Smash and grab glory
Carty's last-gasp goal secures Leinster Junior crown
What an incredible way to win a Leinster title and equally, what a gut-wrenching manner to lose it! For once good fortune favoured the home side in Innovate Wexford Park on Thursday as they bridged an eight-year gap since the county's last Leinster Junior football championship final victory with a stunning last-gasp smash and grab raid which left the Meath men with sick stomachs.
Wexford 1-10 Meath 0-12
The Royals had led from the second minute onwards and had been five points up at the three-quarters stage, but that margin was down to a dangerous two as the game moved into the two minutes of added time.
Wexford had 13 outfield players to contend with defending at the town end, but they somehow pounced for a goal that nearly raised the roof off the stand. It appeared though the Slaneysiders were being too cautious as the ball was moved around without much penetration as the first added minute ticked by.
Substitute Lee Devereux decided the only course of action was to pump it in to the danger zone from the right wing and see what might happen. The kick wasn't dealt with by the Meath defence as Kevin Rowe made a nuisance of himself and the ball eventually fell perfectly for Jamie Carty - moved to full-forward near the end of the third quarter - who got it on his favoured left boot and rattled the net from close range.
Meath couldn't believe their misfortune, and neither could they fashion an equaliser as exactly one minute later the final whistle signalled the start of a memorable spell for Wexford football. There's no denying that the never-say-die spirit shown in this win was an added spur to the Seniors to do the same 48 hours later and, with the national Féile Peil also gracing our county over the weekend, the big ball is shining brightly and long may it last.
The early portents in this final were worrying to say the least. Meath settled a lot better and effortlessly moved the ball at pace towards the town end, picking off five points without reply in the first ten minutes.
Wexford appeared nervous and were punished repeatedly for needlessly giving the ball away, with the points flowing from Ciarán Lynch (play and free), Ciarán Kelly, Danny Quinn and another Lynch free. Indeed, that last score came after Jamie Carty brought down Cian O'Brien, with the big midfielder very close to conceding a penalty.
Wexford were at sixes and sevens, but they gradually settled into the game as the decision to bring Conor Sinnott out from his corner-forward berth paid off.
Just like in Longford, he got on the ball very well and had added the one piece to his armoury that was missing 15 days earlier: finishing.
The St. Fintan's attacker got the home side off the mark after playing a one-two with Kevin Rowe in the eleventh minute, and Graham Carty then narrowed the gap further after accepting a crossfield pass from his unrelated namesake, Jamie (0-5 to 0-2).
Niall Harney punished an overcarrying offence with the third Wexford point, with Danny Quinn responding before Jamie Carty and Paul Curtis combined to free Conor Sinnott who made it 0-6 to 0-4 in the 20th minute.
Harney had a half-chance for goal blocked for a '45 from a Kevin Rowe handpass, before Meath wing-forward Alan Douglas was black-carded after a needless off-the-ball pull-down as he awaited a Wexford free.
Still, the visitors added two unanswered points before the break from Ciarán Kelly and Danny Quinn, although the menacing Conor Sinnott came close to goaling with two attempts in added time which were kept out by netminder Johnny O'Connor and corner-back Chris O'Connor, the former Meath Senior.
Wexford had lost Niall Hughes to an ankle injury in the 27th minute, with referee Brendan Cawley deserving no praise whatsoever for allowing the play to continue around him when it was clear the Kilanerin teenager was in some distress.
When play resumed Meath were alert to the danger posed by Sinnott as their captain, Chris O'Connor, stuck to him like glue and won two early 50-50 balls. However, Wexford's top scorer on the night converted a free when Niall Harney was fouled and then managed to break away from his marker's clutches for another score from a pass by Declan Murphy, one of two replacements at the break along with Glen Malone.
It looked like Wexford were set to take over, but Meath didn't agree and proceeded to hit three points on the trot via substitute Daragh McNamara, Kevin Ross (free) and Ciarán Kelly (0-11 to 0-6).
Donal Shanley, who had come on for Niall Hughes, kicked the first second-half wide from an overall tally of eleven (Meath had five) before county Minor Shane Doyle was introduced at left half-back. Glen Malone stepped up to midfield and Jamie Carty moved to the edge of the square, with the seeds for that dramatic finish sown.
There was still a lot of work to do though, but the home crowd started to really get behind the team as Conor Sinnott pointed a free after a foul on Páraic O'Keeffe before the latter set up Jamie Carty for a neat effort from play in the 49th minute (0-11 to 0-8).
Wexford should have equalised on their next attack when Shane Doyle and Donal Shanley - a welcome addition after his return from college in the U.S.A. - combined to put fellow substitute Declan Murphy clean through, but he fired low to the left and agonisingly wide from a great position.
The miss didn't dishearten David Power's young charges though as they kept plugging away, with Conor Sinnott punishing a foul on clubmate Shanley before the latest addition, Lee Devereux, left the minimum between them from a Declan Murphy pass in the 53rd minute (0-11 to 0-10).
It was all Wexford at this point, but Shane Doyle, Graham Carty and Conor Sinnott kicked wides as they pressed hard for the equaliser. And it appeared that Meath may had done enough when they managed to break up the field and Ciarán Kelly fisted over the bar after a Cian O'Brien free broke off the advancing Anthony Masterson.
Two points is the most dangerous lead of all though going into added time, and it was set up perfectly for that heart-stopping finale when Jamie Carty's goal drove the fans wild and set up an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Kerry or Cork who meet in the Munster final on Wednesday in Páirc Uí Rinn.
The team will be without captain Anthony Masterson and centre-back James Breen who lost their status in Saturday's Senior clash, but that won't stop Wexford from giving this one hell of a rattle on July 25.
Wexford: Anthony Masterson (capt.); Robbie Vallejo, Jim Rossiter, Páraic O'Keeffe; Graham Carty (0-1), James Breen, Paul Curtis; Jamie Carty (1-1), Jim White; Niall Harney (0-1 free), Niall Hughes, Seán Gaul; Ciarán Redmond, Kevin Rowe, Conor Sinnott (0-6, 3 frees). Subs. - Donal Shanley for Hughes, inj. (27), Declan Murphy for Redmond (HT), Glen Malone for Gaul (HT), Shane Doyle for Harney (43), Lee Devereux (0-1) for Curtis (50), also Richard Cleary, Ronan Devereux, Peter Travers, Conor Devereux.
Meath: Johnny O'Connor; Michael Kearney, Gavin McGowan, Aaron Newman; Kevin Traynor, Seán Heavey, Chris O'Connor (capt.); Alan Farrell, Cian O'Brien; Alan Douglas, Bobby O'Brien, Danny Quinn (0-3); Kevin Ross (0-1 free), Ciarán Lynch (0-3, 2 frees), Ciarán Kelly (0-4). Subs. - Daragh McNamara (0-1) for Douglas, black card (24), Pádraig Muldoon for Kearney (38), Jimmy Finnerty for Quinn (51), Frankie Murphy for Ross (54), Stephen Crosby for B. O'Brien (57), Neil Shortall for Farrell, inj. (59).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).