Tyrone snuff out Wexford dream

 

ALL-IRELAND SFC SEMI-FINAL Tyrone 0-23 Wexford 1-14:THE SENSE of familiarity that came with Tyrone dusting themselves down and walking off the field as if clocking out from a regular afternoon shift at Croke Park was at least disturbed by what happened shortly afterwards.

Jason Ryan, the Wexford manager, called his team into a huddle in the centre of Croke Park and for what seemed like several minutes waved his hands about as if conducting an orchestra and, to conclude, put one fist to his chest and let the fingers splay out across his heart, as if to say his team had shown just that: heart.

With that they too walked off the field to the steady applause of their supporters, the remaining Tyrone hands chipping in as well.

If Wexford had just woken up from their dream championship campaign a little abruptly there was no nasty bite to reality. Nothing more to look forward to, but so much to look back on.

There may just be a little regret, however, considering they really played for only half the game. No team have beaten Tyrone in the height of the championship with only 35 minutes of football.

The truth is Wexford came close enough, and the six-point winning margin didn't entirely reflect how it ended.

Having been nine points down after 25 minutes, still six down after 45 minutes, Wexford clawed themselves back to within two with some 20 minutes still remaining. Croke Park was suddenly electrified and Tyrone had a game on their hands. It hung briefly in suspension before falling back into familiarity.

Tyrone don't concede fairytale endings. They are in the business of winning, particularly if it's the last step before an All-Ireland showdown against Kerry. We cannot say how desperate Tyrone were to get there because they were never fully asked. Wexford put it up to them, but they never once put it past them.

Wexford's problem in the first half was obvious: hardly one of their number was tight enough to his man. Brian Malone was about the only defender playing with the sort of tempo Tyrone were up to all over the field, emphasised by the midfield dominance of Enda McGinley.

The saving grace was Wexford's ability to turn desperation into real hope. Going into the half-time break 0-14 to 0-6 in arrears was bad enough; they emerged for the second half without Matty Forde. An ankle injury sustained on 32 minutes had ended his game - leaving a gaping void in Wexford's attack.

Things could hardly get worse, which partly explains the abandon with which they now played.

Forde's replacement, Shane Roche, hit the opening point from the restart and Wexford set up attack after attack. They found their shape, at last, and found Ciarán Lyng going into overdrive.

Lyng's free-taking was faultless for most of the afternoon, and on 49 minutes he became the flaming beacon of hope.

Tyrone were looking edgy and conceding frees, and in a rare instance of slackness, Ciarán Gourley fumbled possession in the path of Brendan Doyle. The big midfielder drove a brilliant ball into Lyng, who swerved toward the Tyrone goal and sent a rocket straight to the net.

Lyng's free moments later brought Wexford to within two points - 1-12 to 0-17. The game had reached its turning point and its boiling point at the same time.

Seán Cavanagh, one of Wexford's chief tormenters in the first half, had just gone off with a dislocated finger and a back injury (the latter not serious), and if Wexford had reproduced the fire they showed against Meath in early summer they might have swung this one out too.

But they ran into a final 20 minutes of bold and barricading football. Tyrone may not have invented the art of closing out tight matches, but they've perfected it. Wexford were slowly but inexorably smothered.

Philip Jordan, as if on cue, restored the margin to three points. Jordan had one of his best games in a Tyrone shirt, which is saying a lot, and ended with three points, each one brilliantly taken.

Moments later, a powerful move involving Brian and Tommy McGuigan set up Davy Harte in front of goal, and although his thundering shot rebounded off the crossbar, the message was clear: Tyrone were not about to collapse in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They came back and hit another three points without reply, including a deft flick from Ryan McMenamin, who must have trod every square metre of Croke Park over the 70 minutes.

Martin Penrose, who had started for Brian McGuigan, then hit two points in succession to embellish what had already been an excellent performance.

Wexford's hope was fading back into desperation, especially when the excellent Lyng hit two uncharacteristic wides.

They had gone 13 minutes without a score and badly needed one and so Philip Wallace stepped up to the mark.

Now more than ever Forde's absence was felt, as more scoring chances went astray.

Tyrone had Wexford on the run again, and they finally cut them down in their tracks. Tommy McGuigan looked lethal in hitting their next score, before the old warrior Brian Dooher increased the advantage to seven points.

The last score was left to the Wexford substitute Adrian Flynn, but the lasting image was of Tyrone putting away a gallant Wexford team with the sort of intent that suggests the All-Ireland final in three weeks' time will be a classic meeting of champions.

TYRONE: 1 J Devine; 6 C Gormley, 3 J McMahon, 4 C Gourley; 5 D Harte (0-1), 2 R McMenamin (0-2), 7 P Jordan (0-3); 8 C Holmes, 9 E McGinley (0-1); 10 B Dooher (0-2), 29 M Penrose (0-3), 12 J McMahon; 13 T McGuigan (0-3, one free), 14 S Cavanagh (0-4, two frees), 15 C McCullagh (0-4, two frees). Subs: 11 B McGuigan for Cavanagh (49 mins, inj), 21 K Hughes for Holmes (52 mins), 18 C Cavanagh for McCullagh (72 mins).

WEXFORD: 1 A Masterson; 2 D Walsh, 3 P Wallace (0-2), 4 B Malone; 5 A Morrissey (0-1), 6 D Murphy, 7 C Morris (0-1); 8 E Bradley, 9 B Doyle; 10 PJ Banville (0-1), 11 R Barry, 12 C Byrne; 13 C Lyng (1-6, four frees), 14 P Colfer (0-1), 15 M Forde. Subs: 26 C Deely for Byrne (31 mins), 27 S Roche (0-1)for Forde (half-time, inj), 30 N Murphy for Morrissey (43 mins, inj), 19 A Flynn (0-1)for Colfer (60 mins), 25 R Stafford for Murphy (63 mins).

YELLOW CARDS: Tyrone: R McMenamin (44 mins), M Penrose (47 mins); Wexford: D Murphy (34 mins), P Wallace (47 mins), D Walsh (55 mins), C Morris (65 mins).

RED CARDS: None.

Referee: P McEnaney(Monaghan).