With fifteen minutes to go, this provincial decider looked to be going down to the wire. Tipperary forward Josh Keane hitting a free to level matters at 1-11 to 0-14. Think again as the home side outscored their opponents 1-6 to 0-1 to win the U21 crown for the first time in twenty-two years.
This Waterford team came into the contest with the hopes of a county on their shoulders. It was this same panel three years ago which were All Ireland Minor hurling champions, a championship which introduced Austin Gleeson, Stephen Bennett and DJ Foran to the masses. Tipperary came into this decider under the radar somewhat; their panel was not as littered with senior stars but there was genuine confidence within the Premier County that the team could produce a performance and upset the odds with the likes of Ronan Maher in the side.
The opening quarter was a nervy affair. Waterford hit the first four points of the contest mainly in part to the unerring free taking of Patrick Curran. The hosts could have extended their advantage but poor shot selection let Tipperary back into the contest courtesy of wing forward Andrew Coffey who had a pleasant opening period hitting three points. Tipperary somehow led with five minutes to go even though Waterford were dominating the aerial exchanges as Brian Hogan repeatedly hit puckouts long into the Waterford half-back line where Gleeson was dominating with some superb catches.
The decisive score of the half came just before half-time when a mishit Patrick Curran free from the sideline was hit to the net by Bennett who superbly rescued the miscue to pull to the net giving Hogan no chance. The goal was pivotal. Bennett knew it and gave plenty of sledging to his Tipperary marker for good measure.
Another decisive incident went the home side’s way when the mercurial Gleeson was lucky to stay on the pitch when he let rip with his fist on Josh Keane’s helmet. A clear red card offense for striking but the match officiating crew who were well positioned flat out blotched the decision, gave the star attraction on show a yellow card. The reaction of Donal O’Grady spoke volumes; a laugh. Tipperary would be forgiven to know then that this was not going to be their night.
It is a shame that I have to even mention this incident as Gleeson was head and shoulders the best player on show. He has the full range of skills but in recent times, there is a trend where Gleeson likes to get involved in incidents which are nothing to do with him. It is good to send out the message that you are not going to be bullied by the opposition but one of these days, Gleeson will walk the line when his county need him most.
The second half was a strange affair; the third quarter ebbed and flowed as both sides enjoyed good spells but Waterford put this game to bed in the final quarter. They blew Tipperary away with some sensational hurling skills culminating in the second goal scored by Peter Hogan, the lead-up to the goal has to be ranked as one of the moves of the year. The vision of Bennett to pick out the run of Hogan was sublime. Game over as the ball was emphatically put to the net giving Tipperary goalkeeper no chance.
Waterford sensed the end was nigh and as Tipperary opened up to look for a way back into the contest, cue Gleeson to score a couple of long range points. Tipperary had no answers to the fatal blows and Gleeson’s fifth point of the night signaled the end of the contest and a ten point victory. Cue mass celebrations from the Walsh Park faithful!
The Deise will enter the All Ireland Series in good confidence; they should be too strong for Antrim and with Dublin / Galway in the decider, few will go beyond them in the All Ireland final but please Waterford, let your hurling do the talking, less of the goading; it got flat out embarrassing at the end of this decider (fist pumps, sledging).
Tipperary were well beaten but contributed to a fascinating encounter. Coffey, Lanigan, Keane, Maher (Phil and Ronan) were excellent and the conveyor belt of talent continues in the Premier County.
The night belongs to Waterford. Congratulations to all concerned and perhaps this is the momentum required to produce a performance against Kilkenny in the All Ireland SHC Semi-Final in ten days. U21 Juggernaut has left Munster. Destination: All Ireland Domination.