Tuesday 20 August 2019

Man-of-the-match McGrath inspires superb Tipp surge

Tipperary 1-28 Wexford 3-20

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald shows his disappointment in the final moments while, behind him, Tommy Dunne (left) and Liam Sheedy celebrate with Tipperary on the verge of victory. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald shows his disappointment in the final moments while, behind him, Tommy Dunne (left) and Liam Sheedy celebrate with Tipperary on the verge of victory. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The current Tipperary crew have never been accused of being chokers, but their ability to mine victory from the deepest, darkest pits wouldn't be regarded as among their main qualities either.

Until yesterday, that is, when they faced up to adversity with a courage and character that left Tipperary people everywhere with a warm glow.

Tipperary duo Ronan Maher and Padraic Maher challenge for a high ball with Conor McDonald. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tipperary duo Ronan Maher and Padraic Maher challenge for a high ball with Conor McDonald. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Of course, there was more to the recovery than that, as spirit and effort on their own would not have been enough to retrieve a perilous situation after Lee Chin's 49th-minute goal stretched Wexford's lead to five points (2-18 to 1-16).

Down to 14 men after John McGrath's dismissal on a second yellow card four minutes earlier, Tipperary had conceded 1-3 quite quickly, leaving them faced with the ultimate challenge if their prospects of booking an All-Ireland final date with Kilkenny were to be kept alive.

The response was utterly convincing, overflowing with efficiency and conviction as they produced probably the best 20 minutes from any team in this year's championship.

Reduced

They out-scored Wexford by 0-12 to 1-2 in that period, with no fewer than eight players, including three subs, scoring. Meanwhile, Wexford's stream was reduced to a trickle.

Noel McGrath embraces Seamus Callanan after Tipperary’s victory. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Noel McGrath embraces Seamus Callanan after Tipperary’s victory. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

There were question marks about Conor McDonald's goal in the 60th minute, with Tipperary claiming that he was in the square before Paul Morris made the final pass.

Referee Sean Cleere checked with his umpires before deciding the goal was good. It gave Wexford a three-point lead but with Man of the Match Noel McGrath exerting even greater influence, Tipperary increased the tempo as they wound up for a final push.

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They added a further seven points, countered only by two pointed frees from Chin, as Wexford's chances of reaching the All-Ireland final for the first time since 1996 wilted in the summer heat.

They had made a huge contribution to the riveting drama in a high-quality contest, but they could have no complaints about the result.

Just as their minors made no appreciable use of an extra man for long periods against Galway, the seniors never looked as if they had a numerical advantage.

In fact, there were times when Tipperary appeared to have more hands on the pump, as they covered, tackled and foraged with relentless desire and intensity.

It wasn't that Wexford's workrate was lacking, but Tipperary were so driven that they simply weren't going to take 'no' for an answer.

Having had three goals disallowed may have raised their motivation levels on a day when Kilkenny referee Cleere found himself at the centre of attention more often than any official wants.

He ruled out a first-half goal by Michael Breen and later a bizarre incident developed after Tipp goalkeeper Brian Hogan caught and cleared a long-range free from Chin.

Tipp counter-attacked and John McGrath fired to the net, only for play to be halted as Hawk-Eye was called upon to adjudicate on Chin's free.

It showed that the ball was over the bar before Hogan caught it, but the question arises why play wasn't stopped sooner, rather than after Tipperary had scored at the other end.

Tipp's third disallowed goal added to the contentious list.

It was scored by Jake Morris in the 71st minute, but the referee whistled back play and awarded a free in for Liam Ryan's foul on Seamus Callanan.

Forde pointed to give Tipperary the lead, but they were understandably annoyed that the goal wasn't allowed to stand.

As events turned out, it didn't matter in the end, but it would have been a major source of controversy if Wexford had snatched a late winning goal. They tried hard to find a way through, but by then Tipperary had secured a defence which had wobbled precariously at times over the first three quarters.

It was especially unsettled in the first-half, when Wexford's rotation policy worked very well. There were several instances when Wexford were able to pick out unmarked colleagues, resulting in a string of points.

Claims that Davy Fitzgerald's tactical systems were too rigid certainly didn't apply yesterday. There was great variety in their approach in the first-half, causing Tipperary all sorts of problems in their defensive half.

At the other end the Wexford backs were experiencing their own difficulties, with Tipperary getting a crucial break in the ninth minute when Séamus Callanan maintained his record of having scored a goal in all seven of Tipp's championship games this season.

Yesterday's strike was among the best of them, a delightful finish after being played in by Niall O'Meara.

Countered

McDonald countered with a Wexford goal in the 25th minute, helping them to take a two-point lead (1-14 to 1-12) into the break.

Tipperary were quicker from the blocks on the restart, out-scoring Wexford 0-4 to 0-1 in the opening five minutes, while beginning to look like an outfit for whom the half-time review was yielding results.

However, they were thrown off-line again when John McGrath, who had been booked with Damien Reck in the first-half, incurred a second yellow after flicking his hurley at the Wexford corner-back as he emerged with the ball.

Wexford built on their advantage for a short time, but once Tipperary settled into a routine that demanded huge energy and effort from the 13 outfield players, Wexford were unable to match them.

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