independent

Monday 23 April 2018

Hanging on by a thread

Offaly 1-13 Wexford 1-10

Alan Aherne

Nick Doyle shoots as Offaly defender Paul McConway tries to block
Nick Doyle shoots as Offaly defender Paul McConway tries to block

Wexford's losing streak in the Allianz Football League has now stretched to eight games on the trot straddling two campaigns after they went down to fellow relegation strugglers Offaly by three points in this dour Division 3 battle in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Saturday.

The county's last victory was secured almost one year to the day of next weekend's difficult visit to Derry, on March 19 twelve months ago when promotion was sealed with a six-point home success against London.

And while the current squad haven't been outclassed in any of their five outings thus far, their cause certainly hasn't been helped by the red mist descending on all of their most experienced players.

Team captain Daithí Waters was an immense loss from the midfield engine room on Saturday after his appeal against a one-match ban failed, while Brian Malone, Michael Furlong and Conor Carty had all served suspensions beforehand.

And remarkably, the team's longest-serving forward, Ben Brosnan, was the latest candidate for an early shower after an off-the-ball incident on the stroke of half-time.

Brosnan ended up on the ground after a coming together with Offaly full-back Paul McConway near the middle of the field.

Referee John Hickey sought advice from two of his umpires before booking the defender, but the intervention of linesman Alan Kissane from Waterford then sealed Brosnan's fate as the centre-forward was issued with a straight red card.

Wexford were behind by 1-5 to 0-3 at that stage after playing against the wind, and clearly the numerical disadvantage added considerably to an already difficult task.

And the other key factor in the outcome was the surprising transformation in finishing by a previously wasteful Offaly attack after the break.

The visitors had been very sloppy with their first-half shooting, amassing eleven wides, but they got their act together in stunning fashion in the second period.

Eight points were added to their tally, some of them sweet efforts with the outside of the boot, and there wasn't even one attempt that went left or right of the posts.

Wexford did make them sweat when a familiar route one tactic yielded a goal from Nick Doyle to narrow the gap to 1-11 to 1-9 in the 64th minute.

However, Offaly regained a grip swiftly with two points and went on to secure their first win of the campaign, following up on their O'Byrne Cup success versus the same opposition in Tullamore on December 30.

Wexford made five changes from the loss to Longford, with Conor Swaine replacing Matt Doyle to become the third goalkeeper used in the league to date.

Conor Carty was back after serving his one-match ban while Daithí Waters was out through suspension, and a positional switch saw Brian Malone move up from defence to partner Nick Doyle at midfield.

The Longford full-forward line of Paul Curtis, Donal Shanley and Cathal Devereux was replaced by Craig McCabe, Eoghan Nolan and John Tubritt, with the latter featuring for the first time this year after his extended club hurling exploits with Fethard.

Nolan's recovery from a hamstring problem added spark to the attack, and he kicked the first point after good work by Nick Doyle and James Stafford in the second minute.

The Shelmaliers speedster drifted out from full-forward to leave a two-man inside line of McCabe and Tubritt, and Wexford were at their most threatening when the likes of Nolan, Brian Malone and Michael Furlong ran directly at the Offaly defence.

Too often, though, the ball was played backwards when the home side had possession against the wind, and they created trouble for themselves more than once with some wayward passing.

Still, their start was reasonably bright as Tubritt kicked the first of their ten wides after that Nolan point before Ben Brosnan doubled the lead following a foul on Robert Frayne in the sixth minute.

Offaly corner-forward Bernard Allen won all of the balls that came his way in the first quarter, and he opened their account from a Nigel Dunne pass before the visitors' squandermania in front of the posts got under way in earnest.

Wexford had a let-off when team captain Anton Sullivan fired a goal shot wide in the eleventh minute. A hit and hope kick from Conor Carroll bounced close to the posts and, although Tiarnan Rossiter secured possession, he lost it under pressure but Sullivan couldn't take full advantage.

A needless giveaway of the ball in defence resulted in an Offaly free and the equaliser from Nigel Dunne in the twelfth minute.

They struck three wides, while Wexford had one from James Stafford, before influential midfielder Michael Brazil exchanged passes with Cian Donohue and gave the visitors the lead for the first time in the 17th minute (0-3 to 0-2).

Conor Swaine made a fine save to keep out a Conor McNamee shot after Niall Darby claimed a mark and fed Brazil who made a piercing run.

And while Offaly continued to waste handy chances, another lay-off by Brazil resulted in a point for their most accurate attacker, Nigel Dunne, who finished with five from play and seven in total.

The one thing Wexford couldn't afford to do was concede a goal before half-time, but that's exactly what transpired in the 29th minute.

Anton Sullivan fed wing-back David Dempsey whose surging run down the right flank opened up the defence, and he popped the ball to Cian Donohue who fired left-footed to the net (1-4 to 0-2).

Niall Darby widened the gap after Bernard Allen did well to keep the ball in play, but there was some respite for Wexford when Naomhan Rossiter ended their 27-minute scoreless spell with a fine point from the right after a lay-off from James Stafford, who had moved from wing-forward to wing-back in a direct swap with Tiarnan Rossiter.

The loss of Brosnan was a significant blow, although Offaly dangerman Bernard Allen departed on a black card early in the second-half after loudly questioning the referee's failure to award him a free.

Brian Malone picked out his younger brother, Glen, for an early Wexford point, but it was cancelled by Nigel Dunne after a line ball from the left broke off Conor Carroll into his path.

Barry O'Connor and Mark O'Neill came in for Tiarnan Rossiter and James Stafford respectively, and a forceful run by Nick Doyle ended with a point after a pass from Eoghan Nolan (1-6 to 0-5).

Nolan then narrowed the gap to three from a Robert Frayne lay-off, but Offaly's new-found efficiency when taking aim for a score continued as Anton Sullivan finished good work by Conor McNamee and Michael Brazil.

Wexford were enjoying more of the play all the same, and Barry O'Connor pointed from a Nick Doyle pass before Jim Rossiter won hard-earned possession and fed John Tubritt to make it 1-7 to 0-8.

With 20 minutes left the game was far from wrapped up. Nick Doyle and Craig McCabe ('45) had kicked wides on either side of those two points, and Offaly earned a little bit of breathing space with a brace of neat breakaway scores from Nigel Dunne and Peter Cunningham.

John Tubritt earned and converted a free, only for Dunne to register another from play and then add one from a placed ball to stretch the margin to 1-11 to 0-9 with just over ten minutes left.

The visitors had a great chance to make sure of the points when an attempted Brian Malone pass to Eoghan Nolan was intercepted and led to a defence-splitting move.

Wexford were lucky that it was a defender in James Lalor who bore down on goal rather than an attacker, because he took the wrong option with a handpass and the opportunity was lost.

It was surprising that the mentors waited so long before moving Nick Doyle to full-forward, and he pounced for a 68th-minute goal to liven up the closing stages.

And, given the opposition, it was entirely appropriate that the Starlights lad should get away with a Seamus Darby-style 'nudge' in the lead-up, as he caught Barry O'Connor's delivery close to goal and couldn't miss from that range (1-11 to 1-9).

Wexford needed another quick score to ramp up the pressure, but instead it was supplied at the other end by the very accurate Nigel Dunne.

And when substitute Shane Tierney added another after a giveaway of the ball out the field, the task was too great even though John Tubritt won and knocked over another free just before the game moved into its five added minutes.

Wexford couldn't create anything of note in that period, and now they travel to Derry next Sunday with the odds stacked against them.

Initially, the County Board had sought, and were granted, a free weekend since Ciarán Lyng is getting married, and they were originally meant to travel north on the 11th while the other three Division 3 games were fixed for the 18th.

However, the one-week postponement of the Offaly game has scuppered those plans.

There's still four points to be played for, and a Wexford win in Derry would potentially give them a head-to-head advantage if the counties were to finish level after the seven rounds.

Therefore, some hope still exists, however slim, of avoiding an immediate return to Division 4, but it would disappear completely with defeat on Sunday.

Incidentally, the Offaly game was the first league clash to be played in St. Patrick's Park since the one-point loss to Mayo in a Division 2 game on October 9, 1983.

Wexford kicked ten wides to Offaly's eleven, and were awarded 23 of the game's 39 frees.

Apart from Brosnan's red and Allen's black, yellow cards were issued to Nick Doyle plus Offaly quartet Paul McConway, Michael Brazil, Nigel Dunne and Peter Cunningham.

Wexford: Conor Swaine; Conor Carty, Michael Furlong (capt.), Jim Rossiter; Glen Malone (0-1), Naomhan Rossiter (0-1), Tiarnan Rossiter; Nick Doyle (1-1), Brian Malone; James Stafford, Ben Brosnan (0-1 free), Robert Frayne; Craig McCabe, Eoghan Nolan (0-2), John Tubritt (0-3, 2 frees). Subs. - Barry O'Connor (0-1) for T. Rossiter (42), Mark O'Neill for Stafford (42), Cathal Devereux for McCabe (52), Barry O'Gorman for Frayne (55).

Offaly: Patrick Dunican; Declan Hogan, Paul McConway, James Lalor; David Dempsey, Seán Pender, Niall Darby (0-1); Peter Cunningham (0-1), Michael Brazil (0-1); Conor Carroll, Conor McNamee, Cian Donohue (1-0); Anton Sullivan (capt., 0-1), Nigel Dunne (0-7, 2 frees), Bernard Allen (0-1). Subs. - Shane Tierney (0-1) for Allen, black card (38), David Brady for Brazil (50), Craig Dunne for McNamee, inj. (57), Seán Doyle for Pender, inj. (66), Shane Nally for Donohue (70).

Referee: John Hickey (Carlow).

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