Many new faces exposed to rigours of county football
LAST SUNDAY was the first chance this year for Wexford supporters to see our new-look football team play at home in a proper competitive game. A small loyal band of die-hard supporters braved the ice-cold February day in order to assess what the future holds for our Senior county team.
Realistically, Wexford were not expected to win this game, even though from the point of view of survival in Division 3 it was a mustwin occasion.
What we witnessed was an encouraging display by an inexperienced team against a superior opposition that have been the second best team in Leinster for the last two years.
The team which started contained a number of players who only established themselves at inter-county football last year, namely James Stafford, Paul Curtis, Jim Rossiter and Eoghan Nolan.
Also included were six players in their debut season who were later joined by four substitutes playing their first year at this level too.
That is a massive transition for any team to cope with and is an indication of the magnitude of the task ahead.
Two tough away games against Fermanagh and Sligo were a harsh start to the campaign, but Sunday’s home game was never going to see an easing of the relentless pressure that every game in this division will bring.
Daithí Waters and Brian Malone are probably two of the most dedicated and committed footballers ever to wear the Wexford jersey, as well as both having all the attributes of a top-class player.
Last Sunday they played every minute like it was a championship game and demonstrated the desire and passion that is required to play at the top level.
It is an old cliché but certainly appropriate to these two legends to say that they certainly lead by example.
If a few of the new players go on to have half the career these two men have had, Wexford football will be in a good place.
Back to the game and, despite playing with the wind, after 20 minutes Wexford trailed by 0-4 to 0-1, mainly due to indecision in front of goal but also due to the aggressive defending of the Westmeath backs.
A two-point deficit at half-time was a fair reflection of the first-half performance, and a backs to the wall display was expected in the second-half.
After 50 minutes there were still only two points between the teams and Wexford were coping well with the onslaught while creating chances themselves.
Unfortunately, a five-minute spell saw full-forward Luke Loughlin score three unanswered points that took away any momentum from the Wexford play.
Westmeath took control and stretched their lead to seven points, looking comfortable as they headed for victory.
However, to give great credit to this young Wexford team, they battled to the end and scored a goal and a point to reduce the deficit to three.
Prior to these scores a brilliant save from Eoin Carberry had denied corner-back Conor Carty a goal, so Wexford almost snatched an unlikely draw.
It would have been an amazing result had they drawn as Westmeath were the better team, but it just shows that you can be rewarded for a never-say-die attitude.
Despite the loss on Sunday, I think the management can be pleased with the performance.
They used the opportunity to expose many new players to the rigours of football at this level and it was obvious that given time these players are more than capable.
Wexford have a deserved break next weekend and a chance to recover after three tough assignments in 15 days.