Friday 23 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Prolific Tipp attack can fire them to final - but will have to overcome sweeper system'

Lethal: Tipp captain Seamus Callanan. Photo: Sportsfile
Lethal: Tipp captain Seamus Callanan. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Tipperary have the highest average score (29.3 points) of the four semi-finalists, while Wexford have the second lowest (22.7) give-away rate behind Limerick, so something has to give when they meet tomorrow.

Wexford arrive for their first All-Ireland semi-final in 12 years, having conceded only one goal in two clashes with Kilkenny and none against Galway - pointing to a defensive expertise that will have left Liam Sheedy working long and late to devise methods of testing goalkeeper Mark Fanning.

His efforts have produced dividends so far as Tipperary have scored a total of 12 goals in their last six games.

Davy Fitzgerald knows all about the scoring power of a Tipp strike force where Seamus Callanan (6-12), John McGrath (2-15), Jason Forde (1-15), Noel McGrath (1-11) and John O'Dwyer (0-14) have scored 10-67 between them from open play. In addition, Forde has hit 1-30 from placed balls.

There were two distinct phases to Tipp's campaign - the four round robin games where they flattened all before them and the last two outings where they lost heavily to Limerick in the Munster final before being no more than functional against Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Against that background, even they won't know exactly where they're at until the pressure comes on tomorrow. It's yet another concern to take into Croke Park for the first semi-final clash between the counties since 2001.

The ferocity of Limerick's game in the Munster final seemed to surprise Tipperary, leaving Sheedy to admit that "we lost too many individual battles today and overall we lost the war".

There were times when it wasn't even a war as Limerick's control extended all over the pitch.

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Tipp got away with one bad day, but there are no safety nets now, so they have to stand up for themselves against a Wexford team that's the only one of the four semi-finalists not to have lost a game in this year's championship.

It has sent their confidence soaring and, as they showed against Kilkenny in the Leinster final, they are now experienced enough to remain calm in the toughest situations. That was especially evident as they defended a narrow lead in stoppage time.

There was a time they would have lost their composure, but not anymore.

With their style now very much cemented into place, their chances of reaching the All-Ireland final for the first time in 23 years will come down to the defence's ability to disrupt the Tipperary attack.

Wexford's sweeper system means that they are often under-manned in attack so their scoring rate isn't especially high. Davy Fitzgerald is happy enough with that, provided the defence works to the carefully rehearsed drills.

They did that against Galway and Kilkenny (twice), providing clear evidence that it will take a really smart attack to dislodge them. At their best, Tipperary have that capacity, but will they deliver in the claustrophobic atmosphere Wexford's sweeper-reinforced resistance intends to deploy?

They will need to be far more assertive and aggressive than they were against Limerick and Laois in their last two games, but with their season hanging on the result, there's every reason to believe they will be more efficient.

It has been quite a summer for Wexford, winning Leinster for the first time in 15 years, but his may be where it ends.

Verdict: Tipperary

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