Hughes hits vital goal in win number four
Kilanerin lad claims derby bragging rights as Wexford zone in on promotion
Young Niall Hughes made the type of immediate impact that substitutes dream of in Pearse Park, Arklow, on Sunday, with his well-worked and confidently-taken goal ultimately proving the difference in this local derby as Wexford defeated Wicklow by three points to make it four wins from four outings in Division 4 of the Allianz Football League.
Wexford 1-13 Wicklow 0-13
The Kilanerin clubman had been one of the better performers in the disappointing Leinster Under-21 championship exit to Offaly during the week. Even so, he wouldn't have expected to be summoned from the bench in the first quarter of this clash, but the call duly came after Colm Kehoe aggravated a recent hamstring injury in the early exchanges and couldn't shake it off.
Wicklow had moved 0-4 to 0-3 clear when Hughes arrived in the twelfth minute, and he rattled the net less than 80 seconds later in his first involvement.
The attack had been instigated by defenders Joey Wadding and Brian Malone before the ball arrived to the newcomer. He played a give and go with John Tubritt and knew exactly what he was doing after racing on to the return, planting his shot past Robert Lambert to give Wexford the lead for the first time.
It was a crucial goal because it ensured the visitors were on level terms at half-time (1-4 to 0-7) after facing the wind blowing into the town end.
There was no question of the elements pushing Wexford on to victory though, because it required a great deal of hard work to get over the line against a Wicklow side determined to avoid a repeat of last year's 4-23 to 3-14 drubbing in Innovate Wexford Park.
This was a completely different type of game which was understandable given the heavy rainfall earlier in the week which led to a change of venue from Aughrim to Arklow.
And while we were spared getting wet with the exception of one brief shower in the early stages, the heavy underfoot conditions turned this into a tough, physical battle.
Referee James Bermingham from Cork whistled for 63 frees, with Wicklow getting one more than the victors, and also dished out ten yellows in all, seven to Wexford.
Yet there was no nastiness in an honest encounter which was also brightened in particular by two memorable points from the gifted Ciarán Lyng near the end of the third quarter.
Wexford were leading by 1-7 to 0-9 at the time, and Wicklow were proving nigh on impossible to shake off.
And when Michael Furlong sent a long, raking pass close to the sideline under the stand, Lyng had very little room to work with but still managed to curl over a superb point with his left boot. It was easy to understand why immediate opponent Jamie Snell threw his eyes to heaven as the ball sailed over in a gesture which suggested thoughts of 'what more can I do' were rushing through his head.
That score arrived in the 48th minute, and just over 60 seconds later Lyng popped up on the far side of the field and swung over an equally impressive point, but with his right this time, after John Tubritt had done well to keep the ball in play on the endline.
That memorable brace drove Wexford on another notch, with Ben Brosnan converting a free after an overcarrying call against a grounded Snell before Kevin O'Grady added two more, the first with his left from a Michael O'Regan lay-off, and the second off his right after cleverly creating space to shoot.
As a result Wexford led by 1-12 to 0-9, and that burst of five points proved every bit as important as that Niall Hughes goal given that Wicklow didn't lie down and accept their fate.
Indeed, they picked off four of the last five points, although by the same token they never really looked like getting the goal they needed to worry the division's pace-setters.
Seánie Furlong was the chief source of scores and arrowed over two frees in the 60th and 61st minutes before the wily Brian Malone moved forward and fired over the last Wexford point from a Jake Firman pass.
Substitute Tommy Kelly turned and kicked high and over the bar in one swift movement from a Darren Hayden free, but seven scoreless minutes followed before Furlong registered a consolation point from a free deep into added time.
Wexford fielded an unchanged side from the Waterford game and played into the elements from the start after Wicklow captain Stephen Kelly won the toss.
Furlong got the home side off the mark inside the opening minute from a free before doubling his tally from a neat delivery by Kiltegan clubmate Rory Finn.
Wexford got off the mark in the third minute when Eoghan Nolan picked out Paul Curtis who sent a swift handpass to Kevin O'Grady, with the St. James' man grabbing the first of his three points.
However, Colm Kehoe required assistance from the physio after that score, and it wasn't long before he was departing gingerly for the sideline. Prior to that Ciarán Lyng kicked the first of ten Wexford wides from a free off the ground, but he made amends from his second attempt which was in a more favourable position for a pre-dominantly left-footed striker of a dead ball in the sixth minute.
Darren Hayden posted the first of Wicklow's seven wides as the rain briefly fell, but centre-back Dean Healy restored the home side's lead from the kick-out after Paddy Byrne won the break (0-3 to 0-2).
Ben Brosnan was off target before faring better one minute later after a Lyng pass, with Rory Finn selling a neat dummy and making it 4-3 from a Healy assist just before Niall Hughes' major intervention.
The move for that goal started with the first of two opening half marks from team captain Daithí Waters who exerted his usual huge influence on proceedings in the middle of the field.
For the record, Wicklow claimed four in the second-half courtesy of Paul McLoughlin, John McGrath, Mark Kenny and Paddy Byrne.
Wexford nearly added a second goal shortly after Hughes rattled the net, but Ben Brosnan's shot was well saved by Robert Lambert who also smothered the rebound.
The Wicklow number one was also kept on his toes by a speculative kick from John Tubritt which deflected off a defender and forced him to change direction before fisting the ball clear.
In between Seánie Furlong had pulled back a point from a free, and he duly levelled in the 29th minute after Darren Hayden was taken down.
Michael Furlong and Kevin O'Grady were booked for those fouls, and they were joined later in the notebook by John Tubritt, Michael O'Regan, Brian Malone, Ben Brosnan and Tiarnan Rossiter plus Wicklow's Anthony McLoughlin, John McGrath and Tommy Kelly.
The home side went ahead again for the first time since conceding the goal when Stephen Kelly finished off a Paddy Byrne free in the 30th minute, but Paul Curtis hit back quickly for Wexford.
And the sides stayed on level terms at the interval (1-4 to 0-7) after the last piece of action saw Daithí Waters move back to his own goal-line to gather a '45 from Robert Lambert who had earlier sent a 53-metre free wide.
Both sides made half-time changes, with one McLoughlin replacing another at midfield for Wicklow (Paul for Anthony), while Wexford introduced the towering frame of Michael O'Regan to add power and a targetman to the attack with the wind now in their favour.
Furlong edged Wicklow in front once more from a free before O'Regan supplied the final pass for Ben Brosnan to equalise once more in the 40th minute.
Brosnan then made it 1-6 to 0-8 from a free which was made considerably easier after some Wicklow dissent, and he then returned the compliment with a pass to O'Regan who made space impressively for such a big man on a sticky surface before splitting the posts.
Rory Finn replied with a neat finish from a Paul Cunningham pass, and with 25 minutes left it was still all to play for (1-7 to 0-9).
It was at that juncture that Ciarán Lyng stepped up to the mark, kicking the first two points in that run of five without reply which finally created some daylight between the sides.
The positive momentum created by a winning run stood to Wexford as they managed to close out the contest thereafter, although Wicklow performed well too and will no doubt be pleased with several aspects of their display.
One worry for the winners was the sight of full-back Jim Rossiter being helped off the field late on with an injury which may make him a doubtful starter for the visit of London to Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday week, March 19.
As a matter of interest, manager Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney returned on Sunday to the scene of his first official scouting mission after his appointment to the post.
He was photographed on the front of our sports supplement watching the Taghmon-Camross footballers in their Leinster Intermediate Club loss to Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney in Pearse Park last October.
Wexford: Shane Roche; Michael Furlong, Jim Rossiter, Brian Malone (0-1); Joey Wadding, Eoghan Nolan, Tiarnan Rossiter; Daithí Waters (capt.), Colm Kehoe; Paul Curtis (0-1), Ben Brosnan (0-4, 2 frees), Kevin O'Grady (0-3); James Stafford, Ciarán Lyng (0-3, 1 free), John Tubritt. Subs. - Niall Hughes (1-0) for Kehoe, inj. (12), Michael O'Regan (0-1) for Curtis (HT), Conor Carty for Stafford (52), Jake Firman for Tubritt (60), Ronan Devereux for O'Grady (67), Ryan Nolan for J. Rossiter, inj. (69).
Wicklow: Robert Lambert; Ross O'Brien, Jamie Snell, Eoin Murtagh; Darren Hayden, Dean Healy (0-1), John Crowe; Rory Finn (0-2), Anthony McLoughlin; Conor Ffrench, Stephen Kelly (capt., 0-1), John McGrath; Paddy Byrne, Seánie Furlong (0-8, 6 frees), Paul Cunningham. Subs. - Paul McLoughlin for A. McLoughlin (HT), Mark Kenny for McGrath (49), Gary Allen for Ffrench (52), Tommy Kelly (0-1) for Cunningham (52), Pádraig Byrne for Paddy Byrne (67).
Referee: James Bermingham (Cork).