Saturday 16 December 2017

From a buzz to a roar as hurlers deliver

McDonald goal makes the difference in first victory over Limerick since 2005

Dean Goodison

Lee Chin considers his options with Paul Morris offering support if required
Lee Chin considers his options with Paul Morris offering support if required
Top scorer Conor McDonald delivers the ball despite the blocking attempt by Limerick defender Seamus Hickey
Full-back Liam Ryan has support from Simon Donohoe as the rain comes pouring down

The word 'buzz' has got to be the most retch-inducing, nails-down-the-blackboard cliché in modern day English, used in so many contexts that it pretty much means what you want it to mean.

Wexford 1-14 Limerick 0-14

But that's exactly why it has fit the 'Davy Fitz revolution' so well up to now. There's a buzz in the county, there's a buzz around the press box, there's a buzz in the squad, Davy is buzzing up and down the sideline. Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Sunday in Innovate Wexford Park was something more, as the roar of the Davy era emerged. The Clare man roared his side through a tough Limerick battle, all the way to two vital Allianz Hurling League Division 1B points.

The roar was everywhere. Wexford fans roared like they haven't in a long time, and it's no longer a mere hopeful yell of encouragement, as there's suddenly a belief in those 15 on the pitch from those in the stands. One that can't be manufactured, it's a natural reaction.

There was no louder roar than that of Conor McDonald, talisman for his county again, scoring 1-8. On Diarmuid Kirwan's full-time whistle the Naomh Eanna clubman turned to the supporters, sending two fists flying in salute, with a roar that could be heard over the few thousand others.

This is how hurling is meant to be. It's supposed to bring the moaners in, unite a county and transmit joy to all involved. Wexford certainly look to be playing with a freedom within a structure that means they enjoy the task.

Look, it wasn't all pretty. There were questionable spells, notably the first 15 minutes when Limerick looked silky in septic conditions and Wexford were a little sluggish.

Then there was the 15 minutes after Podge Doran's introduction, where every ball that came out of the defence went wide, short or both, leaving the Oylegate-Glenbrien man chasing around, wasting energy on lost causes.

If Fitzgerald was getting perfect performances at this stage of the season, edging victories, he would have serious problems ahead. It's certainly a welcome change for Wexford fans to see room for improvement - after a win.

Wexford started with Paul Morris playing alone inside, with Conor McDonald and Barry Carton deeper, completing an attacking triangle. However, it was Limerick who opened the scoring in the first minute when Graeme Mulcahy hit the target from close range.

David Redmond registered a wide with the hosts' only real chance in the opening five minutes as Limerick looked to take advantage of the howling breeze blowing off the Irish Sea, into the Clonard end.

Adding to Kyle Hayes' earlier wide, Gearóid Hegarty missed the target in the third minute. A nice crossfield ball by Paul Browne did give Peter Casey the relatively easy task of making it 0-2 to nil.

Diarmuid Byrnes booming placed-ball effort from the right side of midfield made it 0-3 to nil but Wexford finally got on the scoreboard when McDonald converted a free after Redmond was impeded.

Experienced Oulart-The Ballagh man Redmond had reason to be bemused when he conceded a free in the seventh minute, but Wexford can have few arguments with the refereeing performance thereafter.

That Byrnes free, from his own half, dropped short and didn't cost the hosts a score. At the other end Paul Morris did well to maintain possession and off-load to Aaron Maddock who popped it out to McDonald for the score.

Three-two quickly became four, five, six and then seven-two. Seamus Hickey pointed from his own half before the sliothar slipped out of Shaun Murphy's grasp and Mulcahy capitalised to convert.

Cian Lynch made it 0-6 to 0-2 in the 14th minute, and Casey quickly added his second with a dead-ball after Hickey was fouled. The battles around midfield evened out after that with a succession of Wexford frees halting the Treaty momentum.

The wind conditions prevented three frees from reaching their target until Morris fed Aidan Nolan and he was tripped 20 metres out. McDonald successfully converted for his, and his team's, third point.

There was a sniff of a one-on-one situation wide on the right for McDonald in the 23rd minute but he wisely took the safer point option, although he needed the inside of the left upright to make it 0-7 to 0-4.

At the other end, Casey broke out of a melee and tapped over to make it double-scores. Action was broken in the 26th minute when all but four of those on the field were involved in a crowd-pleasing brawl.

The result was a throw-in with only Limerick's Kyle Hayes on the receiving end of a yellow card. Latching on to Paul Browne's feed, Declan Hannon pointed in the 32nd minute to break an eight-minute scoring hiatus - the longest of the contest.

Browne got the score that his top quality first-half performance deserved in added-time to send Limerick in at the interval 0-10 to 0-4 ahead, about par for the conditions.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the fast start is vital when well behind at the break. Limerick would have been aware of that and re-doubled their efforts, going close to netting when David Dempsey ghosted in and forced Mark Fanning into a solid low save.

John Kiely's side did edge seven in front in the 38th minute when Gearóid Hegarty raised his first white flag. Wexford responded through McDonald from wide on the right after gathering in Fanning's long clearance.

Becoming the first Wexford player other than McDonald to score, Lee Chin caught the resulting puck-out and cut the gap to three. The Slaneysiders looked to be on a roll when substitute Podge Doran then scored with his first touch.

However, things became a little fragmented as, maybe confused by the new tactics and the two men inside, Wexford didn't use the ball particularly well in the spell and Limerick had a lot of possession.

They didn't do enough in that time, missing several good chances. Apart from a Casey free from close range, they struggled to find the target, flashing a handful of wides from good positions in and around the Wexford '45.

After Chin's effort was deflected out for a '65, McDonald popped over his sixth point. A seventh followed after a foul on Aidan Nolan, leaving just three between the sides with 15 minutes remaining.

With the crowd roaring, Harry Kehoe nailed a superb score from tight on the right wing. The Cloughbawn clubman off-loaded to Diarmuid O'Keeffe seconds later and the wing-back pinged over a long-range point.

When Fanning was fouled breaking out from defence, the Wexford stopper launched one long. It broke out to Podge Doran and the Oylegate-Glenbrien clubman tapped over from just inside the '20 to level the game for the first time since just after throw-in.

Quiet, but highly efficient, Shaun Murphy's line-clearing launch found its way to Lee Chin. The Wexford joint-captain, who didn't have his best game in a county jersey but really came to the fore at crunch time, popped over to make it 0-13 to 0-12.

Intensity ratcheted up, the critical goal came eight minutes from time. Again it was a huge Fanning ball, right into the large square, that McDonald claimed. He feigned inside, jinked out, made a yard of space and flashed low across Nickie Quaid to the Limerick net.

Chin got poleaxed breaking through the centre in the 63rd minute, which allowed McDonald to bring his tally to 1-8. Wexford did not score again but, as it turned out, they had done enough.

Only just. Limerick, unsurprisingly, had a bit more to offer. With four minutes remaining Peter Casey flipped David Dempsey into the clear, seemingly certain to net, but Mark Fanning did superbly to foul him, cynically.

Outside the large square, the free resulted in a Casey point and a yellow card for Fanning but it was clearly a great trade for Wexford. Limerick dominated territorially in the final few minutes but only pulled within a goal when John Fitzgibbon tapped over in the 73rd minute.

A few seconds later Diarmuid Kirwan's full-time whistle took the wind out of the Limerick revival and sent Innovate Wexford Park into wild celebrations, not seen in a league game for a long time.

After securing the first victory over Limerick since 2005, Wexford have a chance to edge one step closer to a return to Division 1A next weekend. They face the daunting trip to Galway (Sunday, Pearse Stadium, 2 p.m.) in as confident a mood as they have mustered in a long time.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; James Breen, Liam Ryan, Eoin Moore; Simon Donohoe, Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Shaun Murphy, Aaron Maddock; Aidan Nolan, Barry Carton, David Redmond; Conor McDonald (1-8, 0-4 frees, 0-1 '65), Paul Morris, Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-2). Subs. - Podge Doran (0-2) for Maddock (41), Harry Kehoe (0-1) for Morris (48), Nicky Kirwan for Redmond (56), Jack O'Connor for Carton (70+1).

Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Stephen Cahill, Richie McCarthy, Mike Casey; Seamus Hickey (0-1), Declan Hannon (0-1), Diarmuid Byrnes (0-1 free); Paul Browne (0-1), James Ryan (capt.); Gearóid Hegarty (0-1), Cian Lynch (0-1), Kyle Hayes; Peter Casey (0-5, 3 frees), David Dempsey, Graeme Mulcahy (0-2). Subs. - Alan Dempsey for Casey, temp. (31-34), John Fitzgibbon (0-1) for Ryan (45), Alan Dempsey for Hegarty (48), Tom Morrissey for Hayes (63), Pat Ryan for Browne (65).

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).

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