No semi-fi­nal spot but plenty of pos­i­tives Ut plenty of pos­i­tives

Foot­ballers bow out to slick Meath at­tack af­ter us­ing 32 play­ers in three matches K af­ter us­ing 32 play­ers in three matches

New Ross Standard - - SPORT - ALAN AH­ERNE

WEX­FORD’S QUEST for a place in the last four of the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup Se­nior foot­ball tour­na­ment ended in de­feat to Meath in St. Pa­trick’s Park, En­nis­cor­thy, on Satur­day, but men­tors and play­ers alike ought to have learned a lot from their three out­ings as at­ten­tion now turns to­wards the league opener away to Leitrim on Jan­uary 27.

The home side went toe-to-toe with their Di­vi­sion 2 ri­vals through­out the open­ing half-hour, but a slack spell just be­fore the break was re­peated in the early stages on the re-start, al­low­ing the Roy­als to drive on to vic­tory.

The sides were dead­locked for the first time on 0-5 each when Jonathan Bealin con­verted his third free in the 30th minute, but Meath kicked four points with­out re­ply be­tween then and half-time to give a taste of what was to fol­low.

Hav­ing said that, Wex­ford had suf­fi­cient chances to erase that deficit when the ac­tion re­sumed, but four wides in five min­utes from Bealin (free), Kevin O’Grady, John Tubritt and im­pres­sive mid­fielder Niall Hughes meant they didn’t avail of ter­ri­to­rial dom­i­nance.

Meath were more eco­nom­i­cal in at­tack, mak­ing good use in par­tic­u­lar of the long ball to tal­ented full-for­ward Michael New­man who pro­vided the best pos­si­ble test for rookie de­fender Gavin Shee­han.

The vis­i­tors’ lead was ex­tended to 0-14 to 0-8 by the end of the third quar­ter af­ter New­man won a 50-50 con­test from a Gra­ham Reilly de­liv­ery, and lively sub­sti­tute Seán Tobin killed off the slim hopes of a Wex­ford re­vival in the 55th minute when he goaled af­ter good work by James McEn­tee and Gavin McCoy.

The losers did raise a con­so­la­tion green flag with an op­por­tunist lob by Donal Shan­ley af­ter a goal­keep­ing er­ror, but they were never go­ing to erase the deficit and Meath se­cured a semi-fi­nal clash against Dublin with seven points to spare.

A draw would have been enough for Wex­ford to ad­vance from this Group 3 clash and get an­other chance to re­peat last year’s win over the third string All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons.

Both teams had al­ready ac­counted for Laois be­fore Christ­mas, while the crossover games against teams in other groups saw the Slaneysiders beat Louth whereas Meath were pipped by Long­ford.

A vic­tory was es­sen­tial for the Roy­als to ad­vance ahead of Wex­ford on the headto-head rule, and they duly obliged on a mild day in good con­di­tions.

Three changes were made from the side which de­feated Laois at the same venue on De­cem­ber 20 by 2-13 to 1-11, with Glynn-Barn­town’s Matt Doyle given a chance in goal in­stead of Conor Swaine.

Tiar­nan Ros­siter started at left half-back in the ab­sence of new cap­tain Michael Fur­long, with Martin O’Con­nor dropping back to the right cor­ner, while John Tubritt came in at left cor­ner-for­ward for David Shan­non.

The game was only 22 sec­onds old when Meath were pe­nalised for four con­sec­u­tive hand­passes, but they made the same er­ror just one more time, in the 66th minute.

Wex­ford were caught out just once, but it was an ex­tremely costly slip as it led to a well-taken goal from Tubritt be­ing dis­al­lowed mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter.

The ex­changes had been gen­er­ally even prior to that, with Dar­ragh Cam­pion and Kevin O’Grady swap­ping early wides be­fore Meath wing-back Niall Kane moved for­ward to kick two fine points, the first off his left peg and the sec­ond via his right.

Matt Doyle had a dif­fi­cult af­ter­noon with his kick-outs, send­ing three in to­tal over the side­line, but his shot-stop­ping was ex­cel­lent and he made his first fine save in the ninth minute to thwart a flow­ing Meath move.

Niall Hickey sent a foot pass to Thomas O’Reilly who didn’t take the op­tion of a mark and a free kick at the posts, rac­ing goal­wards in­stead and pop­ping a pass to his right to Michael New­man whose low shot was par­ried smartly by Doyle.

Robert Frayne kicked the sec­ond of Wex­ford’s nine wides be­fore op­pos­ing goal­keeper Barry Dardis, an out­field player with his club, Sum­mer­hill, turned a Jonathan Bealin shot away for a ’45 af­ter a de­cent build-up fea­tur­ing Shane Doyle and Kevin O’Grady.

The kick that fol­lowed from Niall Hughes fell short, but it was gath­ered by John Tubritt who was fouled and Bealin duly opened Wex­ford’s ac­count in the 13th minute.

Af­ter a Barry O’Con­nor wide, a neat Meath point by the al­ways-threat­en­ing Thomas O’Reilly was can­celled by Tubritt whose shot from the left cor­ner came at the end of an at­tack in­volv­ing O’Grady and Bealin (0-3 to 0-2).

The fourth and fi­nal Wex­ford wide of the half fol­lowed from Glen Malone, be­fore an un­usual in­ci­dent when ref­eree John Hickey blew in er­ror for a mark for Bealin who was out­side the ’45 at the time.

How­ever, he im­me­di­ately ac­knowl­edged his mis­take with a shout to the Meath men­tors who were close by, and the game con­tin­ued with­out any stop­page.

The phys­i­cally pow­er­ful Bryan Men­ton kicked a boom­ing point from dis­tance be­fore a foul on Tiar­nan Ros­siter led to Jonathan Bealin nar­row­ing the gap to 0-4 to 0-3 in the 24th minute.

The Meath kick-out that fol­lowed was knocked down by Niall Hughes into the path of his mid­field part­ner, Barry O’Con­nor, and the en­tire half-for­ward line of Conor De­vitt, Bealin and Robert Frayne all had touches of the ball be­fore John Tubritt drove it to the net.

Ini­tially, it looked like ref­eree Hickey was happy to award the goal, but the in­ter­ven­tion of a li­nes­man meant it was dis­al­lowed for four hand­passes. The ex­act same thing had hap­pened in Darver on De­cem­ber 8 when the man in the mid­dle on that oc­ca­sion, David O’Con­nor, was alerted to a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion af­ter Paul Cur­tis net­ted ver­sus Louth.

Dar­ragh Cam­pion made it a two-point game be­fore a cross­field pass from Jonathan Bealin led to Niall Hughes kick­ing a fine point from 45 me­tres. And Wex­ford’s hard work was re­warded in the 29th minute when they drew level for the first time, with Bealin slot­ting over his third free af­ter John Tubritt was held off the ball by Thomas McGovern (0-5 each).

Alas, Meath pros­pered in the lead-up to the in­ter­val, as four points with­out re­ply from Adam Flana­gan, Michael New­man (free), Thomas O’Reilly and Dar­ragh Cam­pion left them with a lead that was some­what harsh on Wex­ford.

Hav­ing said that, the gap could have been seven, as a stray hand­pass by Gavin Shee­han in added time led to New­man set­ting up Ben Bren­nan for a goal chance that pro­duced an­other ex­cel­lent save from Matt Doyle.

Those four early Wex­ford wides on the re-start were pun­ished as Meath kicked three of the first four points, es­tab­lish­ing a 0-12 to 0-6 lead by the 46th minute that was never un­der threat there­after.

Thomas O’Reilly made it 10-5 be­fore Cathal Dev­ereux’s first in­volve­ment af­ter com­ing off the bench was to con­vert a left-footed free.

Ben Bren­nan and Michael New­man cre­ated that six-point gap be­fore Eoghan Nolan found Kevin O’Grady who raced in from the right cor­ner and fisted a point via the far post.

Tal­ented Meath sub­sti­tute Gra­ham Reilly was next to reg­is­ter a score, but O’Grady – at cen­tre-for­ward for the sec­ond-half – kicked a beauty with the out­side of his

athan Bealin as­sist to g by five points in the 0-8). ntors made full use on substitutions by ut­field play­ers listed af­ter the in­ter­val. de­lighted to see Brian e fray for his 152nd t the other end of the a Se­nior in­ter-counel­maliers club­mate, fifth player to gain this ee-game cam­paign, ot­steps of Jonathan t and late sub­sti­tute st Louth, plus John rief in­volve­ment near s. side at­tack­ing duo of y widened the gap to Dev­ereux con­verted ut the vis­i­tors’ goal sec­onds later. burst through a few be­fore find­ing Gavin rn passed to sub­stio gave Matt Doyle no rful shot (1-15 to 0-9). 15s, John Tubritt and apped points be­fore gilt-edged chance to but he pulled his low wide af­ter O’Reilly put icked a good lon­garry O’Con­nor pass, nd Bryan Men­ton hit e O’Con­nor pro­vided athal Dev­ereux (1-18 nder Alan Nolan had oal from close range Ben Bros­nan in the lost his foot­ing and lines. cked a su­perb solo wn the right flank, and rdis made a mess of t straight to a grate­ful

The St. Fin­tan’s at­tacker placed a del­i­cate lob into the right cor­ner of the net, with the re­treat­ing Dardis get­ting a touch on the ball but to no avail (1-18 to 1-13).

James McEn­tee re­sponded with a point, and the game’s sole black card fol­lowed in added time when Gavin Shee­han took down Thomas O’Reilly.

His sin-bin­ning had no im­pact with mere sec­onds re­main­ing, sim­i­lar to the sit­u­a­tion when Shane Doyle was dis­missed against Laois at the same stage. Glen Malone had to sit out ten min­utes early in the sec­ond-half in that vic­tory over the O’Moore county be­fore Christ­mas, and that was the only time thus far when Wex­ford had to deal with a numer­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage dur­ing a spell that re­ally mat­tered.

Seán Tobin tapped over the free that fol­lowed Shee­han’s dis­missal, but there was one in­cred­i­ble as­pect worth noth­ing: that was the only foul by a Wex­ford player in the sec­ond-half, and they had con­ceded a mere three frees be­fore the break too on an af­ter­noon when 1-18 of the win­ners’ tally came from play.

In con­trast, Wex­ford were awarded a whop­ping 25 frees (12 plus 13), and, for the record, yel­low cards were shown to Meath duo Ben Bren­nan and Dar­ragh Cam­pion.

The only of­fen­sive mark in the en­tire game was called by Donal Shan­ley close to the right side­line in added time, but he missed the tar­get for the losers’ ninth and fi­nal wide.

In­ci­den­tally, the ear­lier vic­to­ries against Louth and Laois marked the first time Wex­ford had put at least two wins back-to-back since the first five Di­vi­sion 4 league out­ings of 2017 were won un­der the guid­ance of Sea­mus McE­naney.

Those suc­cesses also meant that man­ager Paul McLough­lin has al­ready matched his win record for the en­tirety of the 2018 cam­paign when Dublin and Ar­magh were de­feated in the O’Byrne Cup and league re­spec­tively.

And with the grand to­tal of 32 play­ers get­ting game-time in the three-game se­ries, it has been a worth­while ex­er­cise on the whole and an en­cour­ag­ing start to what will hope­fully be a long year.

FOOT­NOTE:

Wex­ford: Matt Doyle; Martin O’Con­nor, Gavin Shee­han, Conor Carty (capt.); Glen Malone, Shane Doyle, Tiar­nan Ros­siter; Barry O’Con­nor, Niall Hughes (0-1); Robert Frayne, Jonathan Bealin (0-3 frees), Conor De­vitt; Paul Cur­tis, Kevin O’Grady (0-2), John Tubritt (0-2). Subs. - Cathal Dev­ereux (0-3, 2 frees) for Cur­tis (43), Eoghan Nolan (0-2) for Frayne (43), Eoin Porter for Ros­siter (49), Brian Malone for De­vitt (51), James Cash for Carty (53), Donal Shan­ley (1-0) for Bealin (53), Ben Bros­nan for O’Grady (57), Mark O’Neill for S. Doyle (60), Alan Nolan for M. O’Con­nor (63), Dar­ragh Pep­per for Tubritt (63).

Meath: Barry Dardis; Thomas McGovern, Sea­mus Lavin, Ro­nan Ryan; Niall Kane (0-2), Donal Keogan, Gavin McCoy; Bryan Men­ton (capt., 0-2), Adam Flana­gan (0-1); Niall Hickey, Dar­ragh Cam­pion (0-2), Ethan Devine; Thomas O’Reilly (0-4), Michael New­man (0-4, 1 free), Ben Bren­nan (0-1). Subs. - Eoin Lynch for Ryan, temp. (9-16), Gra­ham Reilly (0-1) for Devine (HT), Lynch for McGovern, inj. (39), James McEn­tee (0-1) for Bren­nan (47), Seán Tobin (1-1, 0-1 free) for Cam­pion (47), Mickey Burke (0-1) for Hickey (59), James Conlon for New­man (60).

Ref­eree: John Hickey (Car­low).

Im­pres­siveWex­ford mid­fielder Niall Hughes is out­num­bered by Meath trio Dar­ragh Cam­pion, Gavin McCoy and Michael New­man.

Kevin O’Grady tak­ing on Meath cen­tre-back Donal Keogan.

Brian Malone in the thick of the ac­tion af­ter mak­ing his wel­come re­turn.

Left cor­ner-for­ward John Tubritt rac­ing away from Meath’s Thomas McGovern.

nd Michael New­man.

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