Wexford undone by late Kerry flourish
Forde joins young guns for one final fling as dream of national honours dies
The final scoreline does scant justice to the determined efforts of the Wexford Junior footballers whose quest for a first All-Ireland final place since 2007 was thwarted by a powerful Kerry finish in Fraher Field, Dungarvan on Saturday.
Kerry 3-13 Wexford 2-9
The prospects for an unexpected win mounted significantly at the start of the last quarter when a poorly-taken line ball by Tadhg Morley was intercepted by Matty Forde in the left corner. The former All Star was a surprise inclusion in the Wexford squad announced on Friday night, and his potential involvement was the main talking point among the crowd beforehand.
And the man who served as forwards coach with the Seniors under David Power this season showed his charges how it's done as he set teenage attacker Mikie Dwyer free with a swift handpass and the Fethard flyer rattled the net to extend Wexford's lead to 2-8 to 0-9.
Kerry appeared to be in serious bother, but an immediate double substitution reaped huge rewards for the Kingdom as big Brendan O'Sullivan had a storming last quarter at midfield while the pace of Thomas Hickey also caused untold problems closer to goal.
Indeed, the Munster champions took over to such an extent that they struck 3-4 in just under 13 minutes to advance to a final meeting with Mayo who accounted for Kilkenny - guest winners of the British championship - in O'Connor Park, Tullamore.
It was a tough lesson for the Wexford lads to absorb, but they certainly didn't deserve to be seven points adrift at the finish and even the most ardent of Kerry supporters would acknowledge that.
It was quite possibly the youngest team ever fielded by a county in an All-Ireland Junior semi-final, with Wexford starting with three current Minors - wing-back Shane Doyle plus Good Counsel attacking colleagues Mikie Dwyer and Mark Rossiter - while a fourth, Aaron Maddock, was introduced at corner-back in the second-half.
And despite their rawness and the absence of Leinster final goalscoring hero Jamie Carty as well as captain Anthony Masterson, James Breen, Niall Hughes and playmaker Conor Sinnott, Wexford settled down quickly and played some fine football with the aid of a slight breeze blowing towards the Colligan River end in the first-half.
They weren't unsettled by the lofty reputation of their rivals, and their patient play around the middle third was notable as they held on to possession before picking out the best pass rather than kicking the ball forward for the sake of it.
Donal Shanley struck the first of just six wides (Kerry had the same number) early on, while the foul on Mikie Dwyer which earned him his opening point from a free appeared to be very close to a penalty.
Niall Harney, who had a most fruitful first-half, struck another wide, but Wexford had settled down well even though Jeff O'Donoghue equalised in the fifth minute after wing-back James Walsh latched on to the break from a kick-out and made ground.
The Wexford lead was restored by Shanley midway through the opening quarter after targetman Paudie Barden was fouled.
Richard Cleary made a good save to deny Jordan Kiely in the ninth minute, but a free was awarded as no advantage accrued which U.C.C. Sigerson Cup star Conor Cox converted.
Wexford deployed a two-man full-forward line of Mark Rossiter and Barden as Kevin Rowe drifted outfield, and they fell behind for the first time in the 15th minute after Robbie Vallejo lost possession and Kerry midfielder Liam Kearney split the posts (0-3 to 0-2).
However, the Leinster champions hit back with a spectacular goal. Niall Harney picked out Paudie Barden whose side-step wrong-footed his marker. He was slightly to the right of the 'D' when he took aim, with his shot crashing into the top left corner of the net past Shane Murphy.
This superb score was a huge lift to Wexford, and their tails were really up when Barden added a point on the next attack to establish a lead of three.
James Walsh pulled back a Kerry point from distance before Donal Shanley followed up a wild kick which went wide by earning a free which he tapped over in the 22nd minute (1-4 to 0-4).
The fourth wide of the half came from Robbie Vallejo before Niall Harney kicked a neat point after good work in the build-up down the left by Minor duo Mark Rossiter and Mikie Dwyer.
The gap of four didn't last long though as Kerry enjoyed their brightest spell thus far, adding three points on the trot from free-taker Conor Cox plus a brace from Philip O'Connor, the second from a very tight angle in the left corner.
Wexford deserved to go in at the break in the ascendancy though, and that was confirmed in added time when the speedy Niall Harney took off on a solo run which ended with his second point (1-6 to 0-7).
The buzz in the stand was audible on the re-start when Matty Forde emerged to replace Mark Rossiter. And as if anyone needed a reminder that class is permanent, he required just 49 seconds to get his name on the scoresheet as Kevin Rowe supplied the final pass after Forde had linked up twice with Mikie Dwyer in the lead-up.
The Kilanerin ace took on a deep-lying role with a view to linking the play between defence and attack with his astute passing, and indeed on one occasion he appeared in his own right corner-back position to take a handpass from netminder Richard Cleary.
Wexford suffered a big blow when the injury-prone Kevin Rowe had to be carried off with an ankle injury as Conor Cox pulled back a pointed free for Kerry.
Paul Curtis and Robbie Vallejo picked up early yellow cards as the green and gold attack started to pose problems with their direct running, and the gap was down to the minimum when Philip O'Connor side-stepped Matty Forde and slotted over his third point in the 39th minute (1-7 to 0-9).
Kerry's Alan O'Donoghue was yellow-carded for an off-the-ball incident with Forde before captain Páraic O'Keeffe also entered the notebook. Wexford doubled their lead in the 43rd minute when substitute Ciarán Redmond reacted quickest to slot over after Shane Doyle's scoring attempt came back into play off the upright.
Niall Harney over-hit a handpass to Redmond which may have led to a goal chance, but the net was rippling one way or the other in the 46th minute when Matty Forde fed Mikie Dwyer and the young attacker did the rest (2-8 to 0-9).
The Kerry comeback was kick-started by outstanding substitute Brendan O'Sullivan who notched a point with his first touch.
And the first big body-blow arrived in the 49th minute when Matty Forde misplaced a pass around midfield and the ball switched hands quickly on a swift counter-attack before it was palmed to the net at the far post by Conor Cox following an inviting delivery across the square (2-8 to 1-10).
It was a major momentum shifter, with Paudie Barden moving out in a bid to curb Brendan O'Sullivan while Ciarán Redmond and Donal Shanley formed the two-man inside attack. Kerry went for the jugular though in keeping with their county's proud tradition, with Conor Cox levelling from a free made easier after dissent before Alan O'Donoghue restored the lead they had lost 36 minutes earlier with a lovely left-footed point (1-12 to 2-8).
A poor Richard Cleary kick-out was punished as Brendan O'Sullivan added his second point, with Donal Shanley pulling a scoreable free to the left and wide before Kerry struck for the goal which made it game, set and match.
It arrived in the 56th minute and was a carbon copy of the first as Thomas Hickey showed a clean pair of heels to Aaron Maddock and handpassed to the same far post where Conor Cox was on hand once more to apply the finish.
Wexford had a chance to hit back when substitute Declan Murphy found Mikie Dwyer, but his effort was well saved by netminder Shane Murphy at the expense of a fruitless '45.
The final nail in the coffin was yet another palmed goal in the last minute of normal time, with last year's Minor star Killian Spillane doing the damage after good build-up play involving Thomas Hickey, David Culhane and Brendan O'Sullivan.
The sole Wexford score after that Dwyer goal came from Declan Murphy 16 minutes later and was a mere consolation as they waved goodbye to their chances of bringing an All-Ireland title home.
Nonetheless, it has been a very productive campaign and, quite apart from the enjoyment brought from winning the Leinster title for long-suffering diehard supporters, the fact that so many very young players have been blooded at this level will do nothing but good for the ongoing development of the game in the county.
Wexford: Richard Cleary (St. Anne's); Paul Curtis (Clongeen), Jim Rossiter (St. Fintan's), Páraic O'Keeffe (St. Anne's, capt.); Shane Doyle (Ballyhogue), Robbie Vallejo (Geraldine O'Hanrahans), Graham Carty (St. Mary's, Maudlintown); Jim White (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Glen Malone (Shelmaliers); Niall Harney (Bannow-Ballymitty, 0-2), Donal Shanley (St. Fintan's, 0-3 frees), Mikie Dwyer (Fethard, 1-0); Mark Rossiter (Gusserane), Paudie Barden (Adamstown, 1-1), Kevin Rowe (Fethard). Subs. - Matty Forde (Kilanerin, 0-1) for Rossiter (HT), Ciarán Redmond (St. Martin's, 0-1) for Rowe, inj. (34), Aaron Maddock (St. Martin's) for Curtis (44), Declan Murphy (Horeswood, 0-1) for Malone (50), Seán Gaul (St. Anne's) for White (58).
Kerry: Shane Murphy; Dan O'Donoghue, David Culhane, Gavin Crowley; James Walsh (0-1), Tadhg Morley, Eamonn Kiely; Gary O'Sullivan, Liam Kearney (0-1); Philip O'Connor (0-3), Jeff O'Donoghue (0-1), Brian Crowley; Alan O'Donoghue (0-1), Conor Cox (2-4, 0-4 frees), Jordan Kiely. Subs. - Killian Spillane (1-0) for J. O'Donoghue (44), Brendan O'Sullivan (0-2) for G. O'Sullivan (47), Thomas Hickey for Kiely (47), Adam Barry for A. O'Donoghue (57).
Referee: James Bermingham (Cork).