Last-gasp heart­brea

Heroic ef­fort foiled at the death as Galw

Gorey Guardian - - SPORT - ALAN AH­ERNE in Port­laoise

GAL­WAY WEX­FORD 4-21 2-26 (AET)

IT WAS gut-wrench­ing, heart-break­ing, and in­cred­i­bly hard to take.

A col­lec­tive sick­ness af­flicted the Wex­ford sup­port­ers af­ter Wed­nes­day’s epic Bord Gáis En­ergy Le­in­ster Un­der-21 hurl­ing cham­pi­onship fi­nal in O’Moore Park, Port­laoise, so one can only imag­ine the scenes of dev­as­ta­tion in the dress­ing-room af­ter a fan­tas­tic ef­fort to claim the last-ever pro­vin­cial ti­tle in this age group fell ag­o­nis­ingly short.

This grip­ping game pro­duced an abun­dance of thrills and spills, with the dom­i­nance switch­ing one way and then the other be­fore Gal­way even­tu­ally marked their first in­volve­ment in the Le­in­ster cham­pi­onship with out­right vic­tory thanks to a last-gasp goal at the end of ex­tra-time.

Wex­ford had forced that ad­di­tional 20 min­utes when all seemed lost af­ter a bril­liant fin­ish by cen­tre-back Ian Carty nearly raised the roof off the stand, and they were on the verge of glory af­ter an out­stand­ing long-range point by Rory O’Con­nor pushed them 2-26 to 3-21 clear with just over half of the one ad­di­tional ex­tra-time minute played.

Ian O’Shea lobbed the ball into the dan­ger zone at the Port­laoise town end, and it broke for re-in­tro­duced Gal­way sub­sti­tute Seán Blea­hene who turned him­self in a hero with an un­stop­pable shot to the net.

The fi­nal whis­tle was blown less than 30 sec­onds later, with dev­as­tated Wex­ford play­ers col­laps­ing on the ground while the an­i­mated Gal­way fans rushed from the stand to ac­claim the cham­pi­ons.

That was how close it was, with the mar­gin be­tween vic­tory and de­feat about as tight as it comes.

Thank­fully, the change in struc­tures to the cham­pi­onship guar­an­tees that Wex­ford’s year isn’t over, as they will now face Mun­ster vic­tors Cork in the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal in early Au­gust while Gal­way will take on run­ners-up Tip­per­ary. If ever a team de­served a sec­ond chance, this is the one.

Our poor Mi­nor record meant that pre­cious lit­tle at­ten­tion might have paid to the Slaneysiders by the coun­ties more ac­cus­tomed to suc­cess in the old Un­der-18 grade, but all that will change af­ter this en­counter.

Three al­ter­ations were made from the semi-fi­nal vic­tory in Dublin, with goal­keeper James Henebery re­placed by Jack Cushe, while Gary Mol­loy and Rory Hig­gins were selected out­field ahead of Seán Bar­den and Oisín Fo­ley re­spec­tively.

Damien Reck re­verted to left cor­ner-back to keep tabs on dan­ger­man Evan Ni­land, with Mol­loy part­ner­ing cap­tain Conor Fir­man at mid­field while Rowan White started once again at left half-back de­spite hav­ing num­ber 9 on his shirt.

The game was brim­ful of pas­sion and in­ten­sity from the off, a won­der­ful ad­ver­tise­ment for a grade that will sadly be re­placed by Un­der-20 in 2019. For a send-off in Le­in­ster, it couldn’t pos­si­bly have been any bet­ter.

Kevin Cooney and Gary Mol­loy swapped early points, the lat­ter from a Rory O’Con­nor hand­pass, be­fore Brian Con­can­non and Thomas Mon­aghan pushed Gal­way 3-1 clear.

Liam Stafford set up the ex­cel­lent O’Con­nor for his first point, but the west­ern­ers’ ac­cu­racy early on was first rate as Cianan Fahy, Con­can­non and Seán Lof­tus ex­tended their ad­van­tage to 6-2 af­ter only six ac­tion-packed min­utes.

A lovely solo and sidestep by an­other lead­ing Wex­ford per­former, Sea­mus Casey, led to a point be­fore he con­verted a free from in­side his own half.

Evan Ni­land was suc­cess­ful from a placed ball be­fore Gal­way made the first big break­through when they pounced for the open­ing goal in the twelfth minute.

Seán Blea­hene played a pass out from the end­line on the right to Thomas Mon­aghan who danced away from Rowan White and Gary Mol­loy be­fore plant­ing a low shot past Jack Cushe for a 1-7 to 0-4 lead.

It was im­por­tant for Wex­ford to stay in touch, and this was ac­com­plished when Casey pointed a free and Conor Fir­man set up Rory O’Con­nor to add an­other from play.

Cianan Fahy and Casey (free) ex­changed points be­fore a mo­ment of high drama when er­ratic ref­eree John O’Brien sig­nalled for a Wex­ford penalty be­fore chang­ing his mind and throw­ing the ball in af­ter con­sult­ing with his um­pires.

It came af­ter Casey popped a pass to Liam Stafford whose low shot flew high into the air off the stick of Gal­way net­min­der Eanna Mur­phy, with the dust ris­ing and the net shak­ing as Rory Hig­gins just missed out on goal­ing from the re­bound be­fore it was kicked clear.

In fair­ness, it was hard to see what O’Brien mer­ited as a penalty in the first place, but it wasn’t the first time that the of­fi­cials at that end were in the thick of it be­fore half-time.

Um­pire Brochan out goal­keeper Mu grounds that he st square for puck-outs to a pointed Sea­mus O’Con­nor was foule

It in­creased the tem­per­a­ture in the s of the Gal­way suppo the last of seven on t dur­ing an in­spired s

In­deed, their fin was su­perb, go­ing fr 0-6 in the 16th minu in­ter­val lead.

Rory O’Con­nor p with a su­perb point fr Casey con­trib­uted a well as three from fr

Gal­way at­tacker Evan Ni­land has nowhere to go as Wex­ford duo Damien Reck and Rory O’Con­nor close him

Wex­ford full-back Dar­ren Byrne try­ing to keep tabs on Gal­way’s Seán Blea­hene who was re-in­tro­duced to sco

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