If patience is a virtue, then perhaps special medals should be struck for Waterford right now.
Not since 1963 has the county gained entry to the All-Ireland hurling final and, to compound their frustration, they have lost five semis in the last 10 years.
But yesterday, in an electric atmosphere at Croke Park, Waterford made their long-awaited breakthrough when they just managed to squeeze out Tipperary in a semi-final that is already part of hurling folklore.
All the passion, drama, skill and romance which Championship hurling embodies were here in abundance — two superbly motivated sides, each striving for perfection.
And if Waterford just managed to breast the tape first, their cel
ebrations will be tempered by the knowledge that a formidable Kilkenny side, stalking their third All-Ireland title on the trot, now hover ominously on the horizon.
Waterford, under the ebullient Davey Fitzgerald in his first season in charge, have however managed to destroy the script that has consigned them to the also-rans role for so long.
Yesterday their display, embossed with character and highlighted by a stunning individual performance from Eoin Kelly who grabbed 1-10, has cemented their reputation as worthy finalists.
Tipperary, proud National League and Munster champions, had been expected to vindicate their favourites role and line up alongside the Cats in the decider.
But Waterford’s ravenous hunger, fierce commitment and splendid marksmanship carried them through.
Their side, may be laced a trifle heavily with experience in the eyes of some — Tony Browne, Ken McGrath, Seamus Prendergast and others have been around for a long time — but yesterday it
was the old hands who stood up to earn their county its day in the sun.
With the sides deadlocked at 0-10 each at half-time, Waterford had already sent out the message that their recent depressing history in semi-finals was not to be a major burden.
And they dug deep into their reserves of stamina and craft in the second period to cement what was truly a red letter day in their long — and often heart-breaking — hurling history.
WATERFORD: C Hennessey; E Murphy, K McGrath, D Prendergast; A Kearney, T Browne, K Moran; M Walsh (0-2), J Nagle; D Shanahan, S Prendergast, S Molumphy (0-2); E McGrath (0-3), E Kelly (1-10), J Mullane (0-3). Substitutes: J Kennedy for S Prendergast (51 mins), P Flynn for Mullane (56 ins), G Hurney for Nagle (68 mins), S O’Sullivan for Shanahan (72 mins). Yellow cards: Browne (19 mins), Kearney (37 mins), Mullane (38 mins).
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; E Buckley, P Curran, C O’Brien; E Corcoran, C O’Mahoney (0-2, both frees), S Maher; J Woodlock; S McGrath (0-2); S Callinhan (1-2), H Malony, J O’Brien; E Kelly (0-10, 0-9 frees), S Butler, L Corbett (0-1). Substitutes: B Dunn (0-1) for O’Brien (48 mins), P Burke for Woodlock (63 mins). Yellow cards: O’Brien (3 mins), Corbett (25 mins), O’Mahony (37 mins).
REFEREE: D Kirwan (Cork).