News, reports and reaction:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tipperary’s John McGrath celebrates scoring their third goal of the game against Wexford at Nowlan Park yesterday.