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Wexford v Tipperary: Five areas that will settle the All-Ireland semi

Wexford and Tipperary do battle in this weekend’s All-Ireland Hurling semi-final. Here’s a look at five areas that will have a huge say on the result in Croke Park.

1. Work Rate

As we’ve become well aware of under Davy Fitzgerald, Wexford’s work rate around the pitch is not to be underestimated. In their two most recent battles against Kilkenny, Wexford’s work rate in the middle third of the field was exemplary, and their draw and defeat of Kilkenny has since been reinforced with the Cats’ victory over Cork in the quarter-final.

Tipperary will have to go stride for stride with Wexford. Their work rate in the early part of the Munster Championship was a marked improvement on last year, but frailties trickled into their game in the final against Limerick where the champions dominated from start to finish. The loss of Bonner Maher is well noted at this point, but Tipperary must extract the absolute maximum from the rest of their half-forward line and surrounding squadron to have any chance against the ferocious terriers in the Wexford team.

2. Full Back Battle

James Barry has a target on his back for his high profile mishaps in the full back role, but a lot of focus is on what he can’t do and not what he can. If Wexford target low ball into the Tipperary full back, they will be relying on Paul Morris and Conor McDonald to make up the ground, with speedy Cathal Barrett and Alan Flynn, or possibly Sean O’Brien, in pursuit. If they go high on top of Barry, he’s more than capable of handling aerial assaults. Where his game comes under scrutiny is when he has the ball in hand, and his use of it. After Laois highlighted this weakness in his game, it’s very likely Tipperary will change tact with how they move the ball forward, with Wexford likely to leave a man free.

As for the opposite side of the field, Liam Ryan will have his hands full with Seamus Callanan. His battles with Colin Fennelly will have been ample preparation, but Ryan was lucky not to be penalized more often in his defence of the Kilkenny man. Callanan was playing unusually deep against Laois, but you would expect him to isolate Liam Ryan in hope of getting one-on-one situations with the full back, in sight of increasing his incredible goal tally this year.

3. The Sweeper

Wexford’s use of the sweeper system is likely to have a huge bearing on the game. Tipperary have demolished the system before, but the Yellowbellies’ use of the role allows backs to drive forward in herds when in possession of the ball. This will give the Tipperary wing backs and midfield plenty to consider, as the likes of Paudie Foley, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Liam Óg McGovern bomb from deep inside their own half. So Tipperary mighn’t have as much success as usual, while getting swamped by defenders in point-scoring positions. If Tipperary are at their peak and have the forward fluidity that they can conjure up every so often, they could pick apart the Wexford backs slowly but surely. If their own spare man can negate the deadly impact of Rory O’Connor and the free-running Lee Chin, Tipperary will have every chance.

4. Scoring

Chin was perfect from placed ball in the Leinster final, finding a confidence that should roll onto this game. But elsewhere, Wexford were clinical from all sorts of positions, with Conor McDonald having one of his finest games in the Wexford shirt, and Rory O’Connor putting his name into the All Star equation. If they can find similar success against what often tends to be a watery Tipperary back-line, Wexford will take the Premier all the way to the end.

As for Tipperary, we all know how good their forwards are. The likes of John O’Dwyer and John McGrath had quiet afternoons against Laois in the last round, but motivation to lift themselves for that game would have been fairly meek. The prospect of a bullying and brutish Wexford side could be the spark that lights this attack into life. If they are on song, and they can successfully find Callanan in and around the square, Tipperary could hack up a game-winning tally on Wexford.

5. Bench Impact

Neither side is known for their substitution impact. Tipperary’s youthful exuberance with the likes of Mark Keogh and Jerome Cahill has yet to truly take off, and the switches didn’t announce their names in lights against Laois. This would be the perfect platform to tell the GAA world how good they are should the game be in the melting pot.

Wexford’s alternative options from the dugout also leave room for improvement. Cathal Dunbar has yet to truly impress for the seniors, while Harry Keogh provides a solid if unspectacular attacking switch. Wexford will need to find scores from someone on the bench to get them over the line.

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