Bogey team Tipp triumph
Tipperary 2-15 Wexford 3-11 (AET)
Seldom has the line between serial winners and gallant losers been so paper-thin over the course of a full, exasperating season.
Try as they might, Wexford somehow have not been able to find a route past Tipperary and in many ways this latest loss in Callan on Sunday is a sadly fitting conclusion to their TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate ladies' football championship run.
Anthony Masterson's side have done everything except beat the Premier girls but that's sport for you. It hasn't always been pretty but it has never stopped being competitive and riveting in equal measure.
It has been a rivalry that will make Wexford stronger in the long run, as there is so much to learn from these losses. However, only time will tell if they can even meet again next season, with Tipperary two games away from the title and promotion to the Senior ranks.
They are getting so close in these big games but there must be a tinge of envy about how the Munster girls can keep digging out the result. The season started the way it ended back in January when Tipp scored a barrage of late goals to snatch a victory and set the tone for the year.
The sides met again in the league final, and a draw the first day out was followed by controversy in the replay as some decisions by referee Stephen McNulty cost Wexford the title. They went their separate ways but those fortunes continued as Tipp snatched the Munster crown from Clare and Wexford kicked away Leinster success.
And then it all came down to Sunday, the biggest meeting of them all. To be fair, it followed a similar pattern to previous encounters. Tipperary generally didn't have to work as hard for their scores, and Aisling McCarthy and Aisling Moloney ran their show.
Bernie Breen took Moloney in the first-half and, though the theory looked solid, it didn't work out. To see the Kerry native stretched to breaking point by the superbly-talented Tipp forward only served to re-emphasise how good a job Niamh Mernagh did on her in the league.
It also meant Breen's attacking threat was nullified and that proved to be a costly double whammy for Wexford. McCarthy was a big problem too, as a scorer, provider and because of the sheer volume of turnovers she produced.
Other than those two, Wexford dealt well with Tipperary. They dominated possession but took too much out of it at times. Again the decision-making could have been better inside the Tipp '45 and some of the shooting was really poor.
There are occasions when Wexford work the ball into an area between 40 and 50 metres from goal when they have options and good runs being made inside, but the kick pass never comes.
They continue to work the ball through the hands but get over-run with defenders around the semi-circle. Unfortunately, there's no transfer market to nab a forward to constantly kick those 30-metre scores.
It's tweaks, that's all this team needs, tweaks and maybe the confidence that comes with a win against a big team.
Anthony Masterson and his management have done a fantastic job of getting this limited but hard-working squad up to a level where they are right in the mix, and there's no reason at all to believe that he can't polish off the rough edges for next season.
It was 0-7 to 0-6 to Tipperary after 23 minutes. Moloney had scored three of her side's points and would soon add another while McCarthy was on the board twice. The points were spread around more at the other end where Lauren Fitzpatrick had also made a fine save from Caitríona Murray.
When Tipp cut Wexford open in the 26th minute, Mary Rose Kelly made a fine stop from Róisín Howard, but the Munster champions worked the ball back out to McCarthy and she flashed to the top of the net.
When Wexford utilised the long ball they stretched their opponents. Niamh Mernagh's searching pass picked out Murray who fed across to Bennett, but the teenager's shot was dragged wide of the left post as Tipperary went in 1-9 to 0-6 ahead.
Both sides missed chances in the third quarter as a McCarthy point was cancelled out by a Murray dead-ball, her first after she took over free-taking duties from Fiona Rochford. Then, with 45 minutes on the clock, and the game meandering along, everything changed.
All it took was one long ball over the top. Some might say it was frustration but it looked more like fantastic vision from Róisín Murphy to send Murray away. Once she gets a couple of yards there's no stopping the Clonee clubwoman and she drilled high past Fitzpatrick.
Intensity ratcheted up, Moloney hit back with a quick point. Niamh Butler and Murray picked off minors but Moloney struck her sixth to put a goal between the sides with just six minutes remaining (1-12 to 1-9).
Róisín Murphy burst out of defence with just over 60 seconds of normal time left to start another attack.
The ball was worked long to Aisling Murphy circling in from the right and when she fed Chantelle Martin the Adamstown forward had just one thought. Bang, left foot, she had no right to score under intense pressure but the ball dipped just under the bar and into the net.
Wexford survived a nervous minute of added time in their own half but the game was destined for extra-time (1-12 to 2-9). Making a statement, Moloney won the throw-in to start overtime, ran through the heart of the Wexford defence and was fouled. McCarthy converted.
Moloney was hurt in that tumble and lasted just a couple more minutes. Her departure had a detrimental effect on Wexford because they switched off a little and, after they quickly conceded a Orla O'Dwyer point, Howard hauled in McCarthy's long ball and rattled the net.
Wexford looked dead and buried again when O'Dwyer put six points between the sides at the start of the second-half of extra-time. However, Aoife Sheil burst through after great work by Aisling Murphy and thumped high to the net to put a goal between the sides again.
It was almost all Wexford for the final seven minutes of added time but they were the victim of several dodgy calls as Tipperary got the rub of the green with the referee just when they were fading physically.
Martin kicked a point to narrow the gap to two before Murray dropped a ball in with three minutes remaining that Aisling Murphy punched on the edge of the square but, with the 'keeper in no man's land, it deflected just wide.
There was controversy in the 78th minute when Murphy caught Murray's short '45 and thumped to the net, only for referee Angela Gallagher to blow for an unexplained indiscretion against the Wexford forward.
Murray saw her free from the left tipped over the crossbar to put a point between the sides with a minute left but Tipperary, to their credit, prevented Wexford from getting anywhere near an equaliser to book their spot in the last four.
So the season of near misses ends in disappointment for Wexford but there has to be genuine optimism about the future. There's a great mix of experience and youth in the squad and with several players of quality possibly returning in the new year, everything is in place for a memorable 2018.
Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly; Niamh Mernagh, Marica Cullen, Sarah Harding-Kenny; Clara Donnelly, Marguerite Doyle, Bernie Breen (0-1); Róisín Murphy, Kellie Kearney (0-1); Aisling Murphy (0-1), Fiona Rochford (capt., 0-1 free), Niamh Butler (0-2); Rachel Bennett, Chantelle Martin (1-2), Caitríona Murray (1-3, 0-3 frees). Subs. - Shauna Murphy for Bennett (31), Aoife Sheil for Doyle (43), Siobhán Cloake for Butler (64), Georgina Hearn (1-0) for Harding-Kenny (70), Bennett for Kearney (71), also Sarah Merrigan, Brídín Doyle, Emer Cahill, Eleanor Neville, Elaine McCabe, Fiona Rowe, Ciara Walsh, Ann Byrne, Ciara Ryan, Maeve Quill.
Tipperary: Lauren Fitzpatrick; Laura Morrissey, Maria Curley, Emma Buckley; Bríd Condon, Samantha Lambert (capt.), Laura Dillon; Aisling McCarthy (1-5, 0-3 frees), Aisling Moloney (0-6); Jennifer Grant, Mairéad Morrissey, Niamh Lonergan; Orla O'Dwyer (0-2), Gillian O'Brien (0-1), Róisín Howard (1-1). Subs. - Anna Rose Kennedy for O'Brien (55), Caoimhe Condon for Howard (55), Howard for Moloney, inj. (64), O'Brien for M. Morrissey (70), Catherina Walsh for Lonergan (72), Rachel O'Donnell for Dillon (78).
Referee: Angela Gallagher (Dublin).
TUES. AUG. 15
Senior championship semi-final: St. Anne's v. Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 7.30 p.m.
Senior shield semi-final: Adamstown v. Clonard/Volunteers, 7.30 p.m.
Intermediate championship semi-final: St. Martin's v. Clongeen, 7.30 p.m.
THURS. AUG. 17
Senior championship semi-final: Shelmalier v. Clonee, 7.30 p.m.
FRI. AUG. 18
Intermediate championship semi-final: Gusserane v. Fethard, 7.30 p.m.
SAT. AUG. 19
AT ST. PATRICK'S PARK: Junior 'B' shield final, Glynn-Barntown v. Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 4 p.m.
5.30 p.m. - Junior 'B' championship final, Davidstown-Courtnacuddy v. St. Brigid's (Blackwater).
7 p.m. - Junior 'A' championship final, HWH-Bunclody v. Taghmon-Camross.
AT OYLEGATE: Under-14 Division 1 Cup final, Clonee v. Glynn-Barntown, 2 p.m.
3.15 p.m. - Intermediate shield final, Kilanerin v. Shelmalier.
AT BALLYMURN: Under-14 Division 2 shield final, HWH-Bunclody v. St. Brigid's (Blackwater), 10.30 a.m.
11.45 a.m. - Under-14 Division 1 shield final, St. Martin's v. Kilmore.
AT FARMLEIGH: Under-14 Division 4 shield final, Clonard/Volunteers v. Shamrocks, 10.30 a.m.
11.45 a.m. - Under-14 Division 4 shield final, Castletown v. Taghmon-Camross.
SUN. AUG. 20
AT ST. PATRICK'S PARK: Under-14 Division 2 Cup final, Clonard/Volunteers v. Baile Dubh Tíre, 11.45 a.m.
THURS. AUG. 24
AT BLACKWATER: Under-14 Division 3 Cup final, Ballygarrett v. Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, 7 p.m.
VENUE TBC: Under-14 Division 4 Cup final, Rathgarogue-Cushinstown v. Clongeen or Sarsfields, time TBC.