Tipp prevail with one of the great displays of on-field guts

When you are old and grey and full of sleep, all you will need to wake up will be yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final, in whatever format you fancy.

Tipp prevail with one of the great displays of on-field guts

When you are old and grey and full of sleep, all you will need to wake up will be yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final, in whatever format you fancy.

If you are from Tipperary, of course, you will probably have the play-by-play for the last 20 minutes off by heart, like the catechism long ago.

The Premier County lived up to its heritage yesterday in Croke Park with a performance for the ages. Down a man on 45 minutes and leaking 1-2 on the bounce, Tipperary wouldn’t yield.

The men in blue and gold poured forward in waves to win a contest to rank with any of their great victories of the past.

They came out on the right side of a 3-20 to 1-27 scoreline, and the satisfaction will come from the potent mixture of grit and class, and also a sense of overcoming a sub-standard display by the match officials.

Although criticising referees is all too easy, particularly for those of us who have never picked up a whistle, Tipperary had three goals disallowed yesterday.

Two of them, at least, seemed legitimate, including the farcical situation when play continued through a clearance, foul, free, and goal before being brought back to award a Lee Chin point.

For those in Tipperary, that will only sweeten the feeling this morning.

Their management was incensed in real time by some decisions, but a campaigner as experienced as Liam Sheedy will know that forging a victory like yesterday will send a shot of adrenaline through his players that will remain in the system for the All-Ireland final.

The sky will be all the darker over Wexford because they got so much right all through the game. In the first half, they might have engineered a few more goal chances, for instance, but took their points every time, and at half time they led by two.

While they didn’t dominate that first half from start to finish, was that lead a paltry reward for the Wexford effort?

They’d survived two of Tipp’s disallowed goals, but in the cold light of day they may regret not going for the jugular in the opening half when the chances arose.

By the same token, Tipperary never really wobbled until John McGrath got sent off on 45 minutes.

They leaked two points and then Lee Chin, bearing down on goal, flicked a glance to his right, suggesting a pass, but finished low to the left corner instead.

From then on, however, Tipperary hit 12 points (and had that goal disallowed), while Wexford hit 1-2.

Tipp were viewed as the older of the four semi- finalists in Croke Park over the weekend, but it was notable that some of their opponents were cramping up with the time winding down.

In addition, the closing quarter of the game was the best illustration you could find of Huxley’s old definition of experience — that it isn’t what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you.

Many of those Tipperary players have been in tight semi-finals and finals before, and many of those games had to be lost before they learned how to win.

When the chips were down in that final quarter they were able to find team-mates and go for the right option over and over again.

On the other side, Wexford passes went astray and Conor McDonald’s late point came with a team-mate free inside him and clean through.

Then again, Wexford didn’t have someone with the back catalogue of Noel McGrath in the line-up.

The Loughmore-Castleiney man was playing in All-Ireland finals a decade ago, after all — who better to have pulling the strings in the middle of the field?

“It’s right up there,” said McGrath when asked to put yesterday’s game in context. “I don’t really have the words to describe what went on today.

"What’s after going on for the last 70, 75 minutes was unbelievable. We were backs to the wall for the last 20, 25 minutes, with 14 men.

“Tipperary have been questioned coming up here about what they can and can’t do. I don’t think any words can describe what happened there, but anyone looking for answers got them.

“To be honest, I can hardly even talk. We’ll regroup, we’ll refresh, we’ll relax tonight and enjoy ourselves, and we’ll get up tomorrow morning and think about what’s coming in three weeks’ time.

“This, today, this is why you train, this is why you play. That was some occasion today and to be part of it was unbelievable. To come out on the right side of it is even better.”

The positives weren’t confined to the result for Tipperary either. Much of the conversation about them this year has focused on Sheedy’s decision to back the experienced core of players who figured when he won the All-Ireland back in 2010 rather than the Premier County’s All-Ireland winning U21 side last year.

The decision has been rewarded, with the three Mahers immense in defence for Tipperary yesterday — Ronan, the youngest of them, in particular — while up front, Seamus Callanan responded well to Noel McGrath’s prompting from the middle of the field.

Yet, almost by stealth, Sheedy has been blooding those young players all along. A quick glance at the scorers for Tipperary in those crucial closing stages reveals some interesting names.

Newcomers such as Ger Browne, Mark Kehoe, and Jake Morris were introduced and contributed points.

For Wexford, the likes of Lee Chin and Liam Ryan could hardly have contributed more — Ryan’s sally upfield and storming point early on was a match highlight — but manager Davy Fitzgerald will mull over some of the Tipperary puck-outs in the final quarter.

Though a man down, Tipp were able to find men at the back for restarts and the third disallowed goal arose when a Tipp forward was isolated with his marker in front of Mark Fanning — a surprising twist in the game given Wexford’s spare man.

Tipperary are the story, however. The choices Sheedy and his selectors made worked out well, with Barry Heffernan a towering presence at the back.

They showed their class upfront, too: Exhibit A is John O’Dwyer’s snapped equaliser two minutes into the second half, though Seamus Callanan’s first-half goal probably shades that as a high point.

When the ball came across to Callanan, it looked a touch overplayed, with the forward breaking stride and angling out towards the sideline to collect. Instead of picking it, though, he went for power and connected sweetly.

Every youngster who ever pucked a ball knows the tingle when the sliotar comes up off the ground and is met properly, but not every youngster who ever pucked a ball did so in an All-Ireland semi-final.

Callanan’s decisive flash should stand as a corrective to those seeking to get the ball up even in a ruck near the goal.

A loose, bouncing ball deserves that kind of slap.

Spare a thought for Wexford this morning. The purple and gold was everywhere in Dublin yesterday, and they certainly outnumbered Tipperary fans in the stadium.

It’s been a very good summer for them and they fought to the bitter end. Their opponents’ familiarity with the big occasion — and with this stage of the competition — was worth something yesterday, all other considerations being equal.

Which leaves us with a familiar pairing in the decider.

There’s a symmetry here if you want to pick it out, it’s just that the roles are reversed.

Instead of a vastly experienced Kilkenny team with players pushing up to the penny gate, as Ring used to put it, now it’s Tipperary who have the men with a decade’s service given to the cause.

It’s Kilkenny who have the youngsters who are learning on the hoof, the kids who are in a hurry and who aren’t disposed to respect their elders.

Both teams have players who know what it takes to lift the Liam MacCarthy, but what we won’t know until the final is which side has enough of those players to make the difference.

There’s another day for that, though. For now, you can bask in the afterglow of another incredible weekend of hurling semi-finals, though whether you agree with the GAA’s decision to run those off on consecutive days or not is your own decision.

This viewer still struggles with the notion of an All-Ireland semi-final at teatime on a Saturday, but if the timetabling has anything to do with the quality we’ve seen in the last couple of years, it’s a struggle I’ll gladly embrace.

You can also bask in one of the great displays of on-field guts. Tipperary might have landed in Jones’s Road yesterday with question marks hanging over them, but they left with every answer underlined in bold.

Dalo's Hurling Podcast: Tipperary's defiance. Will Davy Fitz stay on? Kilkenny tactics. Cody's greatest semi-final victory?

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