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Thursday 23 January 2020

Footballers falter as Offaly cruise to win

Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup Senior Football Group 3 Round 3: Offaly 2-12 Wexford 1-7

Wexford wing-back Ronan Devereux battling for the ball with Offaly’s Jordan Hayes during Saturday’s clash at Faithful Fields in Kilcormac
Wexford wing-back Ronan Devereux battling for the ball with Offaly’s Jordan Hayes during Saturday’s clash at Faithful Fields in Kilcormac

Alan Aherne in Faithful Fields, Kilcormac

The quest for a first Wexford football win under the stewardship of new manager Paul Galvin continues after an already-qualified Offaly displayed their clear superiority by a convincing eight-point-margin in this concluding Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup Group 3 tie in the Faithful Fields training complex on Saturday.

The outcome means that the Slaneysiders stand alone as the only one of the ten counties contesting the round robin stages without at least one success to their name at the end.

More importantly from the point of view of such a young and generally green squad, it would have been a boost to morale to have garnered something tangible from this last competitive outing before the Antrim challenge in the Allianz League opener in Glenavy on January 26.

However, while they stayed with Westmeath to the finish, and they were unlucky not to salvage a draw against Laois, on this occasion they were a long way behind an Offaly side with a local derby semi-final against the former to look forward to now after three straight victories.

And given that the visiting team was probably a lot closer to the likely starting side up north in this clash, that has to be a concern with such a tough league start on the cards.

Galvin has certainly utilised the O'Byrne Cup to the full in terms of looking at players, with 40 deployed in total across the three games, including 19 debutants - 13 versus Westmeath, another three against Laois, and then three more last Saturday: goalscorer Michael Molloy along with substitutes Seán Nolan and Liam Coleman.

The game is probably best summed up by what happened after Wexford's brightest passage of attacking play ended with that green flag for the Kilanerin youngster in the 27th minute.

While they had opened promisingly with the first two points, they went on to concede six on the trot before the Offaly full-forward line combined to come within inches of finding the net.

The wily Anton Sullivan found the highly-rated Cian Johnson who in turn handpassed to Rúairí McNamee, but a diving block by Conor Carty turned his shot on to the post before the danger was averted.

And just over one minute later, Jonathan Bealin punted an accurate pass to club colleague Robbie Brooks who was entitled to claim an attacking mark but instead took the correct option by playing on.

His swift handpass found Michael Molloy running off his shoulder, and one of the stand-out Under-20 attackers from 2019 made no mistake in slotting a neat low shot into the right corner of the net.

Unfortunately, the positivity lasted a mere 40 seconds before Offaly responded at the other end, and that encapsulated the entire game, as the hosts always seemed to be capable of stepping up to another level when it was required.

It was a very well-worked move, starting with dominant midfielder Michael Brazil and also featuring Rúairí McNamee, Cian Donohue and Jordan Hayes before Cian Johnson finished to Pa Doyle's net for a 1-6 to 1-2 lead.

And the situation worsened for Wexford a short time later when a late tackle led to McNamee playing a free to his left for the unmarked Cathal Mangan to collect.

He found centre-forward Conor McNamee who didn't delay in taking his shot, and the swiftness of the kick seemed to take Pa Doyle by surprise as the ball went under his diving body and into the net to extend the margin to seven points.

There was some welcome respite for Wexford before half-time, with Robbie Brooks kicking his first point at this level from a Conor Carty off-load before Jonathan Bealin knocked over a free after Michael Molloy was held off the ball (2-6 to 1-4).

However, when Offaly added four unanswered points inside ten minutes on the re-start, there was no way back for their rivals whose paltry addition of just three second-half points was a disappointment.

Debutant Molloy and full-back Gavin Sheehan were the only two players in the starting side yet to taste O'Byrne Cup action, with the latter making a welcome return after his involvement with Gusserane in the latter stages of the Under-20 county championship.

And after midfielder Tom Byrne thankfully recovered from an awkward landing at the throw-in, the visitors opened the scoring in the third minute when Conor Devitt curled over a neat point from a crossfield Jonathan Bealin pass.

A foul on Robbie Brooks in the right corner resulted in a free that favoured a left-footer, and Byrne did the business to double the lead before a 19-minute scoreless spell ensued.

One of the main men for Offaly as they established dominance was long-serving midfielder Michael Brazil who was the master of all he surveyed in that department, with Wexford struggling to make any sort of impression in an area where the new management have made arguably their biggest call in omitting Daithí Waters.

Cian Johnson got Offaly off the mark in the eleventh minute when he was content to take a point when a goal looked a possibility, and Jason Dempsey then levelled after a one-two with Cathal Mangan.

Four more points without reply followed from Brazil, Rúairí McNamee (free and play), and Anton Sullivan, with Wexford kicking four wides in the same spell, including three (two frees) from Jonathan Bealin whose radar was a little off in terms of shot-taking despite spraying some accurate passes to colleagues.

For the record, he ended with four of the team's nine wides, along with two from Robbie Brooks plus one apiece from Ronan Devereux, Tom Byrne and Seán Nolan, the latter with the last kick of the game.

After the three goals in three minutes, followed by the last two points of the half from the Model county men, Offaly made four changes at the break before striking first when wing-back Jordan Hayes stretched their lead to 2-7 to 1-4 in the 38th minute.

New goalkeeper Jack Cullinane then earned his crust with a fantastic save from a close-range shot from Tom Byrne, after good work in the build-up from John Dunne, Martin O'Connor and James Stafford.

However, in truth it was an opportunity that ought to have been taken, and the miss effectively wiped out any likelihood of a comeback, particularly after Offaly reeled off the next three points from substitute Bernard Allen (play and free), plus a fisted effort from Anton Sullivan (2-10 to 1-4).

Michael Molloy was very unfortunate not to add a second goal in the 49th minute, with his piledriver crashing off the crossbar after Jonathan Bealin and Oisín Foley combined in the build-up.

That close shave did spark a brief improvement from Wexford, as Bealin kicked their opening point of the second period after a foul on Conor Devitt before James Stafford tapped over from a Robbie Brooks assist.

Brooks then aimed a high kick from the left at the near post that was flagged as a wide when it was a borderline call.

One presumes that Michael Molloy made his feelings known as a result, because referee Seamus Mulhare showed him a black card and followed it up with a red after a brief check of his notebook to leave Wexford with 14 men for the last 16 minutes plus added time.

Offaly moved into a double scores lead with points from substitutes Colm Doyle and Cian Farrell, before their rivals closed the scoring in the 65th minute when an interception by Eoghan Nolan ended with Mark Rossiter kicking high between the posts from a Jonathan Bealin pass.

Rossiter was eager for the ball and looked lively after his introduction, but on a few occasions he lacked support after winning possession and had to wait for the cavalry to arrive before considering his next move.

This was understandable playing with one man short, particularly at this time of year, but in general terms Wexford will need to work on the speed of their movement of the ball from defence to attack.

Regarding the new rules, the attacking mark wasn't a factor as only two arose, and on both occasions Michael Molloy and Seán Nolan opted to play on, with the former decision leading to the Wexford goal.

Referee Mulhare also whistled for four marks (two apiece) claimed by a defender cutting out an opposition pass from outside the '45. Gavin Sheehan was the Wexford beneficiary twice, and he continued playing the first time before stopping momentarily second time around.

One gets the distinct impression that a lot of confusion still surrounds these marks from open play. My understanding was that players had to hold their arm aloft to signal they wanted to avail of the rule, but it appears that some referees are whistling regardless, and that could be a recipe for disaster in games with a lot more at stake further down the line.

As for marks from kick-outs, Offaly had four to Wexford's two from Eoghan Nolan and Tom Byrne, and the platform laid by the home side in that department went a long way towards the continuation of a winning start to the new campaign for John Maughan's men.

Wexford: Pa Doyle (Starlights); Oisín Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn), Gavin Sheehan (Gusserane), Jim Rossiter (St. Fintan's); Ronan Devereux (Crossabeg-Ballymurn), Martin O'Connor (HWH-Bunclody), Conor Carty (Castletown); Tom Byrne (Kilmore, 0-1 free), Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers, capt.); Conor Devitt (Kilanerin, 0-1), James Stafford (Glynn-Barntown, 0-1), John Dunne (HWH-Bunclody); Michael Molloy (Kilanerin, 1-0), Jonathan Bealin (Castletown, 0-2 frees), Robbie Brooks (Castletown, 0-1). Subs. - Seán Nolan (Horeswood) for Dunne (50), Mark Rossiter (Gusserane, 0-1) for Brooks (56), Liam Coleman (Castletown) for Bealin (58), Niall Murphy (Ferns St. Aidan's) for Carty (62), Robbie Barron (St. James') for O'Connor (65), Dillon Redmond (Starlights) for Devitt (68).

Offaly: Ian Duffy; David Dempsey, Eoin Rigney (capt.), Ciarán Donnelly; Cian Donohue, Shane Nally, Jordan Hayes (0-1); Cathal Mangan, Michael Brazil (0-1); Jason Dempsey (0-1), Conor McNamee (1-0), Aaron Leavy; Cian Johnson (1-1), Anton Sullivan (0-2), Rúairí McNamee (0-2, 1 free). Subs. - Jack Cullinane for Duffy (HT), Brian Darby for Donnelly (HT), Ronan McEvoy for Mangan (HT), Bernard Allen (0-2, 1 free) for Leavy (HT), Cian Farrell (0-1) for J. Dempsey (46), Jack Quinn for Donohue (52), Colm Doyle (0-1) for Hayes (52), Mark Abbott for Johnson (58), Jim Hendy for D. Dempsey (62), Dan Molloy for Brazil (65), Bobby Mitchell for R. McNamee (65).

Referee: Seamus Mulhare (Laois).

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