By Kieran Rooney
SUDDENLY we have a real final on our hands. Tipperary's 3-19 to 1-18 All-Ireland semi-final victory over Waterford at Croke Park last Sunday provided sufficient evidence that there will be nothing straightforward about Kilkenny's bid to win five in a row.
Throw in the anticipated absence of Henry Shefflin and an injury to Tommy Walsh and the odds narrow a bit further. Okay, Kilkenny will still start favorites but expect a real battle when these two great rivals clash for a second successive decider on September 5.
Who would have thought it when Tipperary went down so disappointingly (3-15 to 0-14) at the end of May to Cork in the quarter-final of the Munster Championship? Most pundits wrote them off.
The problem is that too often the media deals in extremes. On the basis of one poor performance Tipperary were written off. Yet, this was the same Tipp team that had come within a whisker of beating Kilkenny in the previous year's All-Ireland final.
Perhaps the defeat to Cork did them a major favor. Just like all four semi-finalists in the All-Ireland Football Championship, they had the chance to regroup, beating Wexford and Offaly in the qualifiers before accounting for Galway in a memorable quarter-final.
As good as that dramatic victory over Galway was, Tipperary still had some questions to answer. They did so pretty emphatically against the reigning Munster champions.
Not everything was perfect against Waterford but most of what Tipp did was very good. For one thing, they were much improved defensively, an area which is clearly going to have to be very good if they are to have any chance against Kilkenny.
And just like Kilkenny, they have a habit of getting important goals. They scored three on Sunday, all of which came at important times.
For the opening 20 minutes there wasn't a lot in it. The sides were level five times but Tipp moved two points (0-7 to 0-5) clear before they scored the crucial first goal. Unsurprisingly, it was Lar Corbett who got it, brilliantly gathering a long delivery from Padraic Maher before turning and kicking the ball into the net.
Form that point on, there was only likely to be one outcome. Eoin Kelly's frees and John Mullane's accuracy from play kept Waterford in touch but there were they were 1-11 to 0-8 adrift at the interval.
To be fair, Waterford did rally at the start of the second half, reducing the deficit to three points. Furthermore, Tipperary supporters might just have been a bit worried to see Eoin Kelly missing a number of frees. But Kelly is too good a player to stay quiet for long.
He scored two goals, the first of which was a wonderful individual effort. Taking a line ball from Noel McGrath, he turned the Waterford defence inside out before calmly putting the ball into the net.
The second was also beautifully taken after good work by Corbett, not bad for a player who had been operating some way below his best. Tipperary were now well clear and very obviously not going to be caught.
All that remained for Waterford was for them to try and put a more respectable look on the scoreboard. They did this with substitute Eoin McGrath getting in for a late goal. But, in truth, Tipperary's final margin of seven points was probably a bit flattering to their Munster rivals.
Certainly, the Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald wasn't about to complain, admitting "the better team won." He continued: "I've no complaints. Tipp were tactically better and outfought us as well."
That's something which clearly surprised Fitzgerald given the great character his team had shown to win the Munster title. The Waterford boss also felt that Tipp had improved from their victory over Galway, particularly in defence.
But, on reflection, Fitzgerald might question why his team failed to come to terms with Tipperary's short puck outs. He didn't go into that, nor would he give an indication as to whether he is likely to continue in charge of Waterford.
"My latest two years are up, but I haven't a clue. I'll take a bit of time before deciding." he answered.
Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy has no such difficulties. He pulled off a few master strokes by recalling John O'Brien and playing Noel McGrath at centre-forward. McGrath delivered a Man of the Match performance, contributing seven points.
O'Brien was also outstanding at corner-forward. Brought in after a good display as a substitute against Galway, he started by missing an easy chance.
But from there on he could do little wrong, hitting six points from play. It was a performance which will surely earn him a starting place for the All-Ireland final.
Paul Curran, Conor O'Mahony, Padraic Maher, and Declan Fanning were all excellent in dealing with what Waterford had to throw at them while Shane McGrath was the quality performer in midfield. Overall then, a lot for Sheedy to feel satisfied about.
"We got the goals at the vital stages of the game and that gave us some breathing space. In fairness, we worked really hard." he stressed.
"There's no substitute for experience. We're just delighted to have got over the line and be back in an All-Ireland final."
Pushed as to what they might expect against Kilkenny, Sheedy argued that was for another day. No doubt, he will have plenty of time to gather his thoughts over the next three weeks.
[PHOTO BY PHOTOCALL]
Cats' worries mount
KILKENNY'S injury worries have been added to with the news that Tommy Walsh sustained a shoulder problem in a club outing for Tullaroan against James Stephens last Sunday.
The All-Star defender was in obvious pain after a second half clash with his Kilkenny colleague Jackie Tyrell. Walsh continued for a while but had to be substituted 10 minutes from time.
Now Kilkenny supporters face an anxious wait to see the full extent of the damage. Meanwhile here is now some talk that Henry Shefflin with the aid of modern medicine just might figure on the substitutes bench.
Argentina win at Aviva
THE Republic of Ireland soccer team had to contend with the absence of manager Giovanni Trapattoni through illness, the magical skills of Lionel Messi, and an offside goal as the went down 1-0 to Argentina at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday.
The 71-year-old Trapattoni required minor stomach surgery in a Dublin Hospital after feeling ill the night before the game. He is likely to return for Ireland's opening match of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign against Armenia on September 3.
In the meantime, he had to watch on television as a weakened Irish side had to battle throughout to contend Argentina. In Messi, the visitors had to outstanding player on the pitch and he caused Ireland plenty of problems before being substituted at the start of the second half.
While there was no doubting their superiority, Argentina were very fortunate with the winning goal. Angel Di Maria appeared well offside before hitting a 20th minute shot past Shay Given in the Irish goal.
Towards the end of a game, which marked Robbie Keane's 100th appearance for Ireland, the home side did create some half chances but were unable to break through for the equalizer.
Murphy, 17, takes silver
IRELAND has produced a new swimming star in 17-year-old Wexford girl Grainne Murphy.
Murphy's performance in capturing a silver medal in the 1,500 meters freestyle. In finishing second behind Erika Villaecija of Spain in Budapest last Saturday night, the Wexford swimmer produced the performance of her life.
Murphy produced a time of 16 minutes, 2.29 seconds, cutting eight seconds off the Irish record she had set in the heats. To put that in perspective, her time was the second fastest in the world this year.
The only problem is that the 1,500 meters is not an Olympic event. So, Murphy's concentration will be on the shorter swims prior to the 2012 London Olympics.
But she is well capable of doing so. That was proved when she came fourth in the 800 meters final earlier in the week, only missing out on a bronze medal by a mere five hundredths of a second.
By the time her final event, the 400 meters freestyle came around on Sunday, came around she was physically exhausted and failed to make the final. But overall it was a tremendous week for the Wexford teenager and Irish swimming in general.
"I learned a lot from having made the 400 meters individual medley and 800 meters freestyle finals." she explained. "That gave me the experience to go out and secure the silver medal in the 1,500 meters."
Leinster to play at Wembley
THE Leinster rugby team will play their second match in Pool Two of the Heineken (European) Cup against Saracens at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, October 16.
This will be the first occasion that a Heineken Cup match will be played at the home of English soccer. Saracens normally play their home games at Vicarage Road but have switched because of the much increased capacity of Wembley.
Wembley is now the second biggest stadium in Europe behind Barcelona's Camp Nou followin the 960 million pound redevelopment in 2007. The Saracens-Leinster match will have a 5.45pm kick-off.