Rowe treble seals final spot
Juniors in Leinster decider for first time since 2007
What's rare is wonderful, something the Wexford Junior footballers are discovering as their encouraging journey continues.
Wexford 3-11 - Longford 0-12
After waiting eight years to get beyond the first round of the Leinster championship, David Power's second string now find themselves just 60 minutes away from a provincial title after comfortably seeing off Longford with the aid of a second-half Kevin Rowe hat-trick in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Wednesday.
And there was an added bonus on Thursday morning when it emerged that the decider against Meath will be on home soil, with the game down for decision in Innovate Wexford Park on Thursday, June 25. The fixture being moved forward one day from the schedule will benefit midfielder Jim White who will be in action with the Under-21 hurlers against Offaly in Tullamore 24 hours earlier.
Now the chance exists to match the feats of the 2007 players who beat Dublin by 1-10 to 1-8 in Wexford Park to clinch the Leinster title, subsequently seeing off Mayo before going down to Cork in the All-Ireland final. And in a notable connection, netminder Anthony Masterson filled the captaincy duties then as now.
Wexford always looked like the better, more composed footballers in Wednesday's tie on a sun-baked evening, even when the difference between the sides was relatively small on the scoreboard.
The backroom team's emphasis on promoting young players led to a very mobile line-up, a point best borne out by the presence of both corner-backs, Páraic O'Keeffe and Robbie Vallejo, on the scoresheet.
And while Kevin Rowe earned most of the plaudits amongst the attackers for his fine finishing skills, the superb free-taking off the ground of Niall Harney in the opening half was another highlight. He nailed three efforts in what is fast becoming a dying art, each one more difficult than the last, as well as chipping in with another brace from play.
And while he didn't make the scoresheet himself, in my view Conor Sinnott was one of the most accomplished players on view as he repeatedly drifted out from his corner-forward berth to get on the ball and do what he does best: spraying passes all over the attacking third with vision and accuracy.
After posting 3-18 and a record winning margin in the first round against Wicklow, it was encouraging to see Wexford's tally for two games rising to 6-29, especially as six men who figured prominently in the opening round were unavailable as a result of Senior team requirements and the Leaving Cert.
The visitors started without defenders Joey Wadding, Naomhan Rossiter and Glen Malone, midfielder Syl Byrne, forward Niall Hughes plus Kieran Butler who was influential off the bench last time out, but it didn't upset their momentum in any way.
Longford posted a couple of early wides before Emmet Kent, Graham Carty and Niall Harney all featured in a move which ended with corner-back Páraic O'Keeffe firing over the opening point via the post inside two minutes.
Harney doubled the lead off his accurate left peg but Longford had drawn level midway through the opening quarter thanks to their best forward, Patrick Kiernan, and Larry Moran who fisted a Kiernan delivery over the bar.
A foul on Conor Sinnott gave Harney - brother-in-law of the county's favourite soccer son, Kevin Doyle - his first chance to convert a placed ball which he took with confidence. Corner-forward Ciarán Redmond doubled the lead from an Emmet Kent pass before Seán Gaul came into the fray in place of Graham Carty, with a Harney kick going wide off Conor Sinnott's fingertips and Gaul then kicking an effort short into netminder Garret Higgins' arms.
Longford enjoyed brief superiority early in the second quarter when a good block by full-back Jim Rossiter denied Larry Moran after a Patrick Kiernan pass before captain Darren Gallagher (free) and Vinny Hourican brought the home side level (0-4 each).
The response from Wexford was impressive and emphatic though as a foul on Redmond was punished by Harney before good work on the right by Jim Rossiter led to Harney racing through and firing a rising shot over the bar with a goal on the cards. The Bannow-Ballymitty winger followed up with his most difficult free close to the right sideline after James Breen was impeded, and he effortlessy guided it between the posts to leave Wexford with a 0-7 to 0-4 lead after 24 minutes.
Emmet Kent overcarried when a goal looked on before Longford pulled two points back before the break through Fergal Sheridan and Darren Gallagher. Niall Harney's sole miss from a free arrived in added time and was only the second Wexford wide of the half as they retired with a 7-6 advantage.
The introduction of Declan Murphy at the break added drive to the Wexford attack, with another early goal chance denied when Harney overcarried. However, they continued to press, with Ciarán Redmond doubling his own tally after good work by Jamie Carty and Conor Sinnott before Murphy made it 9-6 with a lovely effort via the outside of his boot which the netminder tipped over after a quickly-taken Paul Curtis free.
Wexford let Longford off the hook a couple of times too, with Emmet Kent screwing a point attempt well wide before a Jamie Carty effort came back off the post to Conor Sinnott who fired low and to the left of the posts.
Points from Larry Moran (free) and Patrick Kiernan reduced the gap to the minimum, with Longford trying to get their new man at full-forward, recent prominent under-age talent Robbie Smyth, on the ball as often as possible.
Wexford were a lot fitter though on an energy-sapping night, repeatedly breaking down the middle at will as the action wore on. One such move saw Robbie Vallejo setting up Seán Gaul who fired over rather than under, but the next chance fell to an out-and-out forward and he took it with conviction.
It arrived in the 39th minute when Niall Harney and Emmet Kent combined before Kevin Rowe rattled the net, leaving Wexford with one foot in the final. And after Robbie Vallejo fisted a point from a Jamie Carty pass, that one became two in the 44th minute when Paul Curtis picked out Rowe who repeated the dose to leave Longford trailing by 2-11 to 0-8.
The locals did pull four points back through Fergal Sheridan (free), Darren Gallagher (free), Patrick Kiernan and a Gallagher '45 without ever looking like mounting a serious challenge.
Conor Sinnott (free and play), Emmet Kent and Declan Murphy increased Wexford's second-half wides tally to six (Longford had six overall) before a vital tackle by Jim White denied Longford a possible goal chance.
The last word fell to Kevin Rowe though as he initially lost the ball in a challenge just to the right of the Longford goal, only to win it back after a fumble by a defender and bury it in the net.
Longford played out the last few seconds with 14 men when a black card was shown after their six substitutes were used up, while David Power's concentration on the young guns was evident in the late introduction of this year's county Minor, Ronan Devereux, who was joined on the squad by Under-18 colleague Mikie Dwyer.
As an aside, this team's good form highlights the worth of having the Senior boss in charge of the Juniors when the lower grade is utilised in the right way. And it makes it all the more difficult to understand why Liam Dunne wasn't afforded the same opportunity with the Intermediate hurlers by the County Board.
Wexford: Anthony Masterson (capt.); Robbie Vallejo (0-1), Jim Rossiter, Páraic O'Keeffe (0-1); Graham Carty, James Breen, Paul Curtis; Jamie Carty, Jim White; Niall Harney (0-5, 3 frees), Emmet Kent, Noel Roche; Ciarán Redmond (0-2), Kevin Rowe (3-0), Conor Sinnott. Subs. - Seán Gaul (0-1) for G. Carty (11), Declan Murphy (0-1) for Roche (HT), Lee Devereux for Redmond (48), Ronan Devereux for Vallejo (56).
Longford: Garret Higgins; Brendan Devine, Andrew Farrell, Thomas Gallagher; Patrick Farrell, Enda Macken, Mattie Gorman; Fergal Sheridan (0-2, 1 free), Conor Quaine; Vinny Hourican (0-1), Darren Gallagher (capt., 0-4, 2 frees, 1 '45), Nigel Rabbitte; Larry Moran (0-2, 1 free), Conor Shields, Patrick Kiernan (0-3). Subs. - Stephen Lynch for Rabbitte (29), Robbie Smyth for Gorman (HT), Shane Donohoe for Farrell (41), Gavin Kelly for Hourican (42), Kevin Moran for Macken (52), Ronan Duffy for Sheridan (53).
Referee: Davy Moore (Laois).