By Séamas McAleenan, at Croke Park
Tipperary are back in the semi-finals of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior championship after this very comfortable quarter-final victory in Croke Park on Saturday against injury-hit Antrim.
Up until last year the Premier had made four successive semi-final appearances.
There was little chance of that experience not counting against the Saffrons who had done well to reach a quarter-final for the first time in 41 years despite the experienced Lucia McNaughton, Shannon Graham and the long-term injured Maeve Kelly not participating in any of the group games.
Acting captain Caoimhe Conlon picked up a grade two tear on her shoulder AC joint in last week’s game against Waterford and joined those on the treatment table. The good news pre-match was the return of McNaughton for her first start since the league tie with Wexford on April 2nd.
The Saffrons set up defensively with Mary McKillen dropping back into the half-back line. It took Tipperary a little time to work out how to break them down and after 15 minutes the teams were locked on 0-3 each, three frees from Antrim (Róisín McCormick two and a huge effort from Niamh Cosgrove) and three from play for the Munster champions, including a fine effort from Cáit Devane who would go on to win the player of the match award with a total of 2-6.
Antrim clung on for a while in the second quarter, but three frees from Eimear McGrath and two points from Devane opened a gap of 0-10 to 0-5 by half-time.
The sliotar broke for Caoimhe Maher from the throw-in and she burst down the centre, the move ending with Cáit Devane slotting the goal after just 12 seconds.
Tipperary quickly set about killing off the game and a series of points followed to bring their total to 1-17 by the three quarters mark.
Then half-time sub Eimear Heffernan stepped on the gas. The Knocknavilla Donnaskeigh Kickhams forward was on hand to find the net after Caoimhe McCarthy’s shot was brilliantly saved by Catrina Graham in the 46th minute.
She then tagged on four points during the last quarter while another driving run from McCarthy saw the sliotar off-loaded for Devane to volley to the net with a lob that would have had the crowds gasping at Wimbledon.
Antrim looked dejected as they left the pitch while all is rosy in the Tipp garden ahead of their eighth semi-final in nine seasons. But can they take the next step and reach a first final in 17 years?
SCORERS FOR TIPPERARY: C Devane 2-6 (0-4fs); E Heffernan 1-4; E McGrath 0-5fs; C McIntyre, R Howard 0-2 each; C Hennessy, C McCarthy, Caoimhe Maher, G O’Brien 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR ANTRIM: R McCormick 0-4(3fs); N Cosgrove, C Dobbin 0-1f each
ANTRIM: C Graham, C Patterson, K Laverty, M Lynn, N Cosgrove, A Boyle, L McKenna, L McNaughton, A Connolly, S McKillop, R McCormick, C Dobbin, K McKillop, M McKillen, Á Magill. Subs: F Kelly for S McKillop (40), C McArthur for M McKillen (40), M McGarry for L McKenna (50), E McShane for K McKillop (50) E Kearns for C Patterson (56)
TIPPERARY: Á Slattery, J Bourke, M Eviston, E Loughman. K Blair, K Kennedy, A McGrath, T Ryan, C Hennessy, R Howard, Caoimhe Maher, E McGrath, G O’Brien, C Devane, C McIntyre. Subs: C McCarthy for C Hennessy (27), E Heffernan for G O’Brien (HT), M Ryan for A McGrath (39), Ciardha Maher for T Ryan (44), C Ryan for C McIntyre (50)
Referee: Andy Larkin (Cork)