Model County warriors denied All-Ireland spot

Tipperary 1-28, Wexford 3-20.

Report Ronan Fagan, Photos Noel Reddy

The huge-hearted senior hurling warriors of Wexford endured semi-final trauma at sun-kissed Croke Park on Sunday as purple-and-gold hopes of a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1996 were outstripped by Tipperary’s powerful finish in this titanic penultimate-round showdown.

A truly fascinating duel was level on eight occasions before Wexford appeared to strike a crucial blow when Conor McDonald netted to blow open a three-point lead in the 60th-minute (3-18 to 1-11).

Unfortunately 14-man Tipperary – who had lost John McGrath following a swipe across Damien Reck in the 46th-minute – found the craft to dominate the remainder to consign Wexford to their only defeat of this championship as Liam Sheedy’s men secured a Liam McCarthy Cup-decider against Brian Cody’s Kilkenny on August 18th next.

It could be a while before these crestfallen Wexford heroes recover from Sunday’s heartbreak. But they eventually will find sufficient optimism to help redouble their efforts heading into 2020 having been only the stroke of a ball shy of making the All-Ireland final during a memorable summer when they gloriously ended the county’s 15-year wait for provincial honours.

Before a 61,852 attendance, Davy Fitzgerald’s men illustrated zero nerves when leading 0-4 to 0-1 after five minutes, with opposing half-backs Paudie Foley and Ronan Maher trading opening scores, before Rory O’Connor and a towering contribution from full-back Liam Ryan restored Wexford to the front, and Lee Chin put over a ’65 after Shaun Murphy’s drive on goal was parried out.

But Wexford suffered a ten-minute scoring drought as Tipperary seized the initiative by 1-3 to 0-4 after 14 minutes when two Jason Forde frees sandwiched Seamus Callanan unleashing a ground-shot to the Canal-end net.

Wexford recovered their composure as Paudie Foley fed Paul Morris to re-energise Wexford with a point from the Hogan Stand side, and smart work by Shaun Murphy allowed Liam Óg McGovern regain parity after 16 minutes (0-6 to 1-3).

The scores were tied twice more – Kevin Foley and Diarmuid O’Keeffe keeping Wexford in the hunt at 0-8 to 1-5 – before Wexford threatened to goal when a swift move down the Cusack Stand side culminated in Damien Reck playing in Rory O’Connor, who cut in only to have his shot deflected over at the expense of a point.

It wasn’t long though before Wexford did procure a net-rattler as, after Lee Chin pointed another free, Paul Morris threaded Shaun Murphy through from the left corner and although Murphy slipped, he recovered to float a cross to Conor McDonald at the far side of the square, from where ‘Mac’ gladdened the massive Wexford support when blasting to the net for a 25th-minute 1-10 to 1-6 lead.

GAA Headquarters witnessed a rather bizarre scenario approaching the interval when Tipperary goaled only to see that major cancelled out as the referee instead sought clarification from the Hawk-eye score-detection system regarding a free from his own half by Lee Chin which the Tipp ‘keeper appeared to have prevented from bisecting the uprights. But Hawk-eye declared otherwise, with the Chin free standing, as Wexford led 1-11 to 1-7.

Angered Tipp responded with three unanswered points. Yet Wexford kept their chests pumped out as two Lee Chin frees and one from play by ‘Dee’ O’Keeffe ensured the Leinster champions were setting the pace by 1-14 to 1-12 at half-time.

Tipperary sought to turn the screw when charging into the second-half to snatch a 1-16 to 1-15 lead.

But Paul Morris had Wexford back level on 43 minutes, and a few minutes later Tipperary were reduced to 14-men when John McGrath swiped across Damien Reck.

Wexford quickly profited as the O’Connor brothers, Rory and Jack both pointed, before Liam Óg McGovern intercepted a Tipp line-ball on the Hogan Stand side and fed Shaun Murphy who found Lee Chin bursting through the middle. Despite having options, Chin spotted an opportunity and shifted onto his left to unleash a pearler to the bottom corner of the Canal-end net for a 49th-minute 2-18 to 1-16 lead.

Significantly though, Wexford just weren’t able to capitalise on that breakthrough as Tipp instead regained parity on 1-21 to 2-18 after 58 minutes.

Wexford raised hopes again when delivering another blow on 60 minutes. Following composed play at the back, Paul Morris was sent haring in from the Cusack Stand side and spotted the unmarked Conor McDonald at the far post, where ‘Mac’ was composed in scooping home for a 3-18 to 1-21 lead.

But, despite being a man down, Tipperary found the energy to power home over the closing stretch.

 Tipperary – Brian Hogan; Cathal Barrett, Ronan Maher (0-2), Brendan Maher; Barry Heffernan, Pádraic Maher, Seamus Kennedy; Noel McGrath (0-4), Michael Breen (0-1); Dan McCormack, John O’Dwyer (0-3), Niall O’Meara; Jason Forde (0-12, 8 frees, 2 ’65s), Séamus Callanan (capt., 1-2), John McGrath.

Subs: Willie Connors (0-1) for McCormack (52); Ger Browne (0-1) for Breen (54); Mark Kehoe (0-1) for O’Meara (56); Alan Flynn for Heffernan (65); Jake Morris (0-1) for O’Dwyer (67)

 Wexford – Mark Fanning; Damien Reck, Liam Ryan (0-1), Matthew O’Hanlon (joint-capt.); Simon Donohoe, Pádraig Foley (0-1), Shaun Murphy; Diarmuid O’Keeffe (0-2), Liam Óg McGovern (0-1); Kevin Foley (0-1), Conor McDonald (2-1), Jack O’Connor (0-1); Paul Morris (0-2), Lee Chin (joint-capt., 1-7, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ’65), Rory O’Connor (0-3).

Subs; Aidan Nolan for Murphy (52); Joe O’Connor for Reck (56); David Dunne for Jack O’Connor (58); Cathal Dunbar for Rory O’Connor (64).

Referee – Seán Cleere (Kilkenny)