Hurlers humiliated at home
Two early goals not enough to halt Offaly onslaught
Picking off two goals inside four minutes proved a hindrance rather than a help to the Wexford Senior hurlers before a deflated and despondent home crowd in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday as they were led a merry dance by a fired-up Offaly side for the remainder of the game and ended up fortunate to lose by a mere eight points.
Offaly 2-22 Wexford 3-11
It was a savage blow to the already fragile confidence, coming after the corner appeared to have been turned with a battling display against Clare and a complete demolition of an admittedly very weak Kerry side.
And while they seem set to claim the fourth and final quarter-final spot from the group regardless of Sunday's outcome away to Laois, a victory is absolutely essential if only to restore morale and stop the team from plunging to new depths.
Wexford's scoring difference is vastly superior to the midlanders so, even if Seamus Plunkett's side were to win, it wouldn't be enough to edge them out provided three teams finished on two points. Kerry are on that figure and seem unlikely to trouble Offaly this weekend, so Wexford would claim that fourth spot if all three end up with just one win apiece.
Of course, they can make life a lot easier for themselves by not even contemplating the worst case scenario and simply winning in Portlaoise. Alas, there's no guarantee that will be the case on the evidence of Sunday's poor show.
Oddly enough, it looked like a productive afternoon was on the cards when Conor McDonald drilled home a third-minute penalty at the town end after Paddy Rigney held him when he caught a high, lofted Harry Kehoe delivery.
And it got even better for Wexford just 40 seconds later when Aidan Nolan got the final touch from a few yards out to add the second goal after the ball emerged from a scramble and Podge Doran initially directed it towards the posts.
Quite remarkably, Offaly went on to outscore Wexford by 2-12 to 0-4 up to half-time to take a deserved interval lead of eight points, picking off 2-7 from open play compared to the 1-2 registered in that spell by Wexford.
And while the gap was narrowed to five on three separate occasions after the break, Offaly remained comfortable as the repeated fouling of the Wexford defence when attackers ran directly at them ensured that ace marksman Shane Dooley had a field day, finishing with 0-15 to his name.
Offaly reacted quickly to those early setbacks, with the backs quickly settling down after the pre-game loss of number two Niall Wynne - owing to the death of his grandmother - caused some disruption and four positional changes.
Their ball-winning and accuracy from long range ensured that Wexford went on to have a torrid afternoon, with their big men all eminently capable of gathering possession in the air. James Mulrooney and the lively Seán Ryan fired over points, the latter via a despairing block off Liam Ryan's hurl, before Wexford conceded a goal in the ninth minute.
Full-back Matthew O'Hanlon, who had a complete off day, was slow to react to a cross from the left by Pat Camon, and Paddy Murphy pounced to direct a one-handed swipe to Conor O'Leary's net (2-0 to 1-2).
Andrew Shore robbed Dermot Shortt to pick off the first Wexford point, but they had lost their lead by the twelfth minute after responses from the rampant Joe Bergin and Paddy Murphy. They never regained it either, with the cause not helped by three Harry Kehoe wides from a '65 and two frees, the second from in front of the posts, before he was relieved of those duties.
Wexford ended with 13 wides while Offaly had nine, and the number of individual battles that were lost made it impossible for the home side to salvage anything from the game.
Joe Bergin fired Offaly into a 1-5 to 2-1 lead in the 13th minute, and they drove it on from there, no doubt sensing that their rivals were vulnerable. Certainly, there was nothing in the body language, not to mention the first touch or the teamwork, to suggest that Wexford had the appetite for a contest.
Errors were severely punished as Shane Dooley (free) and Bergin widened the gap to three before Conor McDonald converted his first placed ball after Lee Chin caught a puck-out and was fouled.
Another Dooley free made it 1-8 to 2-2 before Offaly's first wide arrived, and he followed up with a glorious effort from 65 metres close to the right touchline after Pat Camon's reverse handpass.
Midfielders Harry Kehoe and Lee Chin set up Conor McDonald for a 22nd-minute point, with the forwards constantly alternating as the Gorey man spent time in both corners, on the edge of the square, and on the '40.
A fumble and subsequent foul by Matthew O'Hanlon was punished by Dooley who then landed another free from 90 metres, before Andrew Shore shot the fourth Wexford wide.
Diarmuid O'Keeffe replaced Harry Kehoe after 29 minutes, with Aidan Nolan moving to midfield, and McDonald made it 1-11 to 2-4 from a free after Offaly's Shane Kinsella was yellow-carded for a late frontal charge on Lee Chin.
Podge Doran, Chin and Eoin Conroy all posted wides before the break, and it got even worse at the other end as Offaly added 1-1 to their tally. Conor Doughan hung a long delivery in the air in the 36th minute and, when it broke off Matthew O'Hanlon, big Joe Bergin was on hand to guide the ball one-handed to the corner of the net.
Another converted Shane Dooley free, after Aidan Nolan was booked for a wild swing, meant that Wexford departed the field to a stunned silence from locals as they were staring a 2-12 to 2-4 deficit in the face.
The management signalled their displeasure with a triple half-time substitution as Lee Chin moved to right half-back, Diarmuid O'Keeffe dropped back to midfield and Aidan Nolan reverted to the attack. The three new faces were midfielder Jack O'Connor, wing-forward Ian Byrne and corner-forward David Dunne, introduced for Eoin Conroy, Shane Tomkins and Podge Doran respectively.
O'Connor brought a notable improvement to the midfield area in the third quarter, winning two frees which Conor McDonald pointed after splitting the posts himself beforehand.
McDonald and Diarmuid O'Keeffe had also registered from play but Offaly were able to remain at arm's length at all times thanks to Shane Dooley's finishing from placed balls.
Dooley and McDonald exchanged further points from frees before Liam Ryan collected a costly yellow card for a trip on Joe Bergin and Dooley made it 2-16 to 2-10 in the 49th minute.
Again McDonald hit back after Andrew Shore was fouled after catching the resultant puck-out, but it proved counter-productive as the centre-forward limped off with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Paul Morris.
A harsh over-carrying call against Jack O'Connor gave Dooley the chance to make it 2-17 to 2-11, with Wexford's ragged approach evident when Dooley was then able to hit a short crossfield free to an unmarked Paddy Murphy to tap over when the Tullamore sharpshooter didn't fancy the angle himself.
It was embarrassingly easy for the visitors as Pádraig Foley's second foul on the trot led to yet another Dooley point before he tapped over one from play after a handpass inside by substitute Jason Sampson (2-20 to 2-11).
Wexford's day was summed up between the 62nd and 65th minutes when Lee Chin (free), Ian Byrne (a goal chance), Eoin Moore and Conor McDonald posted wides while Diarmuid O'Keeffe forced netminder James Dempsey into a good catch under pressure.
And they were so far behind that even McDonald's second penalty goal in the 65th minute - hit once more to the goalkeeper's left - wasn't enough to spark a comeback. It came after Dempsey cynically took down David Dunne who tried to round him following Liam Og McGovern's handpass after a Lee Chin catch and clearance.
Conor O'Leary made a great save from Shane Dooley after a Matthew O'Hanlon error, but one minute later Liam Ryan was dismissed on a second yellow card after taking down Cillian Kiely to prevent a likely goal.
Dooley tapped over that free, and another after he was tripped by Lee Chin, with Offaly going strong right up to the final whistle as O'Leary had to be at his best again to keep out a Joe Bergin bullet at the death.
Wexford: Conor O'Leary; Andrew Kenny, Matthew O'Hanlon (capt.), Liam Ryan; Eoin Conroy, Pádraig Foley, Eoin Moore; Lee Chin, Harry Kehoe; Shane Tomkins, Andrew Shore (0-1), Aidan Nolan (1-0); Conor McDonald (2-8, 2-0 pens., 0-6 frees), Liam Og McGovern, Podge Doran. Subs. - Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1) for Kehoe (29), Jack O'Connor (0-1) for Conroy (HT), Ian Byrne for Tomkins (HT), David Dunne for Doran (HT), Paul Morris for Shore, inj. (52).
Offaly: James Dempsey; Chris McDonald, Dermot Shortt, Paddy Rigney; Seán Gardiner, Conor Doughan, Pat Camon; Shane Kinsella, Seán Ryan (0-1); Paddy Murphy (1-2), Colin Egan (capt.), James Mulrooney (0-1); Shane Dooley (0-15, 12 frees, 1 '65), Joe Bergin (1-3), James Gorman. Subs. - Pádraig Guinan for Mulrooney (44), Jason Sampson for Gorman (50), Cillian Kiely for Kinsella, temp. (55-59), Dan Kelleher for Shortt (60), Kiely for Murphy (61), Brendan Murphy for Gardiner (66).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).