Dis­ap­point­ing in­ter-county year comes to a con­clu­sion

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

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