Stronger bench should give Tipp the edge

OF the weekend’s four All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals, this is the one everyone feels most confidence about calling.

Though Wexford did manage to reach the Leinster final, they had a poor Leinster campaign. They struggled to beat Dublin in the semi-final and had to rely on a late injury-time long-distance pointed free from Barry Lambert to squeeze through. Then came the Leinster final, another meeting with old rivals Kilkenny, another battering, to such an extent that first-year manager John Meyler was moved to offer an apology to the Wexford fans in the aftermath.

No apologies from John to former team captain Nigel Higgins, however who was dropped altogether from the panel after showing up late for training a couple of weeks ago.

In that Leinster final, Meyler also showed a willingness to be tough, taking off Declan Ruth early on, when the vastly experienced defender was being given a bit of a roasting by Henry Shefflin.

The problem was, Declan was at full-back, not his natural position, while Keith Rossiter, one of the few consistently high performers for Wexford, was in Ruth’s centre-back. For this game, however, both are back where they belong, Rossiter on the edge of the square, Ruth manning the pivot.

I have to say that overall, I like the look of this Wexford 15. Captained by Damien Fitzhenry, an inspirational figure in goal, with veterans Rory McCarthy and Mitch Jordan back in favour, Darren Stamp back in midfield, Eoin Quigley at wing-forward, there’s a familiar look about them, a balanced look.

Remember 2001 when Limerick were expected to give them a hurling lesson but fell to a Wexford goal-fest. Remember also two years later when Cork were held to a draw in similar circumstances?

Let no-one county their chickens here.

To Tipperary, and what a turnaround in one game. Had Tipp as widely predicted, as all known form had suggested – fallen to Cork in the final round of qualifiers they would now also be seen as mere fodder in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, a warm-up game for Waterford before they went on to test themselves against bigger guns.

That one game, however and Tipp are back among the favourites.

Justified? I’m not convinced. Eoin Kelly is still on the bench, injury given as the excuse – excuse it is too, methinks, as Babs goes for balance, retains the forward sextet that did so well against Cork.

Often, very often, a brilliant player such as Kelly can tend to skew a team, the other forwards abdicating their own responsibilities as they turn to their star for salvation.

It is not Kelly’s fault, by any means, but there’s no gainsaying that as a unit, the Tipp forwards did look more dangerous, more cohesive against Cork.

What of the final balance, however – in which direction will the scales be tipped, on the final whistle? For the answer, I go to the respective benches, and here I feel the advantage is with Tipp.

Verdict: Tipperary

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