Christy O’Connor: Waterford would love to derail former boss Liam Cahill’s Tipperary

When Cahill ran into some of those players again, in a league game in Thurles in March 2023, there were some heated words exchanged that night on the line, which angered Waterford, especially some of the players.

Tipperary manager Liam Cahill
Tipperary manager Liam Cahill will go up against his former Waterford charges with championship survival possibly on the line. (seamus loughran)

WHEN Liam Cahill spoke to the media after Tipperary were annihilated by Limerick last Sunday, he didn’t shy back from outlining where, why and how Tipp had careered off the road and into the ditch.

The mood, he said, was one of “utter disappointment and disgust”. Cahill struggled to understand how poor his side were, especially their low energy levels.

“We were just hurling in hope,” he said.

And then Cahill, as he has never been slow in doing, publicly informed everyone as to his next move.

“We have to throw off the shackles and have a good think about our personnel for the week,” he said.

“There’ll have to be consequences after today.”

That was a message for his own players, even if they didn’t need everyone else to hear it first, before Cahill then shifted his attention to Waterford, who he had managed for three years before taking over Tipp.

After having a thinly veiled and totally needless cut at former Waterford manager Derek McGrath for a comment he made two years ago, Cahill then hinted at how Waterford’s win over Cork was based on a return to the style they had played under him.

“They are a serious team, and the players seem to have found their style that really suits them,” he said.

“They had it in an All-Ireland final, semi-final, in winning a national league title.”

Cahill is right. The style that Davy Fitzgerald had implemented last year and during this year’s league wasn’t working.

The more expansive, attack-minded game that Waterford played against Cork two weeks ago - which was their hallmark under Cahill - was central to their win.

Waterford have as many good players as any other county. They are even more dangerous now when playing to their strengths, especially with so many of their big names back.

Waterford are still trying to win successive games in the Munster round robin for the first time but they’re at home on Saturday evening, and have form, momentum and the Waterford hurling public fully behind them for the first time in over two years.

And they’re facing Tipperary. To make it even more appealing and enticing, they’re taking on a Tipp team managed by Cahill. And Cahill knows how treacherous that could now be for him and his players.

“They’re a team above all teams that really don’t fear Tipperary,” he said last week.

“Myself and Mikey Bevans (coach) are partly to blame for that, I suppose. They will not feel one bit intimidated by Tipperary coming to Walsh Park. If we’re not ready for that challenge, we’re going to be in big trouble.”

Despite all he achieved with Waterford, leading them to an All-Ireland final and a National league title, this group are only itching for a chance to bury Cahill, and Tipperary.

They also know how sweet that feeling is. When the teams met for the first time last year since Cahill had departed Waterford to go to Tipp, there was serious tension during the game.

There was always bound to be considering the manner in which Cahill had left the Waterford job on such a sour ending given how sweet the taste had been just weeks earlier.

After winning the league title, beating Tipp in their opening round robin match, and then running Limerick to two points just six days later, Waterford looked like the team most capable of challenging Limerick.

And then the wheels came off.

During a three-week break until their next game in the 2022 campaign, Cahill gambled and it totally backfired. For ten days, the squad trained harder than ever before, which was an achievement in itself given how hard Cahill and Bevans pushed them during their three seasons.

Cahill was convinced that Waterford would beat a Cork team which had lost their opening two games, especially with the match on in Walsh Park. But they didn’t. Waterford were flat. Qualification was suddenly out of their hands.

Waterford’s body language in their last match, when they were hammered by Clare in Ennis, suggested that the Cahill project was over. It was.

When Cahill ran into some of those players again, in a league game in Thurles in March 2023, there were some heated words exchanged that night on the line, which angered Waterford, especially some of the players.

Before they shook hands at the final whistle, Fitzgerald and Cahill were pointing their index finger in each other’s direction.

After clasping hands, they shared a few brief words, the gist of which from Fitzgerald appeared to be that their next meeting in the summer would provide an opportunity to settle some scores from that match.

Cahill didn’t appear to say anything, only to smile with what Fitzgerald had to say.

Three months later, Fitzgerald and Waterford had the last laugh. When the sides met in the final Munster round robin match in Thurles last May, it was the lowest profile match of the day.

It appeared almost like a dead rubber.

Waterford were out of the championship. Tipp were still unbeaten in Munster and looked set to stamp their ticket to a Munster final.

And then everything changed. A week after drawing with Limerick, Tipp were completely flat and devoid of energy - and Waterford took full advantage of it.

Waterford were playing for pride and a championship win but they were also playing for something more – they wanted payback, and to derail Cahill and Tipp’s season.

Fitzgerald threw a curveball at Tipp from the very start when playing goalkeeper Billy Nolan as a sweeper.

Tipp didn’t know what hit them early on. They trailed by nine points in the first half. Waterford’s final winning margin of six could have been far more.

Tipp never recovered. After going into that match on such a high, their season collapsed four weeks later in a no-show performance against Galway.

A year on and another Tipp-Waterford meeting carries another real edge, but with a reverse dynamic this time around. Waterford are now on a high. Tipp are on the floor.

It’s still only Round 2 but this game already has a knockout feel about it – especially for Tipperary.

And, despite all he did for them, no team would prefer to derail Cahill more than Waterford.