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Wednesday 19 June 2019

From elation to deflation in seconds as Wexford held to draw by Dubs

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Round-Robin: Wexford 2-19 Dublin 1-22

Wexford joint captain Lee Chin taking on Dublin defender Eoghan O’Donnell
Wexford joint captain Lee Chin taking on Dublin defender Eoghan O’Donnell

Alan Aherne in Parnell Park, Donnycarney

Seconds away from elation, but ending instead with deflation - those were the quickly-changing emotions of Wexford supporters in the tight confines of Parnell Park, Donnycarney, on Sunday when the county Senior hurlers had an away victory snatched from under their noses in their Leinster championship round-robin opener with a last-gasp goal.

There was a distinct feeling of a valuable point lost rather than one gained in the immediate aftermath of this gripping contest, as Seán Moran's free somehow beat seven men on the line and rescued a draw for Dublin with the last puck of the game.

Nonetheless, everyone of a Wexford persuasion would have happily settled for a share of the spoils with 15 minutes left when the side trailed by 0-20 to 0-15, only to take over in the driving seat after two cracking goals by Liam Óg McGovern and Rory O'Connor.

Given that all of the pre-match opinions pointed towards a tight contest, in hindsight one shouldn't be surprised that the clash ended in stalemate.

And it will be fascinating to see how the point for both will impact on the table after the last round on June 15 when both teams are still likely to be vying for a place in the All-Ireland series.

While the opening half was something of a slow-burner as both teams figured out the playing formations of the opposition, it rose to an exciting higher gear on the re-start and was all-out championship fare by the time the finishing line was in sight.

Davy Fitzgerald opted for the O'Connor brothers, Jack and Rory, as his two inside attackers on this occasion, but neither got any joy from their direct markers, Eoghan O'Donnell and Paddy Smyth, during a first-half when Wexford didn't build on a very bright start.

They were full value for a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after nine minutes, with Liam Óg McGovern opening the scoring from distance from a short pass by clubmate Diarmuid O'Keeffe after an earlier Paul Ryan wide for Dublin.

The latter missed a free before Lee Chin bagged his first, with misses following from Rory O'Connor and an over-hit Tom Connolly pass prior to the third Wexford point.

Dublin struggled to pick up their men for the early opposition puck-outs and Shaun Murphy, who started at centre-back with Matthew O'Hanlon to his left, darted into a pocket of space and was picked out by Mark Fanning for a well-worked score in the fifth minute.

It was a case of so far, so good, for the visitors who, of course, didn't have the advantage of a game eight days earlier when the Dubs had let a lead slip away to Kilkenny.

Danny Sutcliffe and Lee Chin swapped wides prior to veteran Conal Keaney opening the hosts' account after Liam Ryan batted a long delivery by netminder Alan Nolan into his path.

However, a carbon copy of his first point saw Shaun Murphy move into unoccupied ground and land his second score from the re-start, prompting the Dubs to push up on their rivals' puck-outs thereafter and indulge in the dark arts on occasion without punishment.

Belfast man Mickey McCullough was a constant but unobtrusive presence on the field as their maor fóirne in the absence of the suspended Greg Kennedy after his pathetic Nowlan Park antics, but referee Fergal Horgan didn't get any help from linesmen Johnny Ryan and Colum Cunning in keeping an eye on the off-the-ball wrestling.

Dublin, who were against the slight breeze blowing towards the Killester end, gradually worked their way into the game and actually out-scored Wexford by 0-7 to 0-1 between the tenth and 19th minutes to surge into an 0-8 to 0-5 lead.

That was a worrying spell for the visitors when nothing would stick up front while strong running from deep by the likes of Cian Boland and Tom Connolly saw the lead change hands.

Boland and Paul Ryan (free) pulled two points back, with Diarmuid O'Keeffe striking a wide in between, before that sole Wexford response when a push on Jack O'Connor was punished by Lee Chin (0-5 to 0-3).

The next five points were all registered by the Dubs, courtesy of Seán Moran (free), Connolly, Ryan ('65 and play), plus Eamon 'Trollier' Dillon, before a missed long-range free from Chin was followed by a settling score.

Mark Fanning's long free located Chin on the left, and his handpass set up Conor McDonald for a superb strike between the posts (0-8 to 0-6).

The Gorey man then doubled his tally from a line ball on the other side of the field, and a brace of '65s from Chin had restored the Wexford lead by the 30th minute.

Dillon and Rory O'Connor had also added wides at either end, and Keaney restored parity after his initial attempt on goal from distance was batted away by Mark Fanning.

It remained tit-for-tat for the remainder of the half, with Liam Óg McGovern driving across goal and wide after latching on to a Fanning puck-out that went over the head of McDonald, before Chin punished a foul on O'Keeffe.

Danny Sutcliffe's wide from the re-start was followed by a solo point from Cian Boland after a McDonald bat back into the path of Aidan Nolan didn't work out as intended.

Fanning (free) and Sutcliffe struck wides before Nolan was hooked in a threatening position after impressive work in the build-up from Shaun Murphy and Simon Donohoe.

Chin made it 0-11 to 0-10 after another foul on Jack O'Connor, with the latter then striking his team's eighth wide (Dublin had the same tally by half-time) before a needless push on Paul Ryan in the right corner was punished by the Ballyboden free-taker.

Given they had faced the slight breeze, the home side ought to have been more pleased with their lot at the break, with seven of their eleven points having arrived from play.

This was in contrast to Wexford's four, with just one coming after a trio in the first ten minutes from McGovern and Murphy (two).

Otherwise, Conor McDonald's 23rd-minute effort was the sole addition with the exception of Chin's sextet from placed balls, with the attack not functioning as planned.

Jack O'Connor partnered Diarmuid O'Keeffe at midfield for the throw-in on the re-start before moving back inside, and a push on the St. Anne's man enabled Chin to restore the lead after 46 seconds.

Sutcliffe caught the puck-out over Shaun Murphy and Paul Ryan did the rest after he was fouled, but the Wexford response was memorable as McDonald converted a glorious line ball from a very tight angle on the right for one of the best scores of the year to date.

Chris Crummey made it 0-13 each from long range, and the pre-match expectations of a very tight finish were very much on course.

It was nip and tuck, with an Eamon Dillon wide followed by an effort for a point rebounding off the post from Fergal Whitely, whose mother is a native of Rathnure.

Aidan Nolan caught the clearance that followed and restored Wexford's lead, only for Cian Boland to hit back with his third.

A trio of successful Ryan frees, the first two justified but the last one a borderline call against Kevin Foley, saw a significant gap open up moving towards the end of the third quarter.

And when a Fanning puck-out only went as far as Dillon, he picked out Ryan to make it 0-18 to 0-14 in favour of Dublin in the 47th minute.

A foul on Jack O'Connor led to Lee Chin settling his side with a point, and a Seán Moran wide followed before the first hint of the goal-getting threat posed by Wexford.

Initially, Liam Óg McGovern looped a handpass from the left of the posts into the path of Jack O'Connor who was bottled up. McGovern then had an attempt blocked before Rory O'Connor crashed a shot into the side-netting, but Dublin were unable to fully capitalise on this let-off as the game moved into the last quarter.

While they did hit the next two points to move five clear, courtesy of Seán Moran and Tom Connolly, they were preceded by a couple of sloppy wides from the latter and Cian Boland.

In addition, Liam Rushe won a long delivery from Connolly and handpassed to Paul Ryan whose pull was saved, and fortunately he was off balance and didn't get a decent connection on the rebound.

Still, the game was in danger of slipping away from Wexford, but the first goal they needed so badly arrived at the perfect moment as we moved into the final 15 minutes.

Shaun Murphy and Jack O'Connor combined before the latter handpassed to his right to Liam Óg McGovern, and the St. Anne's man had the composure to weave back onto his left before burying the ball past Alan Nolan (0-20 to 1-15).

Now it was very much 'game on' again, with Nolan darting off his line to deny Jack O'Connor the lead goal after he was played in by a combination of Chin and Rory O'Connor.

That play was called back for a free that the Harriers man tapped over, and the excellent Shaun Murphy followed with the leveller, and his third of the afternoon, from a McGovern assist (1-17 to 0-20).

Simon Donohoe won the puck-out, raced forward, played a one-two with Jack O'Connor, and was hauled down, with Chin putting his side ahead from the free as Wexford's five and a half-minute purple patch yielded 1-3 on the bounce.

Fanning had to be alert to flick the sliothar out of the danger zone after a Paul Ryan line ball posed some problems, but it broke to Fergal Whitely who batted over for the leveller (0-21 to 1-18).

And with just over six minutes to go, an otherwise subdued player showed why it's worth persisting with somebody who has the capacity to alter the course of a game in an instant.

It wasn't anywhere close to Rory O'Connor's best game for the county by any stretch of the imagination, but he kept going and got on the end of a move featuring substitute Cathal Dunbar and McGovern to billow the net for a 2-18 to 0-21 lead.

It was a sloppy concession by Dublin, as Dunbar forced a turnover after Chris Crummey allowed a short crossfield pass to slip under his legs, and it looked like being the decisive moment even though a debatable charging call against replacement David Dunne resulted in another converted Ryan free.

Five extra minutes were announced, and 80 seconds of that time had been played when Lee Chin sold a trademark dummy off his hurl on the left and arrowed over a beauty, his sole effort from play, to make it 2-19 to 0-22.

Caolán Conway struck a Dublin wide, and Wexford then won three line balls in succession on the stand side that helped to wind the clock down.

However, the last one was awarded right in front of their own dug-out, and the instruction to Dunbar obviously must have been to make sure the ball went dead.

The call was understandable in one respect, given that he's quite capable of scoring from that range, but in hindsight it might have been the better option to tap it down into the right corner and kill the remaining time by trying to force a ruck to develop.

Instead, Dunbar's effort went right and wide, giving Alan Nolan one last chance to launch a long puck-out as far as he could.

He did exactly that some 23 seconds beyond the allocated five minutes, and a foul on Liam Rushe just outside the 20-metre line on the right, at the intersection of the 'D', afforded them one last chance.

Seven men lined the goal, and Seán Moran didn't seem to get a clean connection on the ball, but it somehow hit the net and there wasn't even time for Mark Fanning to find his forwards before Fergal Horgan blew for full-time.

The championship structure ensures there's no time to dwell on matches, as the focus quickly turned to next Sunday's trip to Galway (4 p.m.). The westerners were idle last weekend after their hard-earned home win over Carlow, so it will be a case of a fresher team facing a battle-hardened outfit in a game where the visitors will undoubtedly start as underdogs.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Simon Donohoe; Kevin Foley; Pádraig Foley, Shaun Murphy (0-3), Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.); Liam Óg McGovern (1-1), Diarmuid O'Keeffe; Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-11, 8 frees, 2 '65s), Conor McDonald (0-3, 2 line balls), Aidan Nolan (0-1); Jack O'Connor, Rory O'Connor (1-0). Subs. - Cathal Dunbar for Nolan (53), David Dunne for McDonald (66), Harry Kehoe for J. O'Connor (67), Shane Reck for Murphy (70+3).

Dublin: Alan Nolan; Paddy Smyth, Eoghan O'Donnell; Seán Moran (1-2, 1-1 frees); Chris Crummey (capt., 0-1), Tom Connolly (0-2), Shane Barrett; Seán Treacy, Danny Sutcliffe; Cian Boland (0-3), Conal Keaney (0-2), Eamon Dillon (0-1); Fergal Whitely (0-1), Liam Rushe, Paul Ryan (0-10, 7 frees, 1 '65). Subs. - David Treacy for Keaney (49), Jake Malone for Boland (61), Caolán Conway for S. Treacy (63), Ronan Hayes for Whitely (67).

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).

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