Wexford in second-half stroll
Two quick goals on re-start killed off Kerry challenge
There's a well-known American sports proverb - offence wins games but defence wins championships - that gets bandied around ad nauseam across the pond. It seems to be something Davy Fitzgerald buys into.
Wexford 3-18 Kerry0-12
Fourteen scores, 16 scores, and twelve scores is what Wexford have conceded in three games, 3-39 in total. In Divisions 1A and 1B, it's a defensive record only bettered by All-Ireland champions Tipperary (1-44) in the first three rounds of the league.
Defence is one thing when what you need to do is defend and counter, but how do you react against an inferior team? How can you turn that defensive structure into a more dynamic attacking machine capable off putting cannon fodder away?
Well, the clash with Kerry on Sunday in Innovate Wexford Park was the first of what will likely be only a handful of opportunities to test the tactics out in those circumstances. The result - efficient and unspectacular - was just how Davy ordered it.
In hindsight, playing against the breeze in the first-half was good for Wexford. It allowed Kerry to throw their weaponry at their hosts and give the Slaneysiders a challenge that would keep them interested. Playing down-breeze and this game would have been out of sight at the break.
And the Kingdom men did give it a go. They are an honest, hard-working bunch of lads and that's all that can be asked of a side that's always going to be pushed into the corner, when the gaze of the public is firmly fixed on the big ball.
They probably found Shaun Murphy too many times in the opening half. The Oulart-The Ballagh man is in danger of earning himself the nickname 'The Brush' as he hovers around, sweeping to his heart's content.
One of the most impressive performers of the season so far, Murphy's secret is that he always picks the correct ball. There's a no fluster, complete calmness about the deep-sitting midfielder that Wexford sorely lacked in past seasons.
Kerry found him a lot in the opening half and Wexford built from there. It was tough going, against the breeze, coming out of the Clonard end of the Park but the hosts were happy to carry the ball into contact, win their frees and slow the game down.
A false statement if ever there was one, Aaron Maddock and Harry Kehoe combined to find Lee Chin for the opening score after 17 seconds. Wexford managed just one further point from play in the opening half.
David Redmond almost found Diarmuid O'Keeffe breaking through moments later but Martin Stackpoole was alert and made a telling interception. Kerry levelled the scores in the third minute when Bryan Murphy nailed a booming effort from just outside his own '45.
For the first time but not the last on the afternoon, Harry Kehoe hit the upright as his side looked to go in front again. It did happen in the sixth minute when Chin converted a dead-ball after the lively Maddock was felled.
Mark Fanning did well under a tricky Jack Goulding ball into the goalmouth but misplaced his clearance, picking out John Buckley, and the Kerry attacker made no mistake from the right side of the posts. A second followed for the Lixnaw clubman as his side went 0-3 to 0-2 up.
Conor McDonald levelled the scores after Jack O'Connor was fouled in the eleventh minute, but back came the visitors to take what would be their second and final lead of the afternoon when Pádraig Boyle knocked over a placed-ball seconds later.
From there Wexford struck four points in a row. Twice the marauding O'Keeffe was fouled, with Chin and McDonald hitting the target. The latter then missed one from 55 metres out after Harry Kehoe was upended.
The pass of the half, crossfield by Jack O'Connor to Lee Chin, allowed the Faythe Harriers man to set up Paul Morris for Wexford's second point from play in the 20th minute. It left them 0-6 to 0-4 ahead.
Again the final ball was just off when Chin and David Redmond combined through the centre as Davy Fitzgerald's side went searching for a goal. Conor McDonald extended the lead to three in the 26th minute but a major was on if referee John Keenan had played advantage when O'Connor off-loaded while being fouled left of goal.
Jack Goulding robbed O'Keeffe's pocket and pointed in the 31st minute. Then Kehoe nailed the upright for the second time in the period. Kerry ended the half on the front foot with Jordan Conway and Paudie O'Connor on target to level the scores at the interval (0-7 each).
While Wexford opened the second period scoring after a nice move involving O'Keeffe and Redmond, which ended with McDonald hitting the target, Kerry would have been happy with the first five minutes of the half - barring their inaccurate finishing.
However, Wexford broke them in just over 60 seconds. Chin started the burst with a point. Stackpoole then played a clean, short puck-out, but the next pass went straight to Harry Kehoe and the Cloughbawn man raced away to net.
It quickly got worse. Liam Ryan flicked down the line to O'Keeffe, whose effort cracked the upright. Morris was alert but quickly surrounded. The Ferns man off-loaded to O'Keeffe in stride and he smashed low to the net. Almost out of nowhere it was 2-9 to 0-7.
Colum Harty replied for a shell-shocked Kerry with a classy point from a tight angle. However, that was their only score in the first 22 minutes of the second-half. Patrick Kelly also picked up his second yellow in that spell and Wexford soon put the game out of reach.
McDonald nailed a brace of frees before O'Keeffe added a tidy point to his earlier major. A huge strike by Matthew O'Hanlon split the posts in the 55th minute and Wexford were 2-13 to 0-8 ahead.
Seven minutes after Jack Guiney returned to the Wexford side for the first time since 2015, he showed exactly what he was capable of, picking up Kehoe's ball inside the Kerry full-back line and coolly dispatching past Stackpoole to the net.
To their credit, the Kingdom conceded just five points in the remaining twelve minutes plus added time and scored four themselves. After Jack Goulding pointed, they did survive a scare when Guiney fired inches wide of the right post from Lee Chin's feed.
Colum Harty's point in the 60th minute cut the deficit to twelve (3-13 to 0-10). Substitutions broke up the game a little but Damien Reck made the most of a slick pass by Gary Moore to register himself a deserved point.
John Buckley responded with a free but, following a string of three Wexford wides, Eanna Martin caught Stackpoole's puck-out and pointed. Again Harty responded for the Munster visitors but the hosts finished in style.
Guiney raised a white flag in added time. It was followed by a point for the hard-working Harry Kehoe, and it was left to Willie Devereux, breaking out of defence and latching onto clubmate O'Connor's handpass, to round out the scoring with a fine point from midfield.
As a result of this win, Wexford will be promoted with victory away to Offaly next Sunday (O'Connor Park, Tullamore, 2 p.m.). However, they will be safe in the knowledge that, even should they lose, a win at home to Laois on March 26 cements top spot and a place in Division 1A.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, James Breen; Damien Reck (0-1), Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt., 0-1), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (1-1); Shaun Murphy, Jack O'Connor; Harry Kehoe (1-1), Aaron Maddock, David Redmond; Paul Morris (0-1), Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-4, 2 frees), Conor McDonald (0-6, 5 frees). Subs. - David Dunne for Redmond (49), Jack Guiney (1-1) for Morris (50), Gary Moore for McDonald (60), Eanna Martin (0-1) for O'Keeffe (61), Willie Devereux (0-1) for Breen (64).
Kerry: Martin Stackpoole; Keith Carmody, Rory Horgan, Seán Weir; Darren Dineen, Bryan Murphy (0-1), James O'Connor; Jack Goulding (0-2), Paudie O'Connor (0-1); Daniel Collins (capt.), Patrick Kelly, Colum Harty (0-3); John Buckley (0-3, 1 free), Pádraig Boyle (0-1 free), Jordan Conway (0-1). Subs. - James Godley for Horgan, temp. (47-60), Tomás O'Connor for Goulding (62), Brendan O'Leary for Boyle (62), Jason Wallace for Buckley (66), Daniel O'Carroll for Conway (66), Godley for P. O'Connor (70).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).