Al­lianz League

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The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Seán Mo­ran at Nowlan Park

This Al­lianz Hurl­ing League semi-fi­nal started and fin­ished as ex­pected but in be­tween a con­test broke out.

It was how­ever sharply ter­mi­nated, as Tip­per­ary took out their scalpels on the hour af­ter their lead had shrunk to two points, 2-12 to 0-16. In the time that re­mained they sliced open Wex­ford for 3-6.

So there were sig­na­ture per­for­mances from both sides: Tipp show­ing their lethal ca­pac­i­ties af­ter an at times com­pet­i­tive out­ing and Wex­ford, pro­moted back to the top flight, show­ing they could live with the best team around but also leav­ing plenty of work-in-progress video sem­i­nars for man­ager Davy Fitzger­ald to con­duct.

From the start the All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons went about their busi­ness in a no-non­sense sort of way. They got the early scores, in­clud­ing a goal from John McGrath, and in the sec­ond minute Steven O’Brien clat­tered Wex­ford de­fender Damien Reck with a seis­mic shoul­der.

Sec­ond in­vi­ta­tions

McGrath’s goal a few min­utes later came when James Breen, back at the venue where he had qui­etened TJ Reid just a fort­night pre­vi­ously, over­ran a ball hit into the right cor­ner by Séa­mus Kennedy. McGrath doesn’t as a rule look for sec­ond in­vi­ta­tions and it was soon 1-2 to nil.

Wex­ford man­ager Davy Fitzger­ald was frus­trated af­ter­wards that his team had never been able to take the lead. They re­sponded well to the early ad­ver­sity but a sec­ond goal in the 18th minute came af­ter Breen had been fouled with a high chal­lenge but ref­eree Diar­muid Kir­wan played on and Niall O’Meara laid the ball off to McGrath, who placed brother Noel for the sec­ond goal.

Fitzger­ald took to the field on a dual mis­sion by his own ac­count: to protest the goal and also to buck up his team in case Tipp were about to run riot. Tem­pers flared and he clashed with Ja­son Forde. Wex­ford cen­tre­fielder Ai­dan Nolan was yel­low carded be­fore the man­ager re­tired to the side­line.

It was an ironic flash fire, as the in­ci­dent was about the only one in which Tip­per­ary ben­e­fited from the ref­eree’s judge- ment and they ended the af­ter­noon on the wrong end of a 13-3 free count.

Wex­ford bat­tled a way back into the match and con­tested the rucks with vigour, an im­por­tant de­tail as Tipp have prided them­selves on get­ting stuck in dur­ing this cam­paign. David Red­mond won a scrappy ball in the 29th minute and flashed over a ral­ly­ing score for 0-5 to 2-3.

Tac­tic worked

Shaun Mur­phy played his usual sweeper’s role and by and large the tac­tic worked but they were un­done by er­ror for the goals.

They were fac­ing a strong wind in the first half and both Conor McDon­ald and Lee Chin ended up drop­ping short long-range frees but as they grew in con­fi­dence there were some good scores from play es­pe­cially in the con­di­tions.

As ex­pected Tip­per­ary didn’t have to work as hard for their scores but Pádraic Ma­her burst out of a ruck to boom over their last score of the first half for a four-point lead at the break. He and his brother Ro­nan played their cus­tom­ar­ily vig­i­lant role in the half-back line, with the lat­ter tak­ing the free man role for the most part.

Wex­ford were up for it on the re­sump­tion, though. McDon­ald pointed and it took a lively re­ac­tion from Michael Cahill to win a ball that came back off the cross­bar af­ter a Paul Morris shot.

More tellingly they tight­ened up on the Tipp for­wards and outscored them to get the mar­gin down to two: Red­mond flash­ing over a cou­ple more points from the wing, McDon­ald hit­ting frees and cor­ner for- wards Morris and David Dunne get­ting on the score­board. For the 16th point that cut the mar­gin to two, Chin snapped over a shot within sec­onds of John McGrath be­ing wide at the other end.

Ex­pec­tant crowd

The by now ex­pec­tant crowd of 19,095 never quite got to see the cham­pi­ons un­der pres­sure. Al­most im­me­di­ately, McGrath atoned for the wide and a gen­er­ally sub­dued dis­play up to that point by lanc­ing home the third goal af­ter a good run by Dan McCor­mack.

Then, they were off. A ma­jes­tic catch in his own de­fence by Pádraic Ma­her was the launch pad for a point by Noel McGrath and an­other by John, now fully tuned in and play­ing slightly deeper.

Noel then em­u­lated his brother with a sec­ond goal, cre­ated by re­place­ment John O’Dwyer who leaped high to pull down a ball and then un­leash a pre­ci­sion pass into McGrath for the fourth goal.

An unan­swered 2-2 in four min­utes at that stage of the match will fin­ish most teams and there was more to come and Bren­dan Ma­her got in for the fifth goal.

Wex­ford re­sponded. Dar­ren Glee­son had to save a penalty from his op­po­site num­ber Mark Fan­ning and even­tu­ally Liam Ryan gal­loped through and fired home a goal but by then it was just res­cu­ing pos­ses­sions from the burn­ing house.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: RYAN BYRNE/INPHO

Tip­per­ary’s John McGrath cel­e­brates scor­ing their third goal of the game against Wex­ford at Nowlan Park yes­ter­day.

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