Dubs end three-year reign
Wexford well beaten all over field in poor title defence
All good things must come to an end, and so it proved in perfect conditions at Innovate Wexford Park on Wednesday when Wexford's three-year reign as Bord Gáis Energy Leinster Under-21 hurling champions was brought to an emphatic halt.
Dublin 2-12 Wexford 1-8
Dublin dictated the terms of engagement from the off and were full value for the most comprehensive of wins which leaves them with a semi-final against surprise packets Westmeath to look forward to.
It wasn't the actual outcome, more so the nature of it, that irked Wexford followers on a disappointing night. It shouldn't be forgotten that the Under-21 grade has consistently provided the main shining light for the game in the county since 2013, but that only added to the frustration because the crown was surrendered without any worthwhile fight.
Wexford only scored a meagre 1-4 from play, with the goal a consolation effort in added time by Conor McDonald who was superbly shackled throughout by man of the match Eoghan O'Donnell. The Senior defender's disciplined policing of the home side's dangerman set the tone for a defiant display by the Dubs who, let's not forget, brought a serious pedigree into the game as they had taken Tipperary to a replay before losing the 2012 All-Ireland Minor final.
O'Donnell always had support to swarm around the full-forward, and the general excellence of the winners' backs was in sharp contrast to their Wexford counterparts. Brian Quigley was a notable exception with a fine performance in the left corner, but generally speaking it was a far from vintage defensive display as central duo Liam Ryan and Pádraig Foley struggled to replicate the form that has turned them into Senior regulars.
Corner-forwards Darragh Pepper and Cathal Dunbar looked lively at times in the opening quarter in particular but threatened more than they achieved, while Conor Devitt was a largely peripheral figure.
Dublin captain Shane Barrett availed of the wind after winning the toss, and his team ought to have been ahead by more than 0-7 to 0-4 at half-time but also posted four times as many wides as the home side (8-2).
Wexford actually endured a scoreless spell of just over 19 minutes, and then two goals in the space of 60 seconds early in the second period ensured it was game, set and match for the visitors.
Conor Devitt hit the first of seven Wexford wides (Dublin had 13) before a neat pass into space by Darragh Pepper was latched on to by Cathal Dunbar who gave the holders the lead in the third minute.
Alas, it was one of the precious few bright passages of inventive forward play displayed by Wexford on the night. Indeed, it was the only time they led, and it merely lasted until the fifth minute when Seán Treacy fed Seán Ryan for the levelling Dublin point.
Treacy again supplied the last pass before Eoghan Conroy gave the boys in blue an advantage they never looked like relinquishing. Roles were directly reversed as Conroy fed Treacy for the third before Chris Bennett made it 4-1 from a '65 in the 13th minute.
Dublin were spraying the ball around effectively up front, with the deep-lying role of centre-forward Andrew Jamieson-Murphy posing major problems for Pádraig Foley. The attacker instigated a move also featuring Seán Treacy before Colm O Néill widened the gap to four in the 15th minute.
Conor McDonald hadn't got a look-in during that first quarter and came out to the '40 for a spell in a direct swap with Sam Kelly. A sloppy seven scoreless minutes followed in a generally low-standard opening half as a Darragh Pepper effort fell short and Cathal Dunbar posted a wide, while Dublin had four misses at the Clonard end before Wexford finally doubled their tally.
It arrived in the 22nd minute when Conor McDonald caught an Oliver O'Leary puck-out and fired over for his sole point from play. Dublin's reply was swift though, with Conor Devitt unable to control the ball before Andrew Jamieson-Murphy set up midfielder Jake Malone to make it 6-2.
A poor clearance by Dublin goalkeeper Jonathan Treacy, straight to Conor McDonald, led to Sam Kelly pulling a point back, but again the eventual winners had an immediate response.
James Cash waited for a ball from Pádraig Foley but it was plucked from under his nose by Mark McCallion who landed a long-range point. It was the second-last involvement for the Shelmaliers man, as mentors were in the process of readying Kevin Foley to replace him when he was upended and Conor McDonald tapped over the free.
Given all the circumstances, it could have been a lot worse for Wexford than to be 0-7 to 0-4 in arrears at half-time.
And the first minute on the re-start was reasonably promising as Pádraig Foley latched on to the puck-out after clubmate Sam Kelly struck a wide and narrowed the gap to two.
It wasn't a portent of things to come though, with the wind making no appreciable difference as Dublin remained dominant in too many departments. A well-taken Jake Malone point was cancelled out by a Conor McDonald '65 before that two-goal haul ensured the four-in-a-row dreams would die a death.
The first came in the 35th minute when Eoghan Conroy lofted in a high ball and Seán Ryan completely lost his marker, Liam Ryan, before making a difficult catch. After that he had the time and space to lash the ball past Oliver O'Leary and leave the Dubs firmly in the driving seat.
And just one minute later their lead was stretched to 2-8 to 0-6 when another delivery into the danger zone by Mark McCallion broke favourably for Seán Treacy who promptly buried it from close range.
Wexford were rattled and, although reinforcements followed in the form of Billy Kelly, surprise omission Kevin Sheridan, Seamus Casey and Gavin Bailey, Dublin's composure remained intact.
Indeed, their general approach was a tribute to the work of Enniscorthy-born manager Joe Fortune, a man whose name rather oddly never seems to be mentioned in dispatches when vacancies arise in his home county.
Perhaps it's time for the powers-that-be to take a closer look at his impressive track record with Dublin over the years.
Conor McDonald pulled back a point from a free earned by Kevin Foley in the 37th minute, while a half-chance of a goal for Darragh Pepper was quickly denied by the diligent Dubs.
McDonald hit wides from a free and play before Eoghan Conroy emerged from a tussle under the stand to restore Dublin's eight-point lead (2-9 to 0-7). Seán Treacy added a brace, the first from the left sideline and the second from a free after Pádraig Foley went to ground under a challenge and overcarried.
There was a depressing air of inevitability surrounding the outcome, and it was simply a matter of playing out time in the last 13 minutes. McDonald knocked over a free, with Jake Firman hitting a wide before Liam Ryan came forward and struck the post with a point-scoring attempt.
Seán Treacy closed the Dublin scoring from a free with over seven minutes left, and Wexford did press hard for a consolation goal before the finish.
Kevin Foley nearly managed it in a scramble but a throw-in on the 20-metre line was the outcome, and Conor McDonald did flick the ball home from the edge of the square after a Jake Firman free broke to him ten seconds into added time.
A late, low free from McDonald was saved before the Leinster reign officially concluded, ironically enough at the same end of Wexford Park where it had all begun with that dramatic late winning goal against Kilkenny three years ago.
Wexford: Oliver O'Leary; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan (capt.), Brian Quigley; Aaron Maddock, Pádraig Foley (0-1), Rowan White; Jake Firman, Joe O'Connor; James Cash, Sam Kelly (0-1), Conor Devitt; Darragh Pepper, Conor McDonald (1-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 '65), Cathal Dunbar (0-1). Subs. - Kevin Foley for Cash (28), Billy Kelly for S. Kelly (38), Kevin Sheridan for White (40), Seamus Casey for Pepper (43), Gavin Bailey for Devitt (48), also Darragh Hughes, Lar McDonald, Harry O'Connor, John Doyle.
Dublin: Jonathan Treacy; James Madden, Eoghan O'Donnell, Cian Hendricken; John Bellew, Cian Mac Gabhann, Shane Barrett (capt.); Jake Malone (0-2), Mark McCallion (0-1); Eoghan Conroy (0-2), Andrew Jamieson-Murphy, Seán Treacy (1-4, 0-2 frees); Chris Bennett (0-1 '65), Seán Ryan (1-1), Colm O Néill (0-1). Subs. - Cian Boland for O Néill (28), Eoghan McHugh for Bennett (45), Fionn O Riain Broin for Jamieson-Murphy (48), Mark Cavanagh for Malone (52), Ken Wigglesworth for Hendricken, inj. (56).
Referee: Peter Burke (Kilkenny).