Tipp's late blitz leaves Wexford gasping for air
Allianz NHL Div One semi-final: Tipperary 5-18 Wexford1-19
The final score made it look like a bleak and barren afternoon for Wexford, but provided they take the right lessons away from Nowlan Park, the bad experience should not have a seriously negative impact in the longer term.
All the serious damage was done in the final 10 minutes of normal time, during which Tipperary went on a scoring splurge, wrecking opposition who were facing the toughest demands of the season so far.
Wexford were two points behind coming up to the hour mark and playing with a determination that suggested they were in with a good chance of reaching the League final for the first time since 1993, only to be ripped apart by Tipperary's lethal attack.
John McGrath made the first break with a goal in the 60th minute; his brother Noel added another three minutes later and Brendan Maher shot a third in the 69th minute.
Wexford's only response in that period was a free from Conor McDonald, and while they squeezed a goal from full-back Liam Ryan deep in stoppage-time, it was no more than a consolation effort.
Shortly before that Darren Gleeson saved a penalty from Mark Fanning in what was one of the very few occasions the Tipperary goalkeeper was tested.
Therein lies the challenge for Wexford and manager Davy Fitzgerald as they look ahead to the Championship.
Bolstering the defence with an extra man (Shaun Murphy drifted back from the start) and playing with five forwards can work on occasions, but it comes with the distinct disadvantage of limiting goal chances, which was very much the case yesterday.
Tipperary have shown in the past - notably against Waterford - that they are well able to work their way around packed defences, and they did in again on a day when all except one point of their total came from open play.
The remaining point came from a Seamus Callanan '65' in the first half, making it something of a rarity for a team to win a game without any score coming from a free.
Therein rests another tale. Tipperary were awarded only three frees in the entire game, compared to 15 for Wexford. The reason for that wasn't apparent, but clearly referee Diarmuid Kirwan took the view that Wexford had a better tackling technique than Tipperary, something which will, no doubt, come as a surprise to the All-Ireland champions.
Despite that, Wexford could have a genuine gripe with Kirwan for not awarding corner-back James Breen a free just before Tipperary scored their second goal in the 18th minute.
Kirwan allowed play to continue and Wexford were punished with a goal from Noel McGrath. If Wexford felt hard done by over that incident, they only had themselves to blame for the first goal, scored by John McGrath in the sixth minute.
Breen should have cleared a long ball which was sprayed down the left side but his touch was poor, allowing McGrath to take possession, race in on an angled run and fire the ball past Fanning.
Tipperary led by 2-3 to 0-3 after 20 minutes and, with a stiff wind behind them, it looked as if they might open up a big lead before the interval.
Wexford's response was brave and effective as they settled into an impressive routine which was much more in keeping with the excellent form that saw them win all five Division 1B games before beating Kilkenny in the quarter-final.
By half-time, they had cut the deficit to four points (2-6 to 0-8), leaving them well-primed for a big second-half effort.
Tipperary made a significant move at half-time, introducing Michael Breen, who played superbly.
He scored three points in the third quarter and added another late on, a contribution which puts him strongly in line for a starting place against Galway next Sunday.
Wexford hit some excellent points in the third quarter, including a quick triple from Lee Chin (2) and David Dunne, which left them two behind (2-12 to 0-16) after 57 minutes.
Their supporters in a crowd of 19,095 were in full voice in anticipation of something special but it all changed from there on.
Tipperary out-scored Wexford by 3-6 to 1-3 on the run-in, with many of their scores brilliantly crafted and expertly taken.
That included the goals from Noel and John McGrath, both of whom scored 2-2, while midfielder Brendan Maher contributed 1-2.
With his colleagues scoring so freely, Callanan could afford to have a quiet day, without damaging Tipperary's chances of staying in line to follow up on an All-Ireland win with a League triumph for the first time since 1965.
They have reached the final while giving the distinct impression that they are hurling well within themselves. Even when Wexford cut the lead to two points early in the final quarter, there were no signs of distress in the Tipperary ranks.
Instead, they raised their game and once John McGrath pounced for their third goal, Wexford never looked like getting back into contention.
It's all part of the learning process for Wexford and while it was very disappointing to lose by such a big margin, the League has been a huge success for them, delivering promotion against the odds, followed by tests against Kilkenny and Tipperary, which yielded several valuable lessons.
Their next challenge is how to bring that knowledge to the Championship where they will almost certainly face Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final. It will be an interesting period on the training ground.
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, J O'Dwyer, P Maher, D Quinn 0-1 each. Wexford: C McDonald 0-7 (6fs), L Chin 0-4 (1 '65'), L Ryan 1-0, D Redmond 0-3, J O'Connor, D O'Keeffe, P Morris, D Dunne, K Foley 0-1 each.
Tipperary - D Gleeson 7; C Barrett 7, J Barry 7, M Cahill 7; S Kennedy 7, R Maher 7, P Maher 7; B Maher 8, J Forde 7; D McCormack 7, N O'Meara 5, S O'Brien 6; N McGrath 9, J McGrath 9, S Callanan 6. Subs: M Breen 8 for O'Meara (ht), J O'Dwyer 7 for O'Brien (48), D Quinn for Forde (65), T Hamill for Barry (68), B Heffernan for Kennedy (68),
Wexford - M Fanning 6; W Devereux 6, L Ryan 7, J Breen 6; D Reck 6, M O'Hanlon 6, D O'Keeffe 7; A Nolan 6, S Murphy 7; C McDonald 7, D Redmond 7, J O'Connor 7; P Morris 6, L Chin 6, D Dunne 6. Subs: J Guiney 6 for Reck (48), H Kehoe 6 for Redmond (53), K Foley 6 for Morris (53), S Donohue for Nolan (63).
Ref - D Kirwan (Cork)
Game at a glance
Man of the match
John McGrath (Tipperary)
He scored 2-2, as did his brother Noel, who was also a leading contender for Man of the Match honours.
Are Tipperary getting better all the time? They scored 5-17 from open play and also shot 14 wides, underlining how many chances they created.
Tipperary's fourth goal was beautifully constructed and finished. John O'Dwyer's angled delivery found Noel McGrath on the run and he finished crisply.
It was 15-3 to Wexford in the free count, a rather harsh judgement on Tipperary by Diarmuid Kirwan. However, Tipp got a lucky break just before scoring their second goal as it looked as if Wexford corner-back James Breen had been fouled.
Tipperary 14 - (7 first half)
Wexford - 13 (9)
Tipperary - 3 (2)
Wexford - 15 (9)
Tipperary - 3 (J O'Dwyer 54 minutes, B Maher 58, J McGrath 61)
Wexford - 3 (A Nolan 18, LRyan 61, H Kehoe 68)
Tipperary play Galway in the league final on Sunday; Wexford play a round robin qualifier in the Leinster championship on May 27/28.