WICKLOW BOW OUT
Disappointing inter-county year comes to a conclusion
THE FORM lines from the last year of Minor as an Under-18 grade held firm in sun-splashed Bellefield on Saturday when Wexford deservedly defeated neighbours Wicklow by four points in the opening round of the Eirgrid Leinster Under-20 football championship to set up a quarter-final clash away to Louth.
The same sides had met in Innovate Wexford Park two years ago, when the margin was the same and there wasn’t much difference in the actual scoreline either (2-14 to 3-7).
Interestingly, though, both only fielded eight players apiece who had featured in that Minor contest in 2017, with Wexford’s most notable absentee being Brian Deeny, scorer of a try for Ireland in the Under-20 rugby World Cup last week.
He had rattled the net versus Wicklow two years ago, although his absence around the middle of the field was offset by the excellence of Liam Coleman in that department.
The visitors could have done with the services of an attacker with the Senior experience of Gearóid Murphy on a day when their two late goals only served to put a better gloss on the final scoreline.
They were already facing a tall order, trailing by 0-10 to 0-5 in the 42nd minute, when Coleman went to ground after a collision off-the-ball.
One of the linesmen had seen enough to inform referee Patrick Maguire that Wicklow captain and Senior regular Pádraig O’Toole deserved a booking, and he was duly dismissed as he had already been shown a yellow nine minutes earlier.
The 14 men did respond well initially, with a Rory Stokes shot going over the bar via the left post after an off-load from Oisín McGraynor.
However, the game was very much Wexford’s to lose with that numerical and scoring advantage, particularly as they were backed too by the slender breeze, and they never came under serious threat even though their own ball-keeping fell below requirements at times.
Jamie Myler restored their fivepoint lead from a handpass by Horeswood clubmate Seán Nolan, and the game-clinching goal arrived shortly after Eoin Darcy nearly got on the end of a teasing cross from substitute Jordan Deans at the other end.
It was a route one strike in the 50th minute, with Dylan McVeigh pumping a long ball towards targetman Seán Forde who grabbed clean possession in the air, turned swiftly on to his left, and fired a low shot beyond William Rogers to make it 1-11 to 0-6.
Wicklow did try to respond immediately, but a speculative shot from distance by Rory Stokes that took a wicked bounce was parried by Darragh Brooks, and the netminder also smothered a follow-up attempt from substitute Peter Hempenstall.
Adam Hogan had a penalty appeal turned down before a strong run by his HWH-Bunclody colleague, Ciarán Kavanagh, led to a point for Michael Molloy.
An Oisín McGraynor shot fizzed inches over the bar after a strong run at the other end, but Seán Nolan’s fourth point from play left a nine-point margin between the sides.
However, Wexford were sloppy in added time, and Wicklow punished them on two occasions.
Big Jordan Deans caught a long, lofted free into the goalmouth in the 61st minute and finished calmly from close range, with Nolan pointing after a foul at the other end before Wicklow raised a second green flag.
It came after Rory Stokes tried to delicately place a close-in free into the roof of the net, with the ball striking the crossbar and rebounding to the left corner where Wexford were unable to clear.
It was returned across goal where Stokes gathered possession and was hauled down by a combination of netminder Darragh Brooks and midfielder Ben Maddock, with the latter shown a yellow card.
Eoin Darcy tucked the spot kick low into the left corner, but the full-time whistle was blown on the kick-out to leave Wexford with a chance to gain revenge for their Leinster Minor semi-final loss in 2017.
Louth pipped them by 4-10 to 2-15 on that occasion in a fine contest in Innovate Wexford Park, and the fact that they have to travel to the Wee county this time around won’t make the task any easier.
Both of Saturday’s contestants had only recorded a win apiece from their new development league outings, so it was with a certain degree of trepidation that they emerged to do battle in perfect settings for a championship game.
And, bearing in mind the well-documented issues facing Wexford football at present, a victory of any description was always going to be greeted with relief more than anything else.
A good crossfield pass from Rory Stokes set up Eoin Darcy for the opening Wicklow point after 62 seconds, but their attack struggled for the remainder of the half against a Wexford defence boosted by the presence of Páraic Hughes for the first time this year.
Seán Nolan levelled from a Liam Coleman pass, only for Darcy to make it 0-2 to 0-1 for the visitors, who had first use of the light breeze, in the sixth minute.
Jamie Myler converted a free off the ground from 40 metres, and Wexford were never headed again after wing-back Enda Minogue pushed them in front from another Coleman assist in the tenth minute.
Michael Molloy soloed through and opted to fist a point before Seán Nolan was only denied a possible goal by a well-timed low block by Wicklow’s Andy Maher.
Fintan O’Shea moved to the attack in a direct swap with Liam Miley, but three wides didn’t help the John Evans-managed team’s cause before Wexford picked off three points on the trot.
Myler was forced on to his less-favoured right peg but still split the posts under pressure, with Seán Nolan popping the ball over seconds after William Rogers made a fine save from Michael Molloy.
Captain Eoin Porter then played a short one-two from a free on the left with Nolan before widening the gap to 0-7 to 0-2, and the last ten minutes of the half were scoreless after Pádraig O’Toole fed Oisín McGraynor to pull a score back.
Wexford shot three wides in that spell while their rivals had two, and attacker Molloy collected a yellow card for his troubles too when the referee spotted that he wasn’t wearing a gumshield.
Adam Hogan and the impressive Liam Coleman combined from the throw-in to the second-half, with the latter feeding Seán Forde to stretch the advantage to 0-8 to 0-3, but Wicklow substitute Peter Hempenstall fisted a point with his first touch from a deft palm into his path by Eoin Darcy.
The next Wicklow attempt at a white flag by Stokes produced a fine block by Porter, with Dylan McVeigh and Seán Nolan making it 0-10 to 0-4 by the 35th minute.
Fintan O’Shea, now at right half-back, arrowed over a point from an O’Toole handpass to leave Wicklow with a modicum of hope, but it disappeared when the big Kiltegan lad was sent-off four minutes later.
The home side were still grateful for that Seán Forde goal by game’s end, given that they conceded two afterwards, but on the whole they were the stronger overall team as they became the first Wexford inter-county football side to win an actual championship game in 2019 at the sixth attempt.
The Wicklow under-20 footballers who fell to Wexford in the Leinster championship in Bellefield last Saturday.
Wicklow’s Fintan O’Shea fires his shot away as Wexford’s Liam Coleman closes in.