Agony for Minors in thriller
Championship Special: Louth 4-10 Wexford 2-15
The entertainment level was off the scale in Innovate Wexford Park on Tuesday as Wexford's bid for a first Electric Ireland Leinster Minor football championship final appearance since 1999 ended in a gut-wrenching one-point loss after a truly epic encounter.
It's the oldest cliché in the book, but it really was a shame that there had to be a loser as Louth and their large following celebrated joyously at the sounding of the last whistle which ensured their spot in the decider after a gap of 46 years.
This was an end-to-end clash full of positive football, flowing moves and well-taken scores, with a fair share of dodgy defending and poor decision-making thrown into the mix for good measure.
In short, it had everything that one could hope for from a game at any level, and the Wexford lads and their mentors ought to hold their heads high considering the tough journey they had to negotiate earlier in the year off the field.
We were all longing for extra-time at the very least when Jamie Myler registered his seventh pointed free in the 59th minute to leave Wexford one behind. Sadly it would prove to be the last score in this gripping clash, but what followed thereafter sums up the heart-stopping drama of the overall game.
There was a black card for Wexford's Dylan Lyne after a sideline challenge on Alan Connor, with Louth mentor and ex-Senior attacker Shane Lennon also nursing a sore leg afterwards as the momentum of the two players led to an unavoidable collision.
Louth had a chance for an insurance score one minute into added time but Conor Morgan's fisted effort fell tamely into netminder Darragh Brooks' grasp.
Just over 60 seconds later, substitute Adam Cantwell hung a high cross from the left towards the far post where back-pedalling Louth netminder Alan McGauley knocked it into the path of Diarmuid Kehoe.
The New Ross lad's instinctive shot was blocked for a '45, and there was a collective intake of breath as Jamie Myler tried to force extra-time. His effort veered right but was kept in play on the endline by Matthew Banville, with Louth eventually conceding a free for overcarrying very close to the sideline.
Everyone bar goalkeeper Brooks manned the Louth half at this stage, but the angle was impossible for Myler to have a pop at the posts.
However, the crossfield free was intercepted, leading to a breakaway which nearly ended in a Wee county goal after John Gallagher beat Ben Maddock to the ball on Wexford's 45-metre line.
Brooks, a long way from his square, came to the rescue, and there was one last chance to mount an attack. Seán Nolan pumped the ball in, but it was caught by Louth full-back Philip Trainor and the final whistle after 34 minutes and 21 seconds provoked vastly contrasting emotions.
The visitors had dominated the early stages in terms of possession, but didn't make it pay on the scoreboard. Indeed, Wexford profited from their first attack when Jamie Myler was fouled and pointed the free in the fifth minute, and he doubled his tally near the end of the opening quarter after Louth's influential midfielder, Liam Jackson, overcarried.
The reds did get off the mark in the 14th minute through Jackson from an Alan Connor pass, but Wexford then enjoyed a very productive purple patch when 1-3 was scored without reply.
It came in a three-minute period, with Sam Wall side-footing the ball to the net after a fine move featuring Brian Deeny, Michael Codd and Seán Nolan.
Dylan Lyne, Jimmy Sutton and Myler (free) added quick points, and Wexford were motoring extremely well as they now held a 1-5 to 0-1 lead after 18 minutes.
Louth were given a lifeline though when John Gallagher and Alan Connor combined before the former played the ball across goal for Conor Gillespie to finish to the net from close range.
Centre-back Eoghan Callaghan added an inspiring point to close the gap to three, only for Seán Nolan to cancel it out from a Myler pass in the 25th minute (1-6 to 1-3).
Wexford had a gilt-edged goal chance when Diarmuid Kehoe and Dylan Lyne combined to put big midfielder Brian Deeny through, and it was easy to understand why he opted to shoot after rattling the net in similar circumstances against Wicklow.
However, on this occasion he fired to the left and wide when the better option would have been to pop the ball inside to the unmarked captain Mick Molloy who is a proven finisher.
The miss was followed by three Louth points in a row from Conor Gillespie, John Gallagher ('45 and play), but Wexford ended the half ahead by 1-7 to 1-5 after Dylan Lyne's rising shot flew over the bar after Jimmy Sutton initially hit the post from a point attempt in added time.
The second-half was a classic, with the teams scoring a combined tally of 4-13 and only hitting four wides in the process (three to Louth).
Jimmy Sutton pointed inside 30 seconds, but the porous Wexford full-back line was exposed from the kick-out as Liam Jackson and Gillespie linked up before Gallagher's handpass across goal was finished to the net at the back post by Gerry Garland (2-5 to 1-8).
Overlapping corner-back Alan Connor then gave the visitors the lead for the first time, but Myler hit back after a foul on Sutton.
Another transgression on the Fethard lad produced the same outcome, only for Ciarán Keenan (free) and Liam Jackson to restore the Louth lead (2-8 to 1-10).
Mick Molloy equalised from a Michael Codd pass, but another Gillespie point for the visitors was followed by their third goal in the 43rd minute.
Garland provided the finishing touch once again, this time after Gillespie struck the crossbar following a palmed pass by substitute Ben Mooney (3-9 to 1-11).
Gallagher widened the margin to five from a free, but Wexford weren't done yet.
Myler pointed from a placed ball before a brilliant movement at pace saw the ball pass through a number of hands from back to front before Sutton placed Seán Nolan to hare away on goal and plant an unstoppable shot into the far corner of the net (3-10 to 2-12).
It was a near-frenzy of excitement at this stage, even more so when Nolan levelled from a Diarmuid Kehoe pass in the 50th minute. Alas, Louth's goal-scoring penchant continued when Liam Jackson won a Wexford kick-out and fed Eoghan Callaghan who in turn picked out Conor Gillespie to side-foot home his second major (4-10 to 2-13).
Diarmuid Kehoe fired inches over rather than under the bar in the 55th minute, and Myler's seventh free left Wexford chasing the point they needed to force the extra-time they would have deserved.
Sadly it wasn't to be, but this game will live fondly in the memory for a long time to come.
Wexford: Darragh Brooks (Castletown); Eoin O'Leary (St. Martin's), Ben Maddock (St. Martin's), Gavin Sheehan (Gusserane); Michael Codd (St. Martin's), Eoin Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Diarmuid Kehoe (Geraldine O'Hanrahans, 0-1); David Gouldson (Sarsfields), Brian Deeny (Volunteers); Seán Nolan (Horeswood, 1-2), Sam Wall (Gusserane, 1-0), Jimmy Sutton (Fethard, 0-2); Jamie Myler (St. James', 0-7 frees), Mick Molloy (Naomh Eanna, capt., 0-1), Dylan Lyne (Glynn-Barntown, 0-2). Subs. - Peadair Cowman (HWH-Bunclody) for Gouldson (38), Jamie Thomas (St. Mary's, Maudlintown) for Wall (55), Adam Cantwell (St. Martin's) for Sutton (56), Dean Doyle (Ballyhogue) for Molloy (59), Matthew Banville (Glynn-Barntown) for Lyne, black card (60+1), also Jake Clancy (Sarsfields), Byron Byrne (HWH-Bunclody), Killian Pierce (Castletown), Pádraig Loughlin (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy).
Louth: Alan McGauley; Alan Connor (0-1), Philip Trainor, Dan Corcoran; Leonard Grey, Eoghan Callaghan (capt., 0-1), James O'Reilly; Liam Jackson (0-2), Conor Morgan; Gerry Garland (2-0), Conor Gillespie (2-2), Keelan O'Neill; Ciarán Keenan (0-1 free), Ferghal Malone, John Gallagher (0-3, 1 '45, 1 free). Subs. - Ben Mooney for O'Neill (39), Conor Nicholson for Malone (50), Shane Hickey for Garland (51), Nicky Browne for O'Reilly (56).
Referee: Seamus Mulhare (Laois).