Great chance slips away
Wexford undone by concession of three costly goals
A first victory over Dublin in the Electric Ireland Leinster Minor football championship since 1992 looked an attainable goal with just over 13 minutes left in Bellefield on Saturday when wing-forward James Stafford kicked a point to edge Wexford ahead by 0-11 to 1-7.
Dublin 3-8 Wexford 0-11
Sadly it proved a fleeting moment though as the old adage of goals winning games came to pass when the boys in blue ripped the heart out of the gallant home side with two killer blows in the space of five minutes.
And there was nothing but frustration at the final whistle as players, mentors and supporters were left to contemplate yet another game falling into the 'if only' category. Victory was there for the taking after a tremendous recovery from a dreadful start, but the chance wasn't seized and instead the Dubs take their place in the semi-final line-up versus Kildare.
It looked like it might be a formality for the wind-aided visitors after the opening eight minutes as they eased into a 1-2 to nil lead, although four wides were also posted in that spell of dominance which left a slow-starting Wexford off the hook.
Tom Fox kicked the first point via the outside of his boot in the second minute, and the home side still hadn't settled when the favourites rattled the net for the first time. Wing-back Conor Kavanagh made a piercing run down the middle without anyone laying a hand on him, and he parted to Oisín Kelly who in turn found Dillon Keating, with the pint-sized corner-forward duly rattling the net.
Wexford remained at sixes and sevens as another run by Kavanagh ended with a point for centre-forward Shane Howard, but the move of local lad Nick Doyle to midfield in a straight swap with Joe Gardiner saw them gradually play themselves into the game.
The home side's first attempt at a score from captain Shane Doyle fell short in the ninth minute, with in-rushing attacker Ciarán Joyce picking up an injury in the process, but they didn't have to wait much longer before eventually getting off the mark.
Nick Doyle and the impressive Tadhg Cody were involved before excellent centre-forward Mikey Dwyer posted the first of his four points from play with his reliable left peg.
The Fethard flyer doubled his tally from a Shane Doyle handpass before Mark Rossiter missed a scoreable free, but he quickly redeemed himself with a neat effort from play after good work by Nick Doyle and Dwyer.
The growing momentum was stalled briefly when Dillon Keating converted a Dublin free, but the response was impressive as Dwyer picked off his third point after a one-two with team captain Shane Doyle in the 22nd minute.
Tadhg Cody then drove forward to split the posts in style after a lay-off by Mark Rossiter, and the Wexford followers were really warming to the spirited efforts of their young charges.
Although they were caught napping from a quick crossfield free which left Tom Fox with time to pick off his second point, Wexford still managed to draw level by the interval with the last two scores.
Mark Rossiter, the scoring star against Westmeath with 1-9, converted his sole free which was earned by Fionn Cooney - grandson of the legendary Oliver 'Hopper' McGrath - before Wexford drew level when Nick Doyle popped the ball over at the second attempt after his initial effort was blocked (0-7 to 1-4).
The Slaneysiders did suffer a blow just before the break when the injury which had made midfielder Darragh Lyons doubtful beforehand forced him to retire, while one of his Good Counsel colleagues, wing-back Joe Sutton, only lasted for less than seven minutes on the re-start.
Hopes were high for Wexford with wind advantage to come, but the lead score took a long time to arrive as Tadhg Cody and Mark Rossiter (free and '45) kicked early wides. A brief moment of panic in the Wexford defence was quickly averted before the home side did hit the front for the first time in the 37th minute, and it was no surprise that Mikey Dwyer should do the needful after a powerful Tadhg Cody run (0-8 to 1-4).
Dublin had to dig deep to re-establish their lead as Paddy Small converted two frees, the first a difficult kick from the right corner, but they lost influential midfielder Donal McIlgorm (wearing number nine rather than eight as per the match programme) in between to a black card for a trip.
Wexford drew level again in the 43rd minute when Fionn Cooney drove a powerful shot just over the bar following a strong run and handpass from substitute Ciarán Kirwan.
It looked like it was anyone's game and, shortly after Cooney struck the post with another attempt, he set up Mark Rossiter who made it 0-10 to 1-6.
Shane Howard kicked the leveller, with Rossiter sending a high kick into the goalkeeper's arms and then posting a wide before the kick-out from that miss was latched on to by James Stafford who pushed his side into that 0-11 to 1-7 lead.
Alas, just 40 seconds later Dublin availed of a stroke of good fortune to hammer the first nail into Wexford's coffin. Team captain Brian Howard surged forward and when his point attempt came back off the crossbar, it fell kindly for substitute John Kindlon who rattled the net from close range.
Kindlon was only on the field for less than four minutes, departing quickly with a black card for a trip, but that goal was worth its weight in gold.
The third major arrived in the 53rd minute and there was no comeback from Wexford after that.
While netminder Eoin Cummins did well to keep out shots from Cormac Howley and Conor Kavanagh, a queue of Dubs had lined up at his goal and it was a case of third time lucky as Dillon Keating blasted home his second to leave five between them (3-7 to 0-11).
Aaron Elliott had another effort saved by Cummins when tapping the ball over the bar would have been the wiser option, but Conor Kavanagh came forward to fire over from a tight angle and close the scoring in the 56th minute.
Wexford did engineer two late frees and Mark Rossiter had no option but to go for goals, with the first effort cleared while the second - with eleven Dubs on the line - wasn't far off the mark but it was the last kick of an absorbing contest.
Wexford struck nine wides compared to seven from the winners, with 29 of the 51 frees awarded going to the Model county lads who were left to rue those costly goals.
Wexford: Eoin Cummins; John Dunne, Ronan Devereux, Mark O'Neill; Tadhg Cody (0-1), Shane Doyle (capt.), Joe Sutton; Darragh Lyons, Joe Gardiner; Ciarán Joyce, Mikey Dwyer (0-4), James Stafford (0-1); Mark Rossiter (0-3, 1 free), Nick Doyle (0-1), Fionn Cooney (0-1). Subs. - Ciarán Kirwan for Lyons, inj. (29), Seán Barden for Sutton, inj. (37), Seamus Casey for Gardiner (52), Martin O'Connor for O'Neill, inj. (54), Tim Bowler for Joyce (59).
Dublin: Evan Comerford; James Holland, Paul O'Hanlon, Glenn McNamara; Conor Kavanagh (0-1), Brian Howard (capt.), Oisín Kelly; Donal McIlgorm, Aaron Elliott; Tom Fox (0-2), Shane Howard (0-2), Ben Shovlin; Paddy Small (0-2 frees), Cormac Howley, Dillon Keating (2-1, 0-1 free). Subs. - Callum Pearson for Shovlin (HT), Tony O'Sullivan for McIlgorm, black card (41), John Kindlon (1-0) for S. Howard (46), Carl Keely for Kindlon, black card (50), Colm Hulton for Fox (59).
Referee: Chris Dwyer (Offaly).