De­fi­ant Wexford de­throne Gal­way

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - DERMOT CROWE

Wexford 1-23 Gal­way 0-23

THIS was pure Wexford, one of those clas­sic home­town en­ter­tain­ment shows which have be­come al­most routine un­der the stew­ard­ship of Davy Fitzger­ald. A crowd giddy with ex­cite­ment swarmed the pitch at the end to hail a fa­mous vic­tory in the quar­ter-fi­nals of the Na­tional League. Out of a scrum of ad­mir­ing fol­low­ers emerged Fitzger­ald, an­other one down, an­other feather in his cap.

They took out the reign­ing league cham­pi­ons and, of course, the All-Ire­land ti­tle hold­ers, who had blitzed them in the sec­ond half of last year’s Le­in­ster fi­nal. That day brought a mea­sure of re­al­ism to the Wexford res­ur­rec­tion which be­gan on Fitzger­ald’s heav­ily-pub­li­cised ap­point­ment. In that sense, yes­ter­day had a deeper mean­ing and rel­e­vance.

The match had a pul­sat­ing fin­ish. A minute into in­jury time Conor Whe­lan scored his fifth point in an out­stand­ing in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance to leave Gal­way, who had to deal with the loss of Jack Coyne to a straight red card after an off-the-ball in­ci­dent in the 52nd minute, within a point of the home team.

Two points down when Coyne was sent off, Gal­way dug in and were level through Whe­lan on the hour mark, but teenager Rory O’Con­nor, who was ex­cep­tional, struck a huge point in im­me­di­ate re­sponse and Gal­way trailed from there to the fin­ish.

What a fin­ish it was. After Whe­lan’s fi­nal point in in­jury time, Conor McDon­ald, the game’s only goalscorer shortly be­fore half-time, hit two points which raised the rafters and saw Wexford safely into the semi-fi­nals. They face their close ri­vals Kilkenny at 4pm next Satur­day, at Wexford Park once again. It will be a third com­pet­i­tive meet­ing be­tween the coun­ties this year and their fifth in the last 12 months. Wexford have been beaten just once in the pre­vi­ous four.

“I don’t care,“said Fitzger­ald when asked about that prospect. “I just want to be in the com­pe­ti­tion. I value the com­pe­ti­tion. It’s a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. We’re play­ing Kilkenny down here. We’ ll have 8-10,000 peo­ple here. There will be an un­be­liev­able at­mos­phere. You’ve seen the at­mos­phere to­day — why wouldn’t you want it? If we have it again next week, fine.

“We know we’ll meet them in midJune and we know that will be hel­ter-skel­ter. But that will be com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the con­di­tions now. That’s why the league and cham­pi­onship is great be­cause it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent.”

Beat­ing Gal­way was an­other state­ment of in­tent by Wexford. Wexford de­feated Gal­way in Salthill last year on their way to win­ning pro­mo­tion from Divi­sion 1B. But in the cham­pi­onship there was a marked dif­fer­en­tial.

Yes­ter­day did not dis­prove that a dif­fer­en­tial still ex­ists, it be­ing March and heavy ground, but Wexford are a more for­mi­da­ble side this year head­ing into the sum­mer.

Gal­way have work to do. They were below their best, hurl­ing in fits. At times they showed the class that re­mains in the team, just didn’t sus­tain it. But there were some pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions from Whe­lan, Johnny Coen and Cathal Man­nion who weighed in with qual­ity scores.

Wexford lost Damien Reck early in the match, hav­ing helped DCU to win a Fresh­ers ti­tle dur­ing the pre­vi­ous week, and Wil­lie Dev­ereux had trou­ble cop­ing with Whe­lan’s power and fin­ish­ing in Reck’s ab­sence.

Wexford got more from their team, although Gal­way were still well in the match en­ter­ing the fi­nal mo­ments, even with the nu­mer­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage.

“I am de­lighted with the win,” ad­mit­ted Fitzger­ald. “We won it when it was in the melt­ing pot but I think we shouldn’t have put our­selves in that po­si­tion. I think Gal­way will be a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion in two months’ time, they will be a lot dif­fer­ent, but I would hope that we will be a lot dif­fer­ent as well. We have to cut out the er­rors.”

He ref­er­enced five missed frees in the first half, with Lee Chin scor­ing his first to an­swer an open­ing score from Coen, but then way­ward with the next two from around 45m. Rory O’Con­nor took over and scored three with­out fail, then missed two and Paudie Fo­ley was also off-tar­get with one ef­fort. Fo­ley had a huge game, scor­ing five points, in­clud­ing two from play. If there is work to be done, there was no is­sue with the team’s at­ti­tude. “You can’t ask for any­thing more,” said Fitzger­ald. “Like you can see what it means to the peo­ple. They love their hurl­ing down here. And it’s a great place to come to, to be at a game.”

Wexford took a one-point lead to the half-time break, 1-9 to 0-11, which should have been greater. But they were al­ways in Gal­way’s faces. Jack O’Con­nor epit­o­mised their spirit by field­ing four puck-outs in the first half, the first three un­der the guard of Ai­dan Harte. Padraig Man­nion was later moved on to him and had more suc­cess.

O’Con­nor had a hand in their goal as well. His quick lineball was snapped up by Paul Mor­ris who moved it on to Rory O’Con­nor. His strike was par­ried by James Ske­hill and McDon­ald fin­ished the re­bound.

Joe Can­ning started but didn’t sparkle, mov­ing from mid­field to full-for­ward and not hav­ing ma­jor in­flu­ence out­side of his free-tak­ing. Gal­way restarted the match after half-time bet­ter and re­gained the lead but Wexford’s re­sponse after con­ced­ing the first three points was to score the next four. Typ­i­cal of their de­fi­ance on the day.

Scor­ers — Wexford: R O’Con­nor 0-6 (4fs); C McDon­ald 1-2; P Fo­ley 0-5 (3fs), D O’Ke­effe 0-3, K Fo­ley, L Chin (1f) 0-2 each, J O’Con­nor, L Ryan, H Ke­hoe 0-1 each. Gal­way: J Can­ning 0-10 (9fs, 1 65); C Whe­lan 0-5, C Man­nion, J Coen 0-3, J Cooney, J Flynn 0-1.

Wexford: M Fan­ning; D Reck, L Ryan, S Dono­hoe; D O’Ke­effe, M O’Han­lon, P Fo­ley; K Fo­ley, R O’Con­nor; J O’Con­nor, D Dunne, L Chin; S Mur­phy, C McDon­ald, P Mor­ris. Subs: W Dev­ereux for Reck (inj 14 mins); A Nolan for Dunne (53); H Ke­hoe and C Dun­bar for J O’Con­nor and Mor­ris (69). Gal­way: J Ske­hill; A Tuo­hey, J Han­bury, P Man­nion; J Gre­al­ish, G McIn­er­ney, A Harte; J Coen, J Can­ning; J Cooney, J Coyne; C Whe­lan, C Cooney, D Burke. Subs: S Lof­tus for Gre­al­ish (half-time); J Flynn for Burke (57); B Col­can­non for Cooney (69).

Ref­eree: F Hor­gan (Tip­per­ary).

Wexford’s Lee Chin gets away from Adrian Tuo­hey of Gal­way dur­ing yes­ter­day’s Al­lianz Hurl­ing League Divi­sion 1 quar­ter-fi­nal in Innovate Wexford Park. Photo: Sam Barnes

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