Tipperary rout Wexford en route to Division 1 final
TIPPERARY 5-18 WEXFORD 1-19
THE scoreline reads like a rout, but it doesn't tell the full story of today's Allianz Hurling League semi-final at Nowlan Park.
After 57 minutes, in the wake of Lee Chin's inspirational point from the left touchline, the margin had been trimmed to just two points and the Slaneyside faithful in a massive 19,095 attendance were starting to believe.
"Wexford, Wexford!" they bellowed.
Just eight minutes later they had been stunned to silence, the gap had grown to four clear goals and now we had a "Tipp, Tipp!" chorus in riposte.
Not for the first or last time, a McGrath double-act had propelled Tipperary to victory, this time into the Division 1 decider against Galway next Sunday.
John McGrath's 59th minute goal, arrowed low to the net after Dan McCormack had created the opportunity, was the score that broke Wexford's defiant resistance.
There followed a brace of McGrath points, from Noel and then John, before Noel ghosted in at the back post to gather John O'Dwyer's teasing delivery and rifle his shot beyond Mark Fanning.
The two McGraths had also found the net in the first half as a wind-backed Tipp established a 2-6 to 0-8 lead that looked far from bullet-proof … they would each finish with 2-2 from play to their name.
In the closing stages, with the All-Ireland holders now in full flow, they racked up 2-4 without reply before a Conor McDonald free stalled the sequence.
Tipp's response was to land a fifth goal, this time delivered by Brendan Maher who would finish with 1-2 from midfield.
Wexford gained some minor consolation in injury-time when – soon after Fanning's penalty was batted away by Darren Gleeson – full-back Liam Ryan advanced up the field to fire home a 20-metre daisy-cutter.
The last two points were shared by impressive Tipp sub Michael Breen (who tallied 0-4 in the second half) and Chin from a '65'.
All of which means it's back to the drawing board for Davy Fitzgerald after his first league defeat in game seven, while Tipp march on to face Galway.
As per usual, Fitzgerald employed his sweeper system with Shaun Murphy covering to telling effect for much of the first half.
And yet, on the two occasions they were unhinged, Tipp exacted maximum retribution.
Firstly, John McGrath capitalised on a sixth minute fumble by James Breen, cutting in from the right flank to roof the sliotar beyond Fanning.
Then, in the 18th minute, Niall O'Meara released Noel McGrath beyond the Wexford cover to goal with an angled low shot.
This time, though, Wexford were furious over an apparent earlier foul by O'Meara to dispossess Breen.
Fitzgerald burst onto the pitch to voice his displeasure, and received a jostle from Tipp midfielder Jason Forde for his troubles before Wexford's Aidan Nolan got embroiled with Forde. Eventually, order was restored with the Wexford boss ushered back to his touchline perch by a linesman.
SCORERS - Tipperary: J McGrath, N McGrath 2-2 each, B Maher 1-2, M Breen 0-4, S Callanan 0-3 (1 '65'), J Forde 0-2, P Maher, J O'Dwyer, D Quinn 0-1 each. Wexford: C McDonald 0-7 (6f), L Chin 0-4 (1 '65'), D Redmond 0-3, L Ryan 1-0, J O'Connor, D O'Keeffe, P Morris, D Dunne, K Foley 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; M Cahill, J Barry, J Barrett; S Kennedy, R Maher, P Maher; B Maher, J Forde; D McCormack, N O'Meara, S O'Brien; N McGrath, J McGrath, S Callanan. Subs: M Breen for O'Meara (ht), J O'Brien for S O'Brien (48), D Quinn for Forde (65), T Hamill for Barry (68), B Heffernan for Kennedy (68).
WEXFORD: M Fanning; L Ryan, J Breen, D Reck; W Devereux, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; A Nolan, J O'Connor; S Murphy, D Redmond, L Chin; P Morris, C McDonald, D Dunne. Subs: J Guiney for Reck (49), K Foley for Morris (54), H Kehoe for Redmond (54), S Donohue for Nolan (63).
REF: D Kirwan (Cork).