It could take a year to get Wexford to where I want - Davy Fitzgerald
Tipperary 3-21 Wexford 1-21
Wexford still don't quite have the measure of Tipperary. A stirring comeback at Semple Stadium on Saturday night wasn't sufficient to preserve their 2018 unbeaten record as the Premier County joined them on four points in Division 1A of the Allianz League.
"It could take us another year or so to get exactly to where I want them to be. It is the mistakes; we have got to stop the mistakes," admitted team boss team Davy Fitzgerald, who nonetheless, was surprisingly sanguine about the outcome.
"There would be other defeats you would be very down after. I'm not very down, just disappointed."
The night belonged to Jason Forde, who harboured unhappy memories of last year's league semi-final encounter against Wexford when he was involved in a confrontation with Fitzgerald which landed him a one-match ban.
This time around the Wexford boss stayed on the touchline and Forde's radar-like accuracy from placed balls allied to two clinical goals made all the difference.
Tipperary will be without Forde John McGrath, Barry Heffernan and Paul Maher for the team's visit to Nowlan Park next Sunday to allow them concentrate on the Fitzgibbon Cup final between the University of Limerick and DCU the previous day.
"The facts are the facts, we can't play them (twice) in 24 hours. Look, we're carrying a fine panel. Those guys need game time too," said Tipp boss Michael Ryan.
The attendance of 8,358 got full value as there was scarcely a lull moment in a cracking contest.
Wexford seemed hell-bent on securing their first league win in 13 seasons over Tipperary as they began with a flourish.
Lee Chin switched to the left flank to test the resolve of Tipperary rookie wing-back Barry Heffernan and the visitors were three points up within five minutes.
Forde's first goal in the 13th minute didn't really change the pattern and by the 19th minute Wexford were still three points clear (1-7 to 1-4). But once Tipperary sussed out how to unlock Wexford's seven-man defensive system the game turned on its head.
Essentially Tipp kept the ball away from sweeper Shaun Murphy. Their forwards came out the field to receive shorter clearances and then either scored long-range points or ran at defenders and drew fouls.
In the last 15 minutes of the half they outscored Wexford 11 points to one. Tipp's six forwards all scored from play and Forde also converted six frees as they raced into a seven-point lead (1-15 to 1-8).
Wexford's first attempt at a comeback - they outscored the home side 0-5 to 0-1 in the first 13 minutes of the second half - was short-circuited by Forde's second goal in the 44th minute following a lay-off from John McGrath.
When Forde brilliantly converted a sideline in the 59th minute to give Tipp a nine-point advantage the visitors seemed destined for a serious trimming. But in their moment of crisis they dug deepest and by the time James McGrath blew the final whistle it was sweet music to Tipperary.
Wexford's superior fitness levels told as they outscored the home side 0-7 to 0-1 in the final 13 minutes which prompted Michael Ryan to remark that in the end he was relieved to secure the win.
The comeback ultimately failed due to Wexford's own failings; Chin missed four long-distance frees - three in the second half - and spurned a goal chance.
And while Tipperary goalkeeper Darragh Mooney did brilliantly to deny Conor McDonald in the 63rd and 71st minutes the Gorey man won't need reminding that he should have done better with both opportunities.
'Bonner' Maher's goal at the death eventually settled the issue, though Fitzgerald was adamant that the score should not have been allowed as Aidan Nolan's hurley was held in the build-up. But it's only February and at times this game was as surreal as the sight of the unlit Christmas lights still decorating the streets of Thurles.
Scorers - Tipperary: J Forde 2-9 (0-8f, 0-1 sl), Patrick Maher 1-2, J McGrath 0-2, D Maher, B Heffernan, Padraic Maher, R Maher, S Curran, N McGrath, M Breen, B McCarthy 0-1 each. Wexford: L Chin 0-10 (4f, 2 65), A Nolan 1-0 pen, P Morris 0-3 (3f), K Foley, J O'Connor 0-2 each, S Murphy, D Dunne, C McDonald, R O'Connor 0-1 each.
Tipperary - D Mooney 8; S O'Brien 7, J Barry 7, D Maher 7; B Heffernan 5, Padraic Maher 8, P Feehan 7; B Maher 7, R Maher 7; S Curran 7, N McGrath 7, Patrick Maher 8; M Breen 7, J Forde 9, J McGrath 8. Subs: B McCarthy 7 for Heffernan (53); G Browne 6 for Curran (60), M Russell 6 for Breen (65).
Wexford - M Fanning 7; C Firman 7, D Rock 7, L Ryan 6; D O'Keeffe 6, M O'Hanlon 7, P Foley 6; S Murphy 6; K Foley 7; A Nolan 7, J O'Connor 7, D Dunne 5; L Chin 8; P Morris 7, C McDonald 7. Subs: R O'Connor 6 for Morris (48); C Dunbar 6 for Dunne (58); H Kehoe 6 for Murphy (62); E Martin for O'Keeffe (70)
REF - J McGrath (Westmeath).
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