ball to the net.