By Séamus Leonard
Tipperary and Waterford will make their way to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday for the Munster Hurling Championship final, which remains one of the highlights of the GAA calendar.
In what has been a particularly low-key build-up, the only hint of controversy has been the Munster Council’s decision to deny Waterford’s application for the match to be played in Thurles.
Semple Stadium would have afforded Tipp home advantage, but there is something special about a Munster decider there.
We will have to see how many Waterford fans will be prepared to travel to Leeside for what will be the Déise’s fourth consecutive appearance in the provincial showpiece.
While both sets of fans will be used to such occasions, there will hardly be anyone more familiar with the big day than Waterford wing-back Tony Browne.
The Mount Sion clubman has been hurling at the highest level since 1991, and he will line out on Sunday in the starting XV despite having turned 39 on 1 July.
In an age when most inter-county players are past their best by 30, Browne’s longevity is incredible, particularly given the extra mileage he has endured due to Waterford’s success since their breakthrough year of 1998.
The veteran’s chance of winning an All-Ireland may have passed, but a fifth Munster medal would be another superb achievement in what has been an astounding career.
Of course, some would point to Browne’s continuing service to the cause as proof that Waterford have failed to produce the requisite players to replace their golden generation.
But Waterford proved against an ever-improving Clare side that they can still edge a tight Championship encounter, and Michael Ryan seems to have instilled a unity in the squad.
Tipp have recalled a veteran of their own in the shape of Lar Corbett, with the 2010 Hurler of the Year replacing the injured Gearóid Ryan at wing-forward.
The Premier County were probably as stunned as the rest of the country when they saw Galway dismantle Kilkenny, but they won’t have been popping any champagne corks in the wake of the Leinster final.
The conspiracy theorists have suggested Tipp may not mind losing on Sunday, as a defeat would mean that they would avoid a probable All-Ireland semi-final date with the Cats.
But this is a Munster final we are talking about, and it is unlikely any Tipp player is willing to sacrifice another medal and risk the scorn of a demanding Tipperary hurling public.
The cynics should also consider that it is less than two years since Tipp toppled Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final, and so the reigning Munster champions are most probably immune to the debilitating effect the prospect of facing Brian Cody’s charges has on most sides.
While Waterford will have benefitted from their semi-final joust with the Banner, Tipp have already taken the scalps of Limerick and Cork this summer and are well-placed to land their fourth Munster crown in five years, and bring their overall tally to a round 40.