Dunbar goal seals the deal
Wexford 1-20 Carlow 0-18
With a string of big league games around the corner, the Bord na Móna Walsh Cup has given Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald a chance to take a decent look at some of the up-and-coming players in the county.
Throwing them all in together can be counterproductive, so the nice blend of youth and experience that took on and beat Carlow in Hollymount on Wednesday seemed to strike the perfect balance.
The game certainly wasn't played close to breakneck championship pace, or even like a grind-it-out league game, but it did present Davy and his management team with a handful of useful performances.
Joe O'Connor was certainly busy in the opening exchanges. There's no real lack of confidence about anyone coming out of the St. Martin's club at the moment, given their success, but others might have come unstuck after a handful of early passes didn't come off.
That wasn't the case for O'Connor, as he kept looking for the ball, continued to pick up pockets of space with clever movement, and looked to dictate play. It likely won't be a seamless step up to this level but Joe looks primed to be the one to make the big leap for definite this season, having already played in all five Walsh Cup games in 2016 plus in the last couple of minutes of that year's championship exit to Waterford.
In much the same way, Damien Reck was a springer last year. The Oylegate-Glenbrien clubman might have been the best Wexford player on the pitch on Wednesday and he's quickly developed into a guy that is one of the first names on the teamsheet.
The big question might be where to play him. His versatility is impressive, as adept at breaking over midfield and creating scores as he is being a defender's nightmare. As he showed again versus Carlow, he's the quintessential runner from deep.
Kevin Foley was in an interesting role for him. Sitting in and sweeping, the Rapparees player was quietly efficient. He has a tough battle to usurp Shaun Murphy in that spot but the Enniscorthy man is a talented lad with time on his side.
Yet the big question with Wexford remains scoring. Can another consistently heavy scorer emerge and take some of the responsibility off the same couple of players? There was no real definitive answers in this game.
Playing David Dunne close to goal is essential, and getting Cathal Dunbar in there too; it's speed but it's more than that too. They are both classy stickmen, they could hold their own in several positions, but there are nuances about playing the position of inside forward.
Patience is needed in there, and the likes of Nicky Kirwan and Rory Jacob made it look easy for years. Anticipation, positioning, it doesn't come naturally to lads who have generally dictated play for their clubs from deeper.
A lot of decent ball went into that area of the field against Carlow and it didn't always stick, but other chances will come their way and if they can sponge in as much knowledge as possible both can continue to grow in the county set-up.
After Denis Murphy opened the scoring for Carlow, it was one of the 'older' heads, Paul Morris, who fashioned Wexford's first point. Aidan Nolan hit the target moments later but the barrage of scores the decent crowd might have been hoping for didn't materialise.
Carlow are going to improve this year under Colm Bonnar, a wily boss at this stage. They probably benefited from having the game against Wicklow under their belts and they were plenty competitive throughout this contest.
Despite Lee Chin's first point and Morris' second, Carlow levelled at 0-4 each through Murphy in the 15th minute. A Chin brace gave Wexford a two-point lead but the visitors weren't here to roll over and levelled again in the 25th minute through Martin Kavanagh.
Chin converted after Dunne was dragged down and Harry Kehoe picked off a nice score from a tight angle on the right of the posts to make it 0-8 to 0-6.
The game was still very much in the balance and might have been all the way to the end had the incident in the 30th minute not happened.
What possessed Seamus Murphy to pull across the side and arm of Joe O'Connor with the game stopped? It was ludicrous, nonsensical behaviour that referee John O'Brien dealt with in the only way he could, with a red card.
It sparked off a bit of a melee with Lee Chin and Jack Kavanagh picking up yellow cards for their part in it. The Wexford reaction, while not pretty, was understandable considering the strike could easily have done lasting damage.
Simon Donohoe slalomed forward and scored a lovely point to make the lead three, but two Denis Murphy frees got Carlow within one, 0-9 to 0-8, at the break. While former Tipperary, now Laois, official O'Brien got the big decision correct, his overall performance was in keeping with the game - a bit of an early-season cobweb-ridder.
Carlow continued to make things difficult for their hosts after the re-start. Eoin Moore scored a classy 39th-minute point but the Scallion Eaters found themselves 0-12 to 0-11 ahead nine minutes after the break.
Chin's frees and a Dunbar point were cancelled out at the the other end, and Carlow remained deadlocked after Jack Kavanagh pointed from close range in the 55th minute. The killer goal came just seconds later.
A streamlined Conor McDonald was involved but it was Reck's run from left to middle which opened up the Carlow defence. He picked the perfect time for the off-load and Dunbar flashed home his shot from the right of goal to make it 1-15 to 0-15.
Carlow got within two when Conor Foley pointed in the 63rd minute, but Chin responded with his tenth point and then produced a superb bit of fielding to release Matthew O'Hanlon for a score.
Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney also added their names to the scoresheet in what was left on the clock as 14-man Carlow slowly ran out of legs.
It was a quick turnaround for Davy Fitzgerald and his team, as they were back in action on Sunday at Ashford where a win against hosts Wicklow ensured them of a spot in the semi-finals.
Wexford: Conor O'Leary (Oulart-The Ballagh); Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Liam Ryan (Rapparees), Conor Firman (St. Martin's); Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers, 0-1), Matthew O'Hanlon (St. James', 0-1), Eoin Moore (Oulart-The Ballagh, 0-1); Joe O'Connor (St. Martin's), Aidan Nolan (HWH-Bunclody, 0-1); Lee Chin (Faythe Harriers, 0-10, 9 frees), Paul Morris (Ferns St. Aidan's, 0-2), Kevin Foley (Rapparees); Harry Kehoe (Cloughbawn, 0-1), David Dunne (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy), Cathal Dunbar (Ballygarrett, 1-1). Subs. - Shaun Murphy (Oulart-The Ballagh) for Donohoe (HT), Jack O'Connor (St. Martin's) for Nolan (44), Willie Devereux (St. Martin's) for Firman (46), Conor McDonald (Naomh Eanna, 0-1) for Dunne (48), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (St. Anne's) for Moore (55), Jack Guiney (Rathnure, 0-1) for Kehoe (59), also Eanna Martin (Carrickshock, Kilkenny), Aaron Maddock (St. Martin's), Eoin Molloy (Naomh Eanna), Connal Flood (Cloughbawn), Garrett Foley (Fethard), Michael O'Regan (Glynn-Barntown), Jake Firman (St. Martin's), Liam Rochford (St. Anne's).
Carlow: Brian Tracey; James Doyle, Alan Corcoran, Michael Doyle; James O'Hara, Eoin Nolan (0-1), Richard Kelly; Jack Kavanagh (0-2), Jack Murphy; Seamus Murphy, Martin Kavanagh (0-2), Edward Byrne; Chris Nolan (0-2), Craig Wall, Denis Murphy (0-8, 7 frees). Subs. - Kevin McDonald for Wall (43), Diarmuid Byrne (0-2) for J. Murphy (45), Conor Foley (0-1) for E. Byrne (53), Ted Joyce for C. Nolan (54), Peter Abbey for J. Doyle, inj. (57), Ross Smithers for D. Murphy (63), Andrew Casey for M. Doyle (69), Seán Brennan for O'Hara (69), O'Hara for Kelly, inj. (70).
Referee: John O'Brien (Laois).