Footballers off to a positive start
Two late points seal deserved win as Wexford recover from goal concession
Wexford's strong response in times of adversity was probably the most pleasing feature of the performance in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday when they dug deep after the concession of a goal with four minutes left to hit two late points and copper-fasten a priceless Allianz Football League Division 4 opening round victory over an in-form Limerick.
Wexford 0-14 Limerick 1-8
This quality had been seen first in the closing 15 minutes of the opening half when they put a patchy start behind them to knock over four scores without reply and pull back to level terms by the interval (0-6 each).
Another brace on the re-start put them ahead, but they found it hard to establish a decent gap and it was still all to play for when Limerick ended a barren spell lasting half an hour to leave the minimum between the sides with 21 minutes left.
At that stage Wexford embarked on an impressive burst in their best sustained spell of the game thus far, kicking four points in four minutes to leave them 12-7 clear.
The visitors were in danger of letting the game slip away from them, but they re-grouped and managed to wrestle back the initiative as Jamie Lee pointed a free before the net shook at the Clonard end.
Shane Roche was beaten for the first time in the 64th minute when a speculative high kick by Lee was touched under his body and over the line by star full-forward Seamus O'Carroll, but thankfully referee Alan Kissane had whistled seconds before the intervention of the number 14 to signal a Wexford free.
Limerick came back undaunted though, and they appeared to have the momentum when O'Carroll, also a talented handballer, floated in a cross from the right which was punched to the net by Danny Neville who had moved to the edge of the square (0-12 to 1-8).
Now it was all to play for, and the closing stages including four added minutes were exciting to say the least.
O'Carroll kicked a wide as Limerick sought the leveller, while Ciarán Lyng was narrowly off target from a 48-metre free after a late challenge on league debutant James Stafford around midfield.
Five seconds before the end of normal time a Danny Neville free looked to have the legs to carry it over the bar, but it dropped short and was frantically cleared. Moments later Daithí Waters, the team's new captain, made a vital interception as Limerick sought to engineer another chance.
We were 50 seconds into added time when Wexford broke towards the town end, with St. Martin's duo Ciarán Lyng and substitute Jake Firman getting the last touches of the ball before wing-back Tiarnan Rossiter floated over a vital point just inside the right-hand post.
It was only in the closing seconds that the home side could say with certainty that the points were in the bag, as P.J. Banville knocked over his fourth pointed free after a trademark surge forward by Brian Malone who was fouled to the left of the posts.
Given the likely tight nature of the group, this was an absolutely crucial victory, particularly when Wexford have the slight advantage of four of their seven games taking place at home. It's essential to stay unbeaten on their own soil, and this was the perfect way to start that process on a day when Westmeath were held to a surprising draw in Mullingar by Carlow.
The big tally of 1-17 recorded by Leitrim on their trip to Aughrim will have been duly noted, and in one sense it's the best possible thing that could have happened for Wexford. Taking the westerners' impressive win into consideration, along with the fact that we were lucky to pip them by a point in Bellefield last year, it ensures that everyone will be on high alert for the trip to Carrick-on-Shannon next Sunday.
There was one new face at this level in the starting line-up, with Under-21 player James Stafford from Glynn-Barntown nominally listed at full-forward but drifting out immediately after the throw-in to play a link role between defence and attack.
Ben Brosnan, whose transfer application from Bannow-Ballymitty to Castletown will be considered next Tuesday, had to cry off through injury and was replaced on the '40 by Paul Curtis of Clongeen.
Otherwise there was a fairly settled and experienced look to the team named by Seamus McEnaney, with Shane Roche back between the posts while Michael Furlong and John Leacy were welcome faces in the back line after being plagued by injuries in the past.
It all started very brightly, as Limerick didn't get their hands on the ball from the throw-in before an elaborate passing move ended after 50 seconds when Daithí Waters picked out Ciarán Lyng who fired over the opener off his left.
Wind-aided Limerick were level by the fourth minute though, with Ger Collins obliging from a free after an earlier placed ball by Seán McSweeney missed the target.
P.J. Banville restored the Wexford lead from a free inside the 'D', with Paul Curtis taken down after good approach work by Waters and wing-backs Eoghan Nolan and Tiarnan Rossiter.
The main Limerick threat was posed throughout by Seamus O'Carroll who has returned to their squad this season, and he ran at Jim Rossiter before fisting over the leveller from a Ger Collins pass in the eighth minute.
That marked the start of a spell of dominance for the Munster men, as it was the first of five points without reply. O'Carroll turned provider to set up Collins for their lead point, and yellow cards for the latter and Paul White didn't upset them unduly as another fine pass from O'Carroll led to Jamie Lee's first point in the eleventh minute (0-4 to 0-2).
The sides kicked three wides apiece towards the end of the first quarter, with the opener for Wexford from Kevin O'Grady coming after a body check on Eoghan Nolan by Daniel Daly when the marauding defender delivered the pass.
It led to an inevitable black card for the Limerick defender, and moments later the visitors were relieved not to concede a goal. A move from right to left featured Colm Kehoe and Nolan, with the latter releasing O'Grady who snatched at his shot and drove it high and wide.
After another miss from a point attempt by Tiarnan Rossiter, Seamus O'Carroll swung over a beauty from the left corner and Danny Neville then made it 6-2 to Limerick from a Ger Collins pass.
The Treaty men were showing the form that brought Kerry to extra-time in the recent McGrath Cup final, and Wexford needed to do something about it fast.
That they managed to steady the ship in the lead-up to half-time was due in large part to the decision to leave P.J. Banville inside on his own while John Tubritt drifted out to the half-forward line where he got his hands on a lot of possession.
It was noticeable too that Wexford were happy to let Limerick take short kick-outs, with all of the home team drifting out beyond the '45 in those instances and only committing themselves to the tackle at that point.
A scoreless Wexford spell of nearly 18 minutes ended when Ciarán Lyng converted a free made easier by dissent, after good work by Daithí Waters, Banville, Lyng, and finally Colm Kehoe who was fouled.
Kehoe then drove a slight chance for goal over the bar from a Tiarnan Rossiter pass, with Paul Curtis kicking the last of Wexford's four first-half wides from an overall tally of nine prior to two late points.
Eoghan Nolan, who is at his best in attacking mode, availed of a Lyng pass on the right to narrow the gap to 0-6 to 0-5, and a foul on John Tubritt gave P.J. Banville the chance to bring the teams level in the 31st minute.
Interestingly, the only mark of the half was claimed close to the break by Limerick midfielder Brian Fanning, but he then lost his advantage and the ball was thrown-in. Likewise, the sole example in the second period came during that exciting conclusion, courtesy of Daithí Waters, but once more the referee intervened. It seems that the five-second rule, whereby players must do something with their possession in that spell, hasn't quite registered yet.
It was important for Wexford to continue that good run on the re-start, and to their credit they picked up again where they had left off with points from Eoghan Nolan and P.J. Banville, after Daithí Waters won a throw-in on the '45 and was fouled before the ball was moved forward for dissent.
Banville let Limerick off the hook when another free came back off the post, and the visitors then lost Seán McSweeney to a black card for a trip on Kevin O'Grady. This time Banville's effort drifted wide on the right, and it took a moment of brilliance from Shane Roche in the 48th minute to maintain the lead.
The ball was given away cheaply at midfield, with Seamus O'Carroll and Jamie Lee combining to create some space for Danny Neville whose stinging drive was kept out acrobatically by the versatile number one.
It was a key moment in the game, with Banville joining the four Limerick players on yellow cards before Ger Collins pointed a free to leave one between them (0-8 to 0-7).
A weak punch by Collins, from a Danny Neville cross, was comfortably saved by Roche before the home side started a run of four vital points between the 51st and 56th minutes.
John Tubritt began the purple patch from a Brian Malone handpass before Shane Roche's second attempt at a '45, after his first struck the foot of Limerick netminder Donal O'Sullivan, made it 10-7.
Lyng then provided the pass for Banville's sole score from play after rival midfielder Brian Fanning touched the ball on the ground, and a Daithí Waters interception ended with Lyng bearing down on goal and taking the correct option by fisting it over the bar.
The job wasn't quite done though, with Eoghan Nolan kicking a wide and collecting a booking on either side of Limerick's eighth point, from a Jamie Lee free.
Danny Neville's goal with four minutes of normal time left was a real jolt to the Wexford senses, but the character shown in the closing stages was as heart-warming as the victory itself as the game ended with a deserved three-point victory for Banty's boys.
Wexford: Shane Roche (0-1 '45); Brian Malone, Jim Rossiter, Michael Furlong; Tiarnan Rossiter (0-1), John Leacy, Eoghan Nolan (0-2); Daithí Waters (capt.), Colm Kehoe (0-1); P.J. Banville (0-5, 4 frees), Paul Curtis, Kevin O'Grady; Ciarán Lyng (0-3, 1 free), James Stafford, John Tubritt (0-1). Subs. - Jake Firman for Curtis (59), Naomhan Rossiter for Nolan (68).
Limerick: Donal O'Sullivan; Daniel Daly, Johnny McCarthy, Seán O'Dea; Paul White, Iain Corbett (capt.), Cillian Fahy; David Ward, Brian Fanning; Peter Nash, Ger Collins (0-3, 2 frees), Danny Neville (1-1); Seán McSweeney, Seamus O'Carroll (0-2), Jamie Lee (0-2, 1 free). Subs. - Garrett Noonan for Daly, black card (18), Brian Donovan for Nash (HT), Cian Sheehan for Ward (44), James Naughton for McSweeney, black card (47), Pádraig Quinn for Fahy (62), Barry Lynch for Lee (67).
Referee: Alan Kissane (Waterford).