Students end Wexford hopes
The closing Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup Senior football tournament Group A game against I.T. Carlow was rendered a dead rubber in atrocious conditions in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Wednesday when a score-shy Wexford succumbed to defeat at the hands of reigning Sigerson Cup champions D.C.U.
D.C.U. 1-8 Wexford 1-2
The home side managed just one score from play throughout a tough 70 minutes as they struggled to build on that encouraging draw with Dublin three days earlier. And the accurate students, who kicked some fine first-half points when wind assisted, left for the capital on four points and looking forward to a winner-takes-all clash with the All-Ireland champions whereas Wexford remained third in the table with no hope of progressing.
It was the type of night which prompts players, mentors and supporters alike to question their sanity, with the floodlights illuminating the rain as it came down in torrents without any respite.
Referee Brendan Cawley didn't play even one second over the regulation 35 minutes in either half and made a sprint for the dressing-rooms at the finish, with a safe return to his Kildare base no doubt the number one priority.
And nobody was complaining about the timekeeping either because this was an endurance contest for players and the small crowd alike. The former deserve credit for sticking it out, while at game's end the latter had to negotiate the pathway between the stand and the scoreboard which had filled rapidly with rainfall between the start and finish.
Six of the Wexford players who started against Dublin, plus two of the substitutes introduced, didn't feature on this occasion. There was a Senior inter-county debut for Bannow-Ballymitty goalkeeper Philip Murphy, and first starts at this level up front for Gusserane's Seán Ryan and Clonard man Pierce O'Connor who is now playing his club football with St. Olaf's in Dublin.
Two of the second-half substitutes used were also playing in the Senior grade for the first time, namely Fethard's Bryan Power and Paul Curtis of Clongeen.
No fewer than 14 counties and all four provinces were featured among the 21 D.C.U. players used, with a breakdown of nine from Leinster, eight from Ulster, three from Connacht and one from Munster.
And the essential difference between the teams was the impressive shooting of the visitors from 40- to 50-metre range in the first-half when they were aided by the strong wind which was blowing downfield from the dressing-room end.
In contrast, Wexford failed to score even one point from play although, in mitigation, it must be said that the conditions grew steadily worse with every passing minute so it was a lot harder to kick from distance after the interval. Some mini-ponds had formed in several areas of the field by the end, with one on the 45-metre line directly in front of the roadside end goal carrying a particular health warning.
Wexford kicked just two wides and the students had six, with Ben Brosnan off target after a minute before his clubmate Philip Murphy advanced smartly at the other end to smother a David Mannix pull from Cian Breheny's probing delivery.
Mark Plunkett opened the scoring for D.C.U. in the fifth minute, prospering from good work by the influential Conor McGraynor who thieved the ball away from Murphy on the endline.
The leveller came midway through the first quarter when the diminutive Seán Ryan did well to gather a high ball in from Niall Hughes and earn a free which Kevin O'Grady stroked over with his left boot.
However, by the time O'Grady pounced for the second Wexford point - another free 28 minutes later after Ben Brosnan was fouled - the students had kicked six without reply and duly led by 0-7 to 0-2 at the break.
Talented Dublin Under-21 Conor McHugh had restored their lead after Naomhan Rossiter boxed down a long delivery, and their next three points were of the highest quality. David Mannix was outside the 45-metre line when he split the posts, before Conor McGraynor converted a free - their sole score not to come from play - from similar range.
Centre-forward Cian Breheny was next to try his hand at the long-range shooting and the Sligo lad enjoyed a similar outcome, leaving Wexford behind by 0-5 to 0-1 after 13 minutes.
The Slaneysiders did have a good chance to narrow the gap at the end of the opening quarter when Colm Kehoe got on the end of a move after featuring prominently earlier along with Pierce O'Connor and Brian Malone, but he drove his shot across goal to the left and wide.
Niall Hughes dropped a point attempt short before Conor McHugh widened the gap to six, while Brian Malone saw his kick rebound off a post in the 29th minute.
D.C.U. midfielder Shane Carthy of Naomh Mearnóg - not to be confused with his St. Vincent's namesake who played with the Dubs three days before - struck their seventh point before that O'Grady free in the last minute of the half left five between them.
Both sides had tried hard to play decent football before the break, a fact reflected in the low free count of nine for Wexford and four for their rivals. The figures were eleven apiece for the second period, but a mere three scores were added as the pitch rapidly turned into a skating rink.
D.C.U. did a good job of retaining possession by handpassing the ball across the field before one of their big men made a burst forward to gain ground. Conor McGraynor, who had moved from full-forward to midfield just before half-time, led the way in that regard before retiring through injury when the mantle was taken up by international rules player Michael Quinn from Longford, while Roscommon's Enda Smith also played a key role after his late introduction and made one particularly fine clean catch when Wexford threatened.
Philip Murphy did well to grab a McGraynor cross-cum-shot under his crossbar as a forward stepped into his line of vision before the big Wicklow man sent a free taken from the ground wide.
David Mannix missed a handier free while Conor McHugh was also off target before the D.C.U. goal arrived in the 39th minute. Michael Quinn's driving run broke Wexford's defensive resistance, and he handpassed to McGraynor who had the easiest of tasks in finding the net from point-blank range (1-7 to 0-2).
However, all wasn't lost yet for Wexford as they responded with what proved to be their last score. Simon Donohoe's delivery broke for Kevin O'Grady who side-footed the ball along the ground to Jamie Carty, and the St. Martin's man shot low to the net for his first-ever inter-county Senior goal.
Alas, chances were few and far between thereafter. D.C.U. substitute Simon McCoy shot the last wide of the game in the 45th minute, while Carty and Ben Brosnan both had free kicks cleared to safety, with the former closer to goal than the latter.
The final score arrived when a stray crossfield pass was pounced upon by D.C.U. and Mark Plunkett duly kicked the sole second-half point in the 59th minute.
Wexford: Philip Murphy; Jim Rossiter, Naomhan Rossiter, Robbie Vallejo; Brian Malone (capt.), Simon Donohoe, Tiarnan Rossiter; Colm Kehoe, Syl Byrne; Kevin O'Grady (0-2 frees), Niall Hughes, Pierce O'Connor; Ben Brosnan, Jamie Carty (1-0), Seán Ryan. Subs. - Bryan Power for O'Grady, inj. (41), Rob Tierney for O'Connor (44), Johnny Connors for Vallejo (56), Paul Curtis for Hughes (56), also Páraic O'Keeffe.
D.C.U.: Philip O'Donnell (Donegal); Eoin Smith (Dublin), Kevin Feely (Kildare), Cian Mulligan (Donegal); Killian Daly (Westmeath), Conor Moynagh (Cavan), Stephen Attride (Laois); Michael Quinn (Longford), Shane Carthy (Dublin, 0-1); Tom Lahiff (Dublin), Cian Breheny (Sligo, 0-1), Mark Plunkett (Leitrim, 0-2); Conor McHugh (Dublin, 0-2), Conor McGraynor (Wicklow, 1-1, 0-1 free), David Mannix (Kerry, 0-1). Subs. - Nathan Gavigan (Donegal) for Lahiff (28), Dessie Ward (Monaghan) for Mulligan (HT), Simon McCoy (Armagh) for Moynagh (HT), Conor McNally (Armagh) for McGraynor, inj. (41), Enda Smith (Roscommon) for Breheny (56), Paudie McKenna (Monaghan) for McHugh (59).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).