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Thursday 21 November 2019

Fitz aims to blunt fitful Premier aces

All-Ireland SHC semi-final, Wexford v Tipperary, Live RTÉ2/Sky Sports Croke Pk, Tomor (3pm)

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald

Statistics interpreted a certain way can be used to prove any argument, and so it is with tomorrow's fascinating collision of Wexford and Tipperary.

A raw analysis of the numbers would suggest Tipp have the more potent attack - they've averaged over 2-23 per game compared to Wexford's 1-21, cue a five-point difference.

But if you delve deeper, there are reasons for Slaneyside optimism that extend beyond the Davy Fitzgerald X-factor, the massive crowd they will bring to Croke Park, or the momentum carried from their epic Leinster final. And it's all to do with Tipp.

A trawl through the Premier's SHC scoring returns reveals a gulf between the first three games, when they were scoring for fun, and the next three.

Blunted

Moreover, it highlights how a couple of their chief attacking weapons - the two Johns, O'Dwyer and McGrath - have become relatively blunted.

Not so in May and early June. Playing with energy and invention, Tipp ran up 2-28 (Cork), 2-30 (Waterford) and 3-21 (Clare). Their tallies from open play - 2-24 twice, then 3-15 - were off the charts.

Then, approaching half-time against Limerick in Thurles, Patrick Maher tore his cruciate. 'Bonner' may not qualify as the most prolific Tipp forward but, in terms of setting the physical and ball-winning agenda, he is the most pivotal. Moreover, he was flying.

On the day Maher's season ended, and with Limerick through regardless, it proved a Pyrrhic victory. Tipp had tallied 1-22 (1-15 from play). When battle resumed in the Munster final, they were limited to 2-14 (2-10 from play) against their rampant rivals.

Their 2-25 quarter-final haul looks better on paper than reality: it came against 14-man Laois and contained 1-15 from play.

Here is the real measure of how Tipperary have lost some of their early-summer fluency. 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer shot 0-11 from play in his first two games; just 0-3 in the next four.

After three outings John McGrath had 1-12; he has subsequently added 1-3.

For Tipp to reignite, they'll need one (or both) of these sublime talents to relocate their mojo.

At least Jason Forde and Séamus Callanan have maintained form: leaving aside placed balls and line cuts, Forde shot 1-7 from play in his first three games and 0-7 thereafter.

Callanan's 6-14 from play has been a model of consistency, 3-7 coming in each half and with a goal in all six games.

The middle third of Croke Park tomorrow will be a congested battleground. With his well-drilled sweeper system, Davy Fitz will seek to frustrate Tipp's assassins. And they need to find an answer.

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