Ex­tra-time agony as foot­ballers lose thriller

Mo­men­tum stalled af­ter es­tab­lish­ing ten-point lead

Gorey Guardian - - SPORT - ALAN AHERNE in In­no­vate Wex­ford Park

LAOIS 2-21 WEX­FORD 1-18 (AET)

THE EN­TER­TAIN­MENT lev­els were off the charts in this Le­in­ster Se­nior foot­ball cham­pi­onship first round clash be­fore a very small crowd in In­no­vate Wex­ford Park on Satur­day, but ul­ti­mately the home side were left to rue what might have been af­ter squan­der­ing a ten-point in­ter­val lead and bow­ing out af­ter ex­tra-time to Laois.

There was high drama from start to fin­ish, par­tic­u­lar in the third of four ad­di­tional min­utes an­nounced at the end of nor­mal time when John Tubritt picked out Brian Malone who was swept out of it for a penalty by Laois cap­tain Stephen At­tride.

The sides were level (1-14 each), so the op­tions were clear: take a point and try to de­fend a po­ten­tial last Laois at­tack, or go for goal and end the tie in a blaze of glory.

Donal Shan­ley no doubt took in­struc­tions from the side­line be­fore tap­ping the ball over the cross­bar, and at that stage all eyes were on ref­eree Martin McNally.

It had taken just un­der 70 sec­onds be­tween that foul on Malone and the spot kick to be taken, so the four added min­utes were al­ways go­ing to rise to five as a re­sult.

A strong dose of cyn­i­cism was needed at that stage, just like Dublin at the end of last year’s All-Ire­land fi­nal, but Wex­ford were ei­ther too naive or sim­ply hadn’t any­thing left in the tank to pull down an op­po­nent in the Laois half of the field and kill the con­test.

In­stead, the mid­lan­ders worked the ball to­wards the town end, with corner-back Gareth Dil­lon pop­ping up around 35 me­tres from goal to grab the pre­cious equaliser with his left boot. The fi­nal whis­tle sounded on the kick­out, 20 sec­onds later, af­ter a half last­ing 40 min­utes.

Un­for­tu­nately, Wex­ford never looked like win­ning in ex­tra-time, with Laois last­ing the pace a lot bet­ter and outscor­ing their ri­vals by a de­ci­sive 1-6 to 0-3.

And the vi­tal goal came from a man with close Slaney­side links, as the run of mid­fielder Kieran Lil­lis - nephew of a Black­wa­ter stal­wart and for­mer Wex­ford se­lec­tor, Se­nan - wasn’t tracked in the third minute and he slot­ted a low shot past the out­stand­ing Conor Swaine.

All Wex­ford could muster in that first ex­tra pe­riod was a pointed free from Donal Shan­ley who had an ex­cep­tional evening from placed balls, with Stephen At­tride mak­ing one great in­ter­cep­tion to cut out a John Tubritt pass when a goal looked a pos­si­bil­ity.

Dar­ren Strong, Trevor Collins and At­tride picked off the points that left Laois clear by 2-18 to 1-16 at the last break, while Swaine made one of his many fine saves to deny Collins a goal.

The long ball tac­tic to Daithí Wa­ters and Nick Doyle around the square was a last-ditch at­tempt to se­cure goals on the re-start, but the Laois de­fend­ers swarmed around them and it never looked like pay­ing off.

In­stead, points from the in­flu­en­tial Kingston broth­ers, sub­sti­tute Paul (two) and Donie, saw Laois safely through to a quar­ter-fi­nal meet­ing against West­meath, with two Wex­ford con­so­la­tion scores com­ing from Donal Shan­ley (free) and Dar­ragh Pep­per.

It had been a dif­fer­ent story en­tirely in a mem­o­rable first-half from the home side.

The tone was set from the throw-in when gi­ant-hearted cap­tain Daithí Wa­ters - a doubt be­fore­hand with an in­jury to his right knee - grabbed the ball and played a one-two with fel­low vet­eran mid­fielder Brian Malone be­fore pick­ing off the first point at the town end.

Wex­ford had ini­tial use of the wind and they made the ab­so­lute most of it, hold­ing Laois score­less from play while burst­ing into an im­pres­sive 1-10 to 0-3 half-time lead.

John Tubritt was on fire up front, kick­ing three of his five points from play, while all three half-backs got on the score­sheet and con­trib­uted 1-2 be­tween them.

And with net­min­der Conor Swaine ut­terly de­fi­ant any time Laois threat­ened a goal, it was a lead that re­ally ought to have se­cured out­right suc­cess.

Alas, Wex­ford sur­ren­dered con­trol to such a de­gree in the sec­ond pe­riod that only some in­cred­i­ble misses from the vis­i­tors en­sured that ex­tra-time would be re­quired to de­cide the out­come.

The home side reg­is­tered a mere four wides in that very bright open­ing half, but their cause wasn’t helped by in­juries to at­tacker Paul Cur­tis early on, and full­back Jim Ros­siter who ap­peared to do se­ri­ous dam­age to his knee close to half-time.

The loss of the St. Fin­tan’s man was a par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant blow given that Wex­ford couldn’t han­dle the aerial prow­ess of Donie Kingston who was chiefly re­spon­si­ble for drag­ging Laois back into con­tention from full-for­ward.

In a sce­nario that no­body could have pre­dicted, Wex­ford led by 0-8 to nil by the 22nd minute af­ter points from Wa­ters, Tubritt (three), Glen Malone and Shan­ley (three frees).

It was Conor Swaine’s best game thus far in his brief ca­reer be­tween the posts, and he was seen at his bril­liant best for the first time in the twelfth minute when he made a su­per stop to deny David Con­way af­ter good work by Stephen At­tride and Ross Mun­nelly.

Laois may have felt they had stopped the rot when their first point, from a Gary Walsh free in the 23rd minute, was fol­lowed by a sec­ond from a Mun­nelly set-piece.

How­ever, Wex­ford struck for a well-worked team goal in the 26th minute, with cen­tre-back Naomhan Ros­siter join­ing the at­tack and ex­chang­ing passes with his big brother, Tiar­nan, on the left be­fore forc­ing the ball to the Laois net (1-8 to 0-2).

It was 1-10 to 0-3 by half-time, with James Stafford (from a clear goal chance) and Shane Doyle adding to the lead and the sole re­ply com­ing from an­other Mun­nelly free.

Swaine saved bril­liantly from Kieran Lil­lis and Conor Carty smoth­ered Donie Kingston’s re­bound, while the goal­keeper also kept out a less threat­en­ing at­tempt from John O’Lough­lin.

Mun­nelly had a hard-to-credit miss from a 14-me­tre free on the re-start, but the game swung com­pletely in favour of Laois who de­ployed Gra­ham Brody as a fly goal­keeper through­out with a lot of suc­cess.

It may have been a risky move, but he never mis­placed a pass on his reg­u­lar for­ays up­field.

Wex­ford were slow to re­act to the threat posed by Donie Kingston who had moved to full-for­ward in the first-half and was reg­u­larly left one-on-one with the phys­i­cally smaller Michael Fur­long.

The more im­pos­ing Naomhan Ros­siter moved on to him at a later stage, but all of the mo­men­tum was with Laois at the time as they were clean­ing up around the mid­dle third of the field.

Their open­ing score from play was fi­nally supplied by cap­tain Stephen At­tride in the 38th minute, with David Con­way and Kingston (free) adding points be­fore Gra­ham Brody kept out a goal-bound Tiar­nan Ros­siter shot at the ex­pense of a ’45.

That was a key mo­ment in the game as a green flag at that stage would have been a mas­sive tonic for Wex­ford, but they still led by 1-13 to 0-11 en­ter­ing the last quar­ter af­ter the ex­cel­lent Tubritt and Shan­ley (free) supplied fur­ther points.

One of those Laois scores came af­ter an­other Swaine save, this time from Damien O’Con­nor, and they got to within two points by the 59th minute (1-13 to 0-14) af­ter unan­swered ef­forts from Paul Kingston, Ross Mun­nelly and Donie Kingston.

Poor han­dling cost them an­other goal chance in that spell, and O’Con­nor fol­lowed with a ter­ri­ble miss when he fired right and wide in a one-on-one sit­u­a­tion af­ter a Mun­nelly pass.

A Shan­ley free was caught un­der the cross­bar be­fore Tubritt’s fifth point from play left Wex­ford lead­ing by 1-14 to 0-14 in the 68th minute.

Just over 30 sec­onds later, Niall Dono­her went down at the other end and ref­eree McNally awarded a rather soft penalty, with Donie Kingston tuck­ing it low into the left corner to bring Laois level for the first time.

There was still time for that spot kick at the other end, and the de­bate will rage for a long time as to whether the Wex­ford side­line erred in opt­ing for a point rather than try­ing for a goal.

It was the clas­sic case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’, just one of many talk­ing points from an event­ful game that sim­ply couldn’t have been scripted.

Wex­ford: Conor Swaine; Michael Fur­long, Jim Ros­siter, Conor Carty; Glen Malone (0-1), Naomhan Ros­siter (1-0), Shane Doyle (0-1); Brian Malone, Daithí Wa­ters (capt., 0-1); James Stafford (0-1), Ben Bros­nan, Eoghan Nolan; Paul Cur­tis, Donal Shan­ley (0-8, 6 frees, 1 ’45, 1 pen.), John Tubritt (05). Subs. - Tiar­nan Ros­siter for Cur­tis, inj. (11), Alan Nolan for J. Ros­siter, inj. (35+2), Eoin Porter for Bros­nan (45), Nick Doyle for Stafford (56), Barry O’Gor­man for S. Doyle (69), David Shan­non for T. Ros­siter (78), Stafford for O’Gor­man, inj. (78), Dar­ragh Pep­per (0-1) for A. Nolan (HT ET).

Laois: Gra­ham Brody; Rúaidhrí C. Fen­nell, Mark Tim­mons, Gareth Dil­lon (0-1); Trevor Collins (0-1), Colm Be­g­ley, Stephen At­tride (capt., 0-2); John O’Lough­lin, Kieran Lil­lis (1-0); Alan Far­rell, Donie Kingston (1-6, 1-0 pen., 0-3 frees), Damien O’Con­nor; Ross Mun­nelly (0-5, 3 frees), David Con­way (0-1), Gary Walsh (0-1 free). Subs. - Benny Car­roll for Walsh (HT), Niall Dono­her for Far­rell (47), Paul Kingston (0-3) for Fen­nell (51), Dar­ren Strong (0-1) for Con­way (61), Tom Shiel for Mun­nelly (67), Fin­barr Crow­ley for O’Con­nor (75), De­nis Booth for Dil­lon (85), David Hol­land for Collins (87).

Ref­eree: Martin McNally

(Mon­aghan).

Donie Kingston, the chief Laois dan­ger­man, holds off Naomhan Ros­siter. Wex­ford wore spe­cial retro-style jer­seys to mark the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions of the All-Ire­land win­ning 1915 to 1918 foot­ball teams.

James Stafford shakes off Kieran Lil­lis, whose ex­tra-time goal left no way back for Wex­ford.

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