Heartbreak for Wexford as Tipperary edge thriller to set up another All-Ireland final clash with Kilkenny
Tipperary 1-28 Wexford 3-20
For the second time in 24 hours the reigning provincial champions crashed out of the All-Ireland series at the semi-final stage, as Tipperary beat Wexford to reach their first decider since 2016 after an epic encounter at Croke Park.
Despite having John McGrath sent off in the 45th minute and conceding two second half goals, Tipperary showed remarkable fighting qualities to recover from those setbacks and forge ahead when it mattered most.
Jason Forde hit 0-12 while Seamus Callanan contributed 1-2 but it was the contribution of Noel McGrath - who scored 0-4 - and Ronan Maher together with four substitutes, who hit 0-4, which essentially made the difference.
So, for the first time since 2013, the All-Ireland final will feature two teams who failed to win their respective provincial titles and, indeed, between them lost three games so far in the 2019 series. But like Kilkenny did on Saturday night in Croke Park, Tipperary won when it counted most.
So the final will bring Brian Cody and Liam Sheedy into opposition as managers on All-Ireland final day for the third time.
The pair were in charge when the counties clashed in the 2009 and 2010 deciders. The Cats won the former but then the Premier County ended the Cats' drive for five in 2010, after which Sheedy shocked the hurling world by stepping down.
Since then Kilkenny won another four All-Ireland titles but if Cody delivers his 12th All-Ireland win in three weeks' time, it will surely be his greatest triumph ever.
It was a disappointing end to the memorable campaign for Wexford, who were bidding to win their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1996. Ultimately Davy Fitzgerald's fell short and an injury which forced Shaun Murphy to retire in the second half had a crucial bearing on the outcome. But Wexford will look on this as a missed opportunity.
There were two late changes in the teams: Damien Reck replaced his brother Shane in the Wexford full-back line while Seamus Kennedy got the nod ahead of James Barry in the Tipperary defence.
And, as expected, there was a plethora of positional changes, the most significant of which saw Wexford joint-captain Matthew O'Hanlon start at corner-back with Paudie Foley moving to centre back.
Positions though meant precious little as Wexford, in particular, kept moving their players and their ability to create space and get free, particularly on the left flank of the Tipperary defence, was a feature of a blistering first half.
The Leinster champions started well with Paudie Foley drilling over a long range point after just 19 seconds; Ronan Maher replied almost immediately but it was Davy Fitzgerald's side who looked the better in the first quarter as the Tipperary forwards failed to track the runs of their opponents.
Diarmuid O'Keeffe was so surprised to find himself in splendid isolation and fluffed a pick-up from Lee Chin with the goal at his mercy, but Rory O'Connor eventually hit a point.
Tipp had another let-off in the fifth minute when a goal-bound shot from Shaun Murphy was blocked by Ronan Maher.
But Tipperary hit back with a brilliant tenth-minute goal, when two cross-passes from Jason Forde and Niall O'Meara neutralised the Wexford sweeper and Tipperary captain Seamus Callanan fired a brilliant shot to the net.
It was his seventh goal of the season for the Tipperary captain who has scored a goal a game this summer and is now the third most prolific goal scorer in championship hurling behind Eddie Keher and Nicky Rackard.
A couple of minutes earlier Michael Breen had the ball in the Wexford net but the referee disallowed the score ruling, that John McGrath had pushed Matthew O'Hanlon in the build-up.
Wexford fought back and were level by the 18th minute after point from Kevin Foley, who occasionally abandoned his sweeping role in the half as Wexford reverted to an orthodox formation.
Eleven minutes from the break, Shaun Murphy's forward runs, which were not being tracked by his marker John O'Dwyer, finally yielded maximum reward when Murphy's pin-point pass was blasted to the net by Conor McDonald to give his side a four point lead (1-10; 1-6).
Tipperary reacted to the goal by dispatching Seamus Callanan to centre forward, which helped them win more possession and put more pressure on the Wexford defence in the closing minutes of the half.
Their fans in the attendance of 61,852 thought they had registered their second goal in the 31st minute when John McGrath found the net at the Canal End. But for the second time in the half the score was not allowed.
Everybody was baffled by the decision until it emerged that the ball should not have been in play. In the previous play a Lee Chin free had been fielded by Tipperary goalkeeper Brian Hogan and his clearance led to the 'goal' at the other end.
However, it transpired that Hogan's save was the subject of a Hawkeye query initially by the official in charge who ruled that the Chin free was actually a point – so Tipp endured a four-point turnaround.
Tempers became increasing frayed with five Tipperary players and two from Wexford being booked. But Tipperary responded well to the setback hitting three quick points. But Wexford who had nine different scorers in the first half and responded well to lead at the break by two (1-14; 1-12).
Two Tipp points from Forde (free) and O'Dwyer levelled the tie in the first 90 seconds of the second half. The sides were level on two more occasions but the game took a big turn in the 45th minute.
John McGrath – already on a yellow card – received his marching orders after he flicked out at Shane Reck. Indeed, he can count himself lucky not to have received a straight red.
Wexford punished Tipperary, scoring 1-2 in the next four minutes with the goal coming from Lee Chin as the Tipperary defence parted in front of him. Shaun Murphy provided the assist for Chin but it was his last act as he retired injured soon afterwards and his loss was sorely felt.
Trailing by five points (2-18; 1-16) Tipp's response was relentless as they reeled off five points without reply but their joy was short lived as their defence was again breached on the hour mark.
Paul Morris squared the ball across to Conor McDonald, who almost butchered the chance but he recovered in time to force it over the line. After lengthy consultations with his umpire about a square ball, the score was allowed.
But Tipp's ability to hit long range points now came to the fore as they hit three in three minutes to level the game again with five minutes of normal time remaining, while Cathal Barrett made a crucial intercept on Chin as he bore down on the Tipp goal.
Wexford regained the lead just as the game ticked into the 69th after Padraic Maher was penalised for overcarrying in front of his goal but a mistake in the Wexford defence gave Willie Connor the chance to level the tie.
There was more controversy when Seamus Callanan was fouled by Liam Ryan. The referee appeared to be allowing play to continue and substitute Jake Morris put the ball in the Wexford net.
But for the third time in the game a Tipp goal was not allowed and neither did they get a penalty. Instead Jason Forde added a free and then hit a 65 after Callanan was denied a goal.
In a burst of excitement Lee Chin left it a one point game with a 74th minute free but Jake Morris secured the Tipp win with the final score of a remarkable game.
Scorers: Tipperary J Forde 0-12 (8f, 2 65s), S Callanan 1-2, N McGrath 0-4, J O'Dwyer 0-3, R Maher 0-2, M Breen, G Browne, W Connors, M Kehoe, J Morris 0-1 each.
Wexford: L Chin 1-7, (6f, 1 65), C McDonald 2-1 R O'Connor 0-3, P Morris, D O'Keeffe 0-2 each. L Ryan, P Foley, L Og McGovern, K Foley, J O Connor 0-1 each.
Tipperary: B Hogan; C Barrett, R Maher, B Maher; B Heffernan; P Maher, S Kennedy; M Breen; D McCormack, J O'Dwyer, N McGrath, N O'Meara, J McGrath, S Callanan, J Forde Subs: W Connors for McCormack (51), G Browne for Breen (53), A Flynn for Heffernan (65), J Morris for O'Dwyer (66)
Wexford: M Fanning; D Reck,L Ryan, M O'Hanlon; S Donohoe; P Foley, S Murphy; D O'Keeffe; L Og McGovern, C McDonald, K Foley, J O'Connor; L Chin, P Morris, R O'Connor. Subs: A Nolan for Murphy (51), J O'Connor for Reck (55), D Dunne for J O'Connor (58), D Dunbar for R O'Connor (63).
Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny)