Wednesday 20 November 2019

Fightback in vain as Tipp end winning run

Tipperary 3-21 Wexford 1-21

Jason Forde scoring the second Tipperary goal despite the best efforts of league debutant Conor Firman
Jason Forde scoring the second Tipperary goal despite the best efforts of league debutant Conor Firman
A disappointed Damien Reck after Saturday’s defeat in Thurles
Paul Morris under pressure from Tipperary defender Seán O’Brien

Alan Aherne

The reality check that was always on the cards in such a competitive group was delivered before 8,358 engrossed spectators under the Semple Stadium, Thurles, floodlights on Saturday when Tipperary ended Wexford's unbeaten start to Division 1A of the Allianz Hurling League and joined them on four points in the process.

Davy Fitzgerald had warned that a slump would come at some stage, and in the long run it might be no harm at all that it arrived in the third round before some followers started to get completely carried away.

Wexford hurling fans tend to be oblivious to the middle ground - when the team is going poorly they're regarded as the worst in the world while, on the other hand, a couple of good results are often blown out of all proportion.

And the latter seemed to be the case as far as I could see after that admittedly very bright start which yielded wins over an experimental Waterford in Walsh Park, followed by Cork on home soil.

I didn't attend either game as I was covering football matches at the same time, but I watched the latter encounter in full afterwards in a cold, dispassionate manner.

And what I saw didn't quite equate with some of the over the top opinions voiced by some pundits, who ought to know better, in the immediate aftermath of that victory.

Yes, the energy and drive was admirable and it undoubtedly got the team over the line. However, the win papered over the fact that 16 wides were struck against Cork, including no fewer than eight from placed balls - five from goalkeeper Mark Fanning and three from Lee Chin.

That issue returned again on Saturday in a game featuring a ruthless display of finishing by Tipperary free-taker Jason Forde.

In contrast, Paul Morris missed an absolute sitter in the first-half, while all four wides in the second period from an overall tally of eight came from Chin frees.

In fairness to the latter, he really took the fight to Tipperary and his four points from play underlined the immense quality in his game, but there is clearly an issue there that needs to be addressed.

In my opinion, Jack Guiney is the squad's most consistent free-taker, but unfortunately he couldn't partake on Saturday owing to injury. When he is ready to start a game, he's the obvious candidate to be given this admittedly onerous task.

The starting team showed two changes from 13 days earlier, with David Dunne returning in attack to replace Cathal Dunbar after a family bereavement ruled him out of the Cork game.

Willie Devereux was originally selected to replace Simon Donohoe who has a hand injury but, in a late enforced change, Conor Firman came in for a league debut at left corner-back. With Eoin Moore also ruled out for the next while, the options weren't as plentiful as normal in the defensive department.

This game was effectively won and lost in a dreadful second quarter showing from Wexford when they went from being 1-7 to 1-4 ahead to going in trailing at the break by 1-15 to 1-8.

Incredibly, Tipperary scored eleven points out of twelve in that spell, with their cause helped by persistent fouling which saw Jason Forde rack up five of that haul.

Wexford had set up in the by now usual manner, with Shaun Murphy sweeping while Paul Morris and David Dunne featured in a two-man inside attacking line.

However, by my reckoning, Dunne didn't actually get on the ball until one run in first-half added time that ended with his shot falling short.

Wexford need to figure out a way to offer a better service to the full-forward duo if this tactic is to continue, although the Davidstown-Courtnacuddy speedster was a lot more involved after the interval.

Regarding the sweeper, it certainly wasn't one of Murphy's better outings as his first touch repeatedly let him down while he struggled to keep his footing at times.

To Wexford's immense credit they did mount a strong comeback, and the catalyst for that was the re-deployment of Kevin Foley as the sweeper where he exerted a huge influence.

Their contrasting displays must have offered plenty of food for thought for the mentors.

The visitors opened very well, with Chin landing an 80-metre free into the town end after a foul on Aidan Nolan inside 50 seconds.

And after arrowing over three eye-catching points against Cork, Kevin Foley popped up with a brace, the first after Conor McDonald intercepted a short puck-out, and the second after Tipperary newcomer Paudie Feehan gave possession away with a stray handpass.

Seán Curran got Tipperary off the mark in the sixth minute, but McDonald responded swiftly after Aidan Nolan won Mark Fanning's puck-out and fed him on the right wing (0-4 to 0-1).

John McGrath and Jason Forde hit back, the latter with the first of his seven frees before half-time that were conceded by Liam Ryan (three), Matthew O'Hanlon, Jack O'Connor, Conor Firman and Diarmuid O'Keeffe.

An excellent solo point from Lee Chin in the twelfth minute, from a Shaun Murphy handpass on the left, made it 0-5 to 0-3, but an error from the latter led to the first Tipperary goal less than 60 seconds later.

He was caught attempting to secure possession in the right corner, and Seán Curran swept the ball across goal where Jason Forde picked and blasted past Mark Fanning in one flowing movement.

Forde and Paul Morris went on to swap points from frees, before Wexford regained the lead in the 17th minute.

Matthew O'Hanlon - making his 75th Senior appearance - found Kevin Foley who darted down the middle before picking out Lee Chin on his left with an astute long handpass. The Faythe Harriers ace was hauled back by Barry Heffernan just as he seemed set to score his first-ever inter-county goal, with a penalty plus a yellow card for the defender awarded by referee James McGrath.

Mark Fanning didn't make the long trek upfield on this occasion, and instead midfielder Aidan Nolan stepped up to hammer the ball into the ground and beat Daragh Mooney who went on to make two outstanding second-half saves.

When Paul Morris earned and converted a free, everything was going to plan as Wexford led by 1-7 to 1-4 in the 20th minute.

However, from there to half-time was an unmitigated disaster as they were restricted to just one more point, from a Chin free after Tipperary had tagged on six without reply.

And they weren't finished yet, as another five on the trot were added to that stockpile to leave the hosts with a somewhat hard to credit 1-15 to 1-8 interval lead.

Apart from Forde's fine free-taking - with just one miss - scores from play were recorded by Patrick Maher, John McGrath, Noel McGrath, Barry Heffernan, Donagh Maher and Michael Breen, with the latter ensuring that all six forwards had hit the target before the break.

The Wexford dressing-room was hardly a sedate spot at half-time, given the weakness of that second quarter showing.

To give credit where it's due, the players responded well and certainly had Tipperary on high alert moving into the closing stages when the deficit was down to three points and the travelling supporters were in full voice.

And it took a somewhat dubious goal to seal the deal for the locals, two minutes into added time.

There was nothing wrong with the quality of the finish from Patrick 'Bonner' Maher as he hared away from Damien Reck before beating Mark Fanning at his near post as Kevin Foley arrived a fraction too late to challenge.

However, Aidan Nolan appeared to have been fouled in the lead-up, but referee McGrath thought otherwise.

Prior to that, the half commenced with points from Chin ('65) and Morris (free) before a Ronan Maher effort was cancelled by David Dunne, from a Jack O'Connor handpass (1-16 to 1-11).

A tough task became even harder in the 44th minute when Matthew O'Hanlon fumbled a long Daragh Mooney free as he attempted a catch. Quick as a flash, John McGrath's short pass found Jason Forde who drilled home his second goal, and it was a significant score.

Chin and Jack O'Connor picked off points but Patrick Maher and Forde (free) ensured that eight still divided the sides entering the last 20 minutes.

A pull by O'Connor was deflected over the bar shortly after the second of Chin's four wides from frees, and a third followed before Tipperary substitute Billy McCarthy made it 2-19 to 1-14.

One of the brightest aspects of the evening was the return after a long injury lay-off by Rory O'Connor, with the St. Martin's youngster making his league debut when he replaced Paul Morris in the 48th minute.

And, only for an over-hit cross by David Dunne, he may well have goaled early in the last quarter at a stage when Wexford still trailed by eight points.

That became nine after Jason Forde converted a sweet line ball on the right, but the visitors then thundered into the game and hit five scores on the bounce.

Shaun Murphy started the comeback after playing a short line ball to Jack O'Connor and getting the return, and Chin made it 2-20 to 1-16 in the 60th minute from a Diarmuid O'Keeffe handpass.

Harry Kehoe then replaced Murphy, with Kevin Foley taking up the sweeping duties. And, poor and all as Wexford were before half-time, who knows how it might have ended if Daragh Mooney hadn't made two top-notch late saves?

The first came when Matthew O'Hanlon crossed from the right for Conor McDonald who managed to pull one-handed when the ball sat up in the air, but his rocket was kept out by the rookie netminder.

The move energised the Wexford crowd, and the players responded with points from Rory O'Connor and a couple of Lee Chin frees.

All of a sudden the gap was down to 2-20 to 1-19, and Tipperary were grateful and relieved in equal measure when their captain, Pádraic Maher, landed a monster point from distance.

Chin, forceful to the bitter end, hit his fourth point from play from a Pádraig Foley pass, and they did engineer a gilt-edged chance to make it a one-point game.

An Aidan Nolan line ball on the left broke favourably for Chin who soloed down the middle before handpassing to his right at the ideal time for Conor McDonald.

The attacker seemed to hesitate for a split second before, from a standing start, opting for placement rather than power.

Daragh Mooney produced the save and effectively made sure of the points for his team in the process, although Wexford fans still hoped for the best after Chin converted the '65.

It wasn't to be, unfortunately, with 'Bonner' Maher signing off on a very entertaining contest with his clinically-taken individual goal.

Wexford were awarded 15 of the 29 frees and shot eight of the 17 wides, while yellow cards were shown to Jason Forde, Liam Ryan, Barry Heffernan, Jack O'Connor and John McGrath.

Next up is a game that Davy Fitzgerald will be awaiting with relish, the visit of his beloved Clare to Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Conor Firman; Shaun Murphy (0-1); Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Pádraig Foley; Kevin Foley (0-2), Aidan Nolan (1-0 pen.); Jack O'Connor (0-2), Conor McDonald (0-1), Lee Chin (0-10, 4 frees, 2 '65s); Paul Morris (0-3 frees), David Dunne (0-1). Subs. - Rory O'Connor (0-1) for Morris (48), Cathal Dunbar for Dunne (59), Harry Kehoe for Murphy (62), Eanna Martin for O'Keeffe (70).

Tipperary: Daragh Mooney; Donagh Maher (0-1), James Barry, Seán O'Brien; Barry Heffernan (0-1), Pádraic Maher (capt., 0-1), Paudie Feehan; Brendan Maher, Ronan Maher (0-1); Seán Curran (0-1), Noel McGrath (0-1), Patrick Maher (1-2); John McGrath (0-2), Michael Breen (0-1), Jason Forde (2-9, 0-8 frees, 0-1 line ball). Subs. - Billy McCarthy (0-1) for Heffernan (53), Ger Browne for Curran (60), Mark Russell for Breen (65).

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

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