An eight-point advantage is now the most dangerous lead in football after the second of yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-finals proved again that there is no such thing as a lost cause in this year’s championship.
Kerry have let such an advantage slip on three occasions this summer – not counting yesterday’s nine-point lead — and, for a fleeting moment midway through this second-half, it looked like Tyrone had caught the same bug.
At half-time they were just a point short of a three-goal cushion and facing into a second period which Matty Forde would be watching from the sideline with a set of crutches.
Wexford may have overturned a 10-point deficit against Meath in Leinster, but there was nothing to suggest that they could replicate that trick. As Jason Ryan said later, Wexford had been as bad in that first period as they were in the second against Dublin and yet, within 16 minutes of the restart, they had clawed themselves back to within two points. Tyrone’s response was clinical. They reeled off four unanswered points to quell the rebellion and seal a final against the Kingdom.
Had Wexford won, it would have been a story unparalleled in modern Irish sport, but a Kerry-Tyrone decider is no poor consolation.
Talk of 2003 and 2005 wafted around Croke Park and, whatever the result, these two finalists should finally wash away the bad taste left by the last two deflating deciders.
It was, in many ways, the perfect semi-final for Mickey Harte. Another rout would have done little good after the saunter against Dublin. Wexford’s revival will give plenty to ponder.
Tyrone didn’t reach the heights they managed in that quarter-final. Then again, Wexford didn’t reach Dublin’s depths either, although the opening quarter suggested Leinster football was in for another heavy kicking.
Tyrone lined out without Brian McGuigan thanks to a bout of flu but their attack remained in full health and took full advantage of Wexford’s decision to station Brian Malone as a free man in front of the full-back line.
The result was mayhem and oceans of space in front of Anthony Masterson’s goal. Tyrone tore through their rearguard at will and at pace. The variety of players coming at Wexford with ball in hand was bewildering.
Ryan McMenaminin and Philip Jordan may have had numbers two and seven on their backs but they played like auxiliary attackers and utilised their licence to roam to superb effect. Davy Harte too. The trio finished the game with six points between them but their forward colleagues were not found wanting. Joseph McMahon was the only one of the starting six who failed to find the target.
Wexford’s troubles weren’t confined to the one compartment. Time and again they coughed up possession through ill-judged passes or, as was often the case, Tyrone’s full court press. Their forwards felt the pinch most.
Apart from Ciaran Lyng, who finished the game with 1-6, no other forward managed two scores. Philip Wallace, their full-back, was the team’s second highest marksman with two points from play, one bouncing over the bar.
Three of Wexford’s first four points actually came from defenders as Matty Forde remained peripheral. Smothered by Conor Gormley, his race was run when he went over on his ankle three minutes from half-time without having recorded a single score.
Eight points down and with their totem felled, Wexford could have called time on their campaign but elected instead to die with their boots on, re-emerging from the tunnel long before Tyrone eager to make amends. Within 10 minutes the lead had been ground down to five points.
A McCullagh free stretched the lead to six before Lyng took hold of a long ball and ran through for a goal.
He added a point from a free with 20 minutes to go but Jordan and McMenamin settled Tyrone nerves with a pair of points before Penrose kicked another pair.
Wexford threw in panel veteran Rory Stafford but Tyrone were not about to leave the door open for a second time in the one afternoon.
Scorers for Tyrone: S Cavanagh, C McCullagh 0-4 (2f) each, T McGuigan (1f), M Penrose, P Jordan 0-3 each, R McMenamin, B Dooher 0-2 each , D Harte, E McGinley 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: C Lyng 1-6 (4f), P Wallace 0-2, A Morrissey, C Morris, PJ Banville, P Colfer, A Flynn, S Roche 0-1 each.
A Masterson; D Walsh, P Wallace, B Malone; A Morrissey, D Murphy, C Morris; E Bradley, B Doyle; PJ Banville, R Barry, C Byrne; C Lyng, P Colfer, M Forde.
Subs: C Deely for Byrne 32, S Roche for Forde 35, N Murphy for Morrissey 43, A Flynn for Colfer 60, R Stafford for D Murphy 63.
J Devine; R McMenamin, Justin McMahon, C Gourley; D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan; C Holmes, E McGinley; B Dooher, M Penrose, Joseph McMahon; T McGuigan, S Cavanagh, C McCullagh.
Subs: B McGuigan for Cavanagh 49, K Hughes for Holmes 52, C Cavanagh for McCullagh 72.
P McEnaney (Monaghan).