Doran's goal keeps Model at top table
Allianz Hurling League Div 1
Grins and swivelling eyes in Tom Semple's field. A barking, schizophrenic League saved its wildest eccentricity for last as Wexford beat down all the doomsayers to secure Division 1 survival.
A 70th-minute Willie Doran goal tugged Tipperary out of what had borne the air of a sleep-walk to the points and, ultimately, the All-Ireland champions were grateful for the draw rescued by Pa Bourke's injury-time '65'.
Quite what poor Joe Dooley made of the news over in Kilkenny is anybody's guess. Offaly's defeat of Wexford in the fifth round of games had looked, essentially, like the decisive move in a two-way relegation battle. With games to come against Cork and Tipp, Wexford looked in need of hospice care.
Yet, remarkably, they survived by dint of three points plundered in the face of odds most considered insurmountable.
"Our lads just wanted it more," said a jubilant Colm Bonnar, the recipient of warm back slaps from supporters of both persuasions here. "The prize was staying in Division 1 and they've had two horrible years in Division 2, so they really worked their socks off for it.
"All credit to them. They got a lot of criticism over the last five games, but they stood up strong, especially when our backs were to the wall. After the Offaly result, we were kind of written off. We were going down. But the players themselves turned it round and got their just deserts in the end.
"I know Tipp were playing to get to a final today, but it was in our hands to do something. And when push came to shove in the last six or seven minutes, our lads sensed they were there to do it."
In the early flurries Tipp had the look of team inclined to admire their work a little too keenly. They led 0-5 to 0-1 after 10 minutes, their movement a haughty blur of wristy scores and circus flicks. It is a conceit that visits them occasionally, this desire to paint pretty pictures with their hurling.
Opponents with Wexford's hunger were always likely to take a dim view of being cast in the role of helpless fall-guy and so it proved.
The biggest lead Tipp enjoyed was 0-10 to 0-4 with 28 minutes elapsed and an impressive James Woodlock scoring for fun from midfield. You sensed then that a goal would close the casket. It never came though.
By the midpoint, they had five to spare and -- for Wexford -- that represented encouragement to keep hunting. As Bonnar put it: "We reminded them that we were five points down at half-time against Cork too. That gave us hope."
Shane McGrath then shipped a heavy pull when the game resumed and, as the Ballinahinch man was helped ashore, a little of Tipp's contrariness went too.
Jim Berry (two) and Rory Jacob scored unanswered points for Wexford and a realisation of Tipp's brewing discomfort came slipping down upon the 4,180 attendance like a heavy, evening dew. Out of the easy showboating had sprung a local crisis.
John O'Brien and Noel McGrath lobbed two splendid scores to calm nerves but, by now, Bonnar's men had changed fundamentally in body language. They still trailed by four with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, but Stephen Banville's move to the edge of the 'square' had registered on Brendan Cummins' sensors.
In the 63rd minute, Banville rounded John O'Keeffe a little too easily and blazed a low point that Cummins got a nick on. Then the excellent Roy Jacob cut in for his fourth point of the day and Wexford had an obstinate glow. But, when Padraig Maher made an excellent block on Banville with time almost up, it seemed Tipp had done enough.
They hadn't. Jacob's stinger drew a wonderful, reflex save from Cummins only for substitute Willie Doran to force the sliotar home and give Wexford the most improbable lead. The goal, to be fair, stood as a tribute to their back men, not least Matthew O'Hanlon, Keith Rossiter, Darren Stamp and Lar Prendergast who, by now, were incorrigible.
Declan Ryan watched it all impassively, doing well to keep a lid on his vexation. Yet, later, his words would catch a flavour of his mood.
"Sluggish from start to finish," he said of Tipp's performance. "I suppose Wexford had more to play for than we had."
When it was put to him that the small matter of a League final had been accessible to Tipp, he opened a small window to their thinking. "At the start of the year, a League final wasn't really our goal but I suppose, had the other results gone our way, this would have been poor," said Ryan. "A poor performance, poor mental approach. So it's a good education.
"Mentally it seemed we weren't up for the battle anyway. I think we've been fair to a lot of players in this League. I think we've learnt a lot. We've definitely a better idea about guys now than we had at the start."
For Bonnar, an All-Ireland winning colleague of Ryan's with Tipp in '89 and '91, this was the perfect homecoming.
"I feel sorry for Offaly going down, but we have to look after our own show now," said the Cashel man.
"When you think we were beaten by 21 points by Galway and Tipp beat them by 18, that's the way the League can go. But it is the learning ground for hurling and that's what it should be."
A classroom for romantics.
Man of the Match: Lar Prendergast (Wexford)
SCORERS -- Tipperary: P Bourke 0-6 (3f, 1 '65'), J O'Brien 0-4, J Woodlock 0-3, N McGrath 0-2, S Carey and M Heffernan 0-1 each. Wexford: J Berry 0-5 (3f), R Jacob 0-4, W Doran 1-0.
PJ Nolan, H Kehoe, S Banville, G Sinnott and C Farrell 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY -- B Cummins 7; E Connolly 5, P Maher 8, P Stapleton 7; D Young 7 C O'Mahony 7, J Coghlan 6; J Woodlock 7, S McGrath 7; B Dunne 5, N McGrath 7, S Carey 6; M Heffernan 6, P Bourke 7, J O'Brien 8. Subs: G Ryan 6 for S McGrath (36), P Murphy 6 for Carey (43), J O'Keeffe 6 for Connolly (46), J O'Neil for Heffernan (61).
WEXFORD: N Breen 7; P Roche 7, M O'Hanlon 7, K Rossiter 7; L Prendergast 8, D Stamp 7, C Kenny 7; D Redmond 7, E Quigley 6; PJ Nolan 6, H Kehoe 6, S Banville 6; R Jacob 8, G Sinnott 6, J Berry 8. Subs: C Farrell 7 for Quigley (49), B Doyle 6 for Sinnott (52), W Doran for Kehoe (67), N Kirwan for Berry (70), M Jacob for Nolan (70).
Ref -- D Kirwan (Cork).