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thriller Waterford hold off strong Tipp challenge to get off to a winning start

Waterford 2-24 Tipperary 2-20

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Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford celebrates scoring his side's second goal

Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford celebrates scoring his side's second goal

Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford celebrates scoring his side's second goal

National League champions, Waterford, survived a ferocious Tipperary challenge to get their Munster championship campaign underway with victory at a pulsating Walsh Park.

A crowd of 10,982 rode an emotional roller-coaster at the city venue, Waterford only pulling clear of the visitors in injury-time with points from Patrick Curran and Dessie Hutchinson to win by four.

It was a win that franked their strength in depth, men like Austin Gleeson and Jamie Barron coming off the bench to help Waterford overcome a four-points half-time deficit.

Heavy morning rain gave way to leave a slick, impeccably manicured surface, perfect for high-tempo hurling.

But Waterford’s status as strong favourites didn’t sit entirely well with locals, some lamenting rather melodramatically that their last Munster championship victory at this venue was way back in 1974.

It seemed a tokenistic protest, especially when just six minutes in the home side led 0-4 to 0-0 and were, seemingly, just easing through the gears here.

But all changed seconds later when Waterford captain, Conor Prunty, gambled by sprinting out to breaking ball only for Jason Forde to pick a gorgeous pass inside to an un-marked Mark Kehoe, the Kilsheelan-Kilcash man duly burying his shot to the net.

Now, suddenly, Waterford seemed to start second-guessing themselves. Liam Cahill’s men going the next ten minutes without a score, Tipp easing into an improbable 1-4 to 0-4 lead.

The League champions were looking especially nervous at the back, Tadhg de Burca clearly having his hands full trying to keep tabs on Tipp’s floating centre-forward, Noel McGrath.

In many respects, only Stephen Bennett’s frees were keeping Waterford in touch now, the Ballysaggart man getting to half-time with six conversions to his name.

Those scores couldn’t conceal Waterford’s general discomfort though, their edginess personified when a frazzled de Burca hand-passed straight to his direct opponent in the 21st minute, McGrath getting the second of three first-half points with ease.

Waterford had been lauded for a spectacular haul of 22 goals en route to their League title but, here, they looked over-eager to raise green flags, Tipp coping with relative ease in a defence marshalled superbly by Ronan Maher sitting on the D.

The visitors got to half-time 1-12 to 0-11 in front, but they would have been further clear but for a brilliant 26th minute Shaun O’Brien save from Forde after a gorgeous Noel McGrath delivery.

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That said, Tipp needed a brilliant save from their own net-minder, Brian Hogan, just minutes later, the Lorrha man bravely smothering Mikey Kiely’s effort.

As that half-time break approached, it was noticeable that Cahill had both Gleeson and Barron warming up on the sideline, changes clearly imminent for the resumption.,

And sure enough, both men came out for that second-half, Waterford now on a war-footing as they prepared to chase down Tipp’s four points advantage.

It would take them all of 120 seconds to do that, Kiely getting in for a goal from Patrick Curran’s pass, immediately after Gleeson had signalled his arrival with a spectacular point.

Then Dessie Hutchinson buried a second Waterford goal in the 44th minute, bringing Waterford’s quick-fire tally to 2-6 in just under ten minutes to change the tenor of the game completely.

Tipp had brought on Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher at half-time and Dan McCormack soon followed, all the momentum now with the home team.

But a second Kehoe goal for Tipp in the 58th minute set up a titanic finish, Waterford just edging home in the end before an enthralled attendance.

SCORERS: Waterford – Stephen Bennett 0-10 frees, D Hutchinson 1-3, P Curran 0-4, M Kiely 1-0, S McNulty, J Barron and A Gleeson (0-2 each), J Prendergast 0-1.

Tipperary – N McGrath 0-6 (0-2 frees), M Kehoe 2-0, J Forde 0-4 frees, M Breen, D McCormack and J Morris 0-2 each), B Heffernan, C Stakelum and C Bowe 0-1 each, Brian Hogan 0-1 free.

WATERFORD: S O’Brien, C Gleeson, C Prunty, S McNulty, J Fagan, T de Burca, C Daly, D Lyons, C Lyons, N Montgomery, J Prendergast, P Curran, D Hutchinson, Stephen Bennett, M Kiely. Subs – A Gleeson for Montgomery (half-time) and J Barron for Daly (half-time), Shane Bennett for Kiely (62 mins), I Daly for Fagan (63 mins), P Hogan for D Lyons (67 mins).

TIPPERARY: Brian Hogan, C Barrett, J Quigley, C Morgan, D Quirke, R Maher, S Kennedy, A Flynn, B Heffernan, C Bowe, N McGrath, M Breen, J Forde, M Kehoe, J Morris. Subs – P Maher for Bowe (half-time), D McCormack for Flynn (45 mins), C Stakelum for Heffernan (52 mins), G Browne for Forde (62 mins), J McGrath for Breen (66 mins)

Referee – J Murphy (Limerick).

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