Four of the team that will be certain to play (bar injury) in next Sunday’s GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling semi final at Croke Park will recall the last time Tipperary and Wexford met in a senior hurling championship game.
That game was played on July 3, 2010 when twenty one year old Padraic Maher lined out at left wing back in Tipperary’s 3-24 to 0-19 win over the Model County in the opening round of the qualifiers at Semple Stadium
Brendan Maher, still only 21, lined out at midfield with twenty two year old Seamus Callanan donning the number eleven shirt while Noel McGrath played at top of the right.
Patrick Maher is another survivor from that game but the Lorrha man is currently out of action because of a cruciate injury.
The fact that Liam Sheedy was manager back then is another parallel while another similarity is that Tipp needed to win following their opening Munster championship defeat to Cork down in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Hopefully history will repeat come All-Ireland final time.
Only some of the current Tipperary panel ready for next Sunday’s battle against Wexford would recall the last time Tipperary faced Wexford in an All-Ireland semi final.
That 2001 clash needed a replay to separate the teams with Eugene O’Neill’s two goals producing daylight between the teams, daylight that was very necessary as constant rain and darkened skies made it a disappointing day for the supporters despite the win.
It was also the day Tipperary’s Brian O’Meara was sent off for the meekest of challenges and thus lost his chance to play in the All-Ireland final win over Galway.
That 2001 encounter was only the second ever All-Ireland semi final meeting between the teams, with Tipperary accounting for The Model County four years previously in circumstances somewhat similar to this year.
1997 was the first year of the backdoor when Tipperary lost to Clare in the Munster final before returning to winning ways with a quarter final win over Down at Clones thus creating a return to Croke Park for a spirited semi final win over the Model County.
Next Sunday Tipperary will be endeavouring to repeat the success of the last three championship encounters with Wexford but based on the evidence of recent games, Tipperary will be very much up against it.
One month ago, Wexford, under the charge of manager David Fitzgerald, had one of its greatest hours when they defeated Kilkenny in the Leinster final at Croke Park. The win marked the end of a fifteen year gap since Wexford last won the Leinster decider and the last time they defeated Kilkenny in a championship game.
Left corner forward Paul Morris is the only Wexford man to have a link with the 2010 meeting.
He was listed as a sub that day. In the meantime, Wexford haven’t fared too well in the championship. But the arrival of David Fitzgerald has changed all that (despite their disappointing exit to Clare last year) and things are much better and the recent Leinster championship win has enhanced their reputation.
Fitzgerald has picked a strong team and he has a reliable goalkeeper in Mark Fanning. Fanning made a vital save against Kilkenny in the Leinster decider and he didn’t hesitate in running up field to take responsibility on the penalty situation as demonstrated successfully in the Leinster final.
The spine of the Wexford team is strong and in front of Fanning, Liam Ryan is a teak tough full back and will be a constant in the company of Tipp’s full forward Seamus Callanan.
Callanan is currently having a great year but Ryan can hurl too as his many forays out of the heart of the Wexford defence can show. It will be an interesting battle.
Matthew O’Hanlon is Wexford’s captain and leader in the defence at centre back while Liam Og McGovern and Diarmuid O’Keeffe have done very well at midfield. O’Keeffe has an eye for a score or two every day and his contribution could be a factor in the destination of the game.
The Wexford pair are a useful combination and Noel McGrath plus Ger Browne or Michael Breen (whichever) will have their hands full this time.
The name Lee Chin is very much to the fore when Wexford are hurling. Chin is a real leader and his ability to score from frees and from play makes him a contender for another All-Star. His fellow half forwards in John and Rory O’Connor can also score from the half forward line.
However they are up against Tipperary’s best line to date with Brendan Maher, Padraic Maher and his brother Ronan contributing very much to the recent wins epitomised by the victory over Laois and there should be a real battle of wits against the Wexford trio.
David Fitzgerald likes to keep his teams hurling very tight around the middle third of the field and this leaves the Wexford with one man up front for most of the game.
Conor McDonald is usually the candidate for such an operation making life difficult for James Barry and company however Wexford’s lack of goals could curtail their ability to win not like Tipp who have potential goal scorers in Jason Forde, John McGrath, John O’Dwyer and of course Seamus Callanan. Michael Breen, if selected is another player who can pop up for a three pointer.
There is a lot of pressure on Liam Sheedy and his team. The defeat to Limerick left a severe dent on the confidence of the team and the win over Laois two weeks ago did nothing to enhance the level of confidence either.
The clash with Laois was difficult to digest as Tipp were dammed if they played too well and dammed if they played poorly. To me their performance against Eddie Brennan’s team could be rated at 6.5 out of ten. Laois weren’t too bad with a team fully fit and ready to take on the best.
In fairness, Tipperary haven’t become poor hurlers overnight. As I have said before they have brilliant hurlers but the jury is out as to whether they can hurl in a teak tough hard fought close encounter which Wexford will like very much.
Tipp like to explore open ground because their hurling and first touch suits it and the wide open spaces in Croke Park will be a tremendous help.
Tipp have hurled very well in recent visits to Croke Park as demonstrated in the games against Galway, Kilkenny and Cork but in order to repeat those glory days they will need to see an improved outing from players like Michael Breen, John O’Dwyer, John McGrath and Jason Forde who on their day can create a scoring sensation. Hopefully the fast playing ground of headquarters can help.
The game promises to be a great occasion with Tipp to win if every player plays up to the level we know they rise to.
A repeat of the day against Limerick and it's curtains for 2019.
Simple as that.