Hurlers had their chances
Two good leads squandered in narrow loss to Limerick
The Wexford Senior hurlers were left with nothing but bitter regrets and thoughts of what might have been after playing their part in a high-octane Allianz League Division 1B encounter with fellow promotion candidates Limerick in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday, but ultimately coming up short by one frustrating point.
Limerick 4-16 Wexford 3-18, Allianz Hurling League
While the team continues to improve and a quarter-final spot will be a certainty, the more coveted prize of the sole available place in Division 1A is practically gone at this stage. And that led to a great deal of annoyance afterwards because in truth the home side shouldn't have let a four-point lead slip with the finishing line in sight.
A game that brimmed with passion, energy, honest exchanges and plenty of scores hung in the balance with ten minutes of normal time left when Wexford held a slender 3-14 to 3-13 lead attacking the town end, having been ahead at the interval by 3-9 to 2-9.
However, three unanswered points in less than four minutes, from David Redmond, Diarmuid O'Keeffe and substitute Podge Doran, gave the Slaneysiders a cushion of four and left Limerick with some chasing to do. The visitors are an experienced and battle-hardened crew though, and there was no sign of panic as Seán Tobin pulled back a point before they pounced for an equalising goal in the 65th minute.
The inability of the Wexford backs to clear their lines properly in a frenetic passage of play proved their undoing as a stray ball went to defender Seamus Hickey who had joined the attack and unleashed a piledriver. Mark Fanning got his stick to the shot but the rebound fell to David Breen who drove it home for the leveller (4-14 to 3-17).
A championship-like fervour was evident at this stage, both on the field and in the stand, with Daithí Waters hitting the last of Wexford's 15 costly wides (Limerick had 14) shortly after Podge Doran drove a low ball across the square but there was nobody there to connect with it.
Still, when substitute Conor McDonald announced his return from injury by winning a free after a scramble around the 'D', Jack Guiney restored the Wexford lead and the tension mounted. It was shortlived though as David Redmond fouled teenager Cian Lynch and Shane Dowling levelled as the game moved into added time.
The cruclal winner came from Limerick a matter of seconds beyond the 70-minute mark after Eoin Moore was tackled and the ball ended up with John Fitzgibbon on the left wing under the stand. He had the composure and presence of mind to pick out substitute Seánie O'Brien with a crossfield pass, and the Patrickswell man stroked over the crucial point for the Shannonsiders who were minus their Kilmallock contingent due to next week's AIB All-Ireland Club final.
A wide followed from Seán Tobin but there was still a chance for Wexford to salvage a draw at the very least, something their overall effort deserved. Alas, Podge Doran made an elementary error after working his way into a scoring position, catching the ball three times and coughing up a free which took the sting out of the game.
Even though Shane Dowling's effort from distance dropped into Mark Fanning's hand, it was followed immediately by the full-time whistle and a deflated Wexford were left to ponder how exactly they had managed to end up on the losing side.
Considering they led by 3-8 to 1-6 after 25 minutes, and again by that four-point margin near the end, it was a harsh lesson for the home side who showed four changes in personnel from the team announced, with Eoin Moore, Tomás Waters, Harry Kehoe and Liam Og McGovern coming in for Ciarán Kenny, Andrew Shore, Conor McDonald and Podge Doran respectively.
Both teams set a hot pace from the off and the spectators responded in kind to a most entertaining contest, making for a fine atmosphere on a mild March day. David Breen and Liam Og McGovern exchanged early points before Declan Hannon kicked a goal chance over the bar and John Fitzgibbon extended the Limerick lead to 0-3 to 0-1 in the fifth minute.
Ian Byrne had an opportunity to rattle the net when Matthew O'Hanlon's clearance was won by full-forward Jack Guiney who put a crossfield pass into his path, but Nickie Quaid kept it out for a '65 which Guiney missed. Nonetheless, the opening Wexford goal was just around the corner.
The lively Harry Kehoe, continuing his good midfield form as displayed with W.I.T. in the Fitzgibbon Cup, sent a delivery towards Liam Og McGovern who had shaken off an injury to start the contest. And he showed his worth to the attacking set-up with a catch and goal, pushing Wexford in front by 1-1 to 0-3.
Wayne McNamara and Ian Byrne swapped points in a game that went a full twelve minutes before the first free was awarded, to Eoin Moore, setting the tone for a fine contest overall. Limerick hit back when a James Ryan centre broke into the path of John Fitzgibbon who fired low to Mark Fanning's left into the corner of the net for a 1-4 to 1-2 lead.
Wexford replied in style though just 90 seconds later in the 16th minute when Daithí Waters caught a Fanning puck-out after a Limerick wide and made ground before handpassing to Diarmuid O'Keeffe. He in turn moved the ball to his left where Jack Guiney was on hand to gather and rifle the net.
Two Paul Morris points followed to make it 2-4 to 1-4, with first Shane Dowling (free) and then Declan Hannon reducing the gap to two but Harry Kehoe and Guiney (free) hitting back.
A two-minute purple patch then produced 1-2 without reply for Wexford to leave them enjoying a commanding 3-8 to 1-6 advantage.
Liam Og McGovern had a role in all three scores, handpassing to David Redmond for a point, earning a free in the right corner which Guiney converted, and then claiming his second goal in the 25th minute.
Initially Guiney was blocked by Richie McCarthy as he attempted to play a pass, but he found the St. Anne's attacker in space the second time and he cut in from the left before beating Nickie Quaid. Wexford were looking very strong at this point, with Lee Chin a dominant figure in defence, but teams of the calibre of Limerick will never die and they enjoyed their own fruitful spell which led to 1-3 without reply in less than five minutes.
Shane Dowling ('65), David Reidy and John Fitzgibbon chalked up points before a foul on Dowling led to his speculative free from out the field going all the way to the net, with Mark Fanning distracted by the bulky presence of David Breen in front of him.
All of a sudden it was 3-8 to 2-9 and, although Paul Morris stopped the rot with a point, Jack Guiney shot three late wides too (one free) to bring Wexford's overall tally to seven, and incredibly all seven were from the Rathnure man.
The only real lull in the game arrived in the first five minutes of the new half as both sides were slow to get going again, hitting a point attempt apiece short as well as chalking up wides, two for Wexford from Lee Chin and an attempted David Redmond pass, with one from John Fitzgibbon in between.
Guiney got the scoreboard ticking again from a free after a foul on McGovern, but Limerick were back within one point by the 45th minute after a high delivery by Fitzgibbon fell at the feet of Declan Hannon who fired past Mark Fanning to make it 3-10 to 3-9.
Ian Byrne pointed in reply but for a long spell Wexford couldn't open up any sort of decent gap as Limerick continued to clip at their heels.
The visitors drew level once, and the margin was never greater than two points before that run of three scores in succession for Wexford left them looking good with four between them and the winning line in sight.
They couldn't close the game out though, but they will have a quick chance to get the loss out of their system when they travel to Portlaoise on Sunday to take on Laois.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Liam Ryan, Tomás Waters, Eoin Moore; Pádraig Foley, Matthew O'Hanlon (capt.), Lee Chin; David Redmond (0-2), Harry Kehoe (0-1); Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1), Daithí Waters, Ian Byrne (0-2); Paul Morris (0-3), Jack Guiney (1-6, 0-6 frees), Liam Og McGovern (2-1). Subs. - Conor McDonald for Morris (47), Podge Doran (0-2) for Byrne (54).
Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Seamus Hickey; Conor Allis, Wayne McNamara (0-1), Dan Morrissey; James Ryan, Paul Browne; David Reidy (0-1), Declan Hannon (1-3), Donal O'Grady (capt.); John Fitzgibbon (1-2), Shane Dowling (1-6, 1-5 frees, 0-1 '65), David Breen (1-1). Subs. - Cian Lynch for Reidy (44), Seán Tobin (0-1) for O'Grady (51), Seánie O'Brien (0-1) for Browne (65).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).