Hurlers hit five goals in high-scoring win
THE HOLLYWOOD scriptwriters honoured at the recent Oscars couldn't have come up with the drama that marked last weekend's Allianz Hurling League Division 1B action.
On Sunday week we had resigned ourselves to another failed bid for promotion to the top flight when Limerick pipped Wexford in a game the home side should have won. However, the window of opportunity re-opened in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday when the Shannonsiders lost to their league bogey team, Offaly, by a goal after being reduced to 14 men in the early stages.
All of a sudden matters were unexpectedly back in Wexford's own hands, and they now face a showdown with neighbours Waterford for a Division 1A spot in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday after beating Laois in a quite extraordinary clash in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise.
The match featured an amazing 52 scores, and it was hard to credit that the visitors enjoyed such a clearcut winning margin as four goals after conceding no fewer than 25 points. It was like last year's championship game against Antrim which ended 5-19 to 0-21 at the same venue all over again as there was a surprising looseness all over the middle third of the field which led to handy scores for both sides.
Indeed, the potshots came thick and fast as both teams also went into double figures on the wides front (twelve for Wexford and one less for their rivals). And while the concession of such a huge tally to average opponents was the clear downside, a number of positives must also be noted from an afternoon which saw the visitors minus the services of Jack Guiney, Paul Morris, Tomás and Daithí Waters from the side which lost to Limerick.
Andrew Shore marked his return following that long drawn-out suspension saga with an energetic display, first at midfield and later in the half-back line, while comeback kid Conor McDonald took some time to get up to the pace of the game but ended up with 2-2 to his credit after prospering from a move to centre-forward.
Team captain Matthew O'Hanlon was commanding under the dropping ball at full-back on a day when Wexford's growing prowess in this department was evident once again, while Ian Byrne gave a flawless exhibition of free-taking with a record of twelve converted placed balls from twelve attempts.
He chipped in with three points from play for good measure on a very good day for the Ferns attacker, while another plus was the Senior debut in the closing stages of HWH-Bunclody's Aidan Nolan which had been delayed owing to a broken finger.
Given the bizarre nature of the scoring, it was no surprise to see Liam Ryan picking up only his second Senior inter-county point near the end, with the corner-back somehow popping up in the right corner-forward position. On the down side, Pádraig Foley picked up an injury which led to his retiral ten minutes from the end but thankfully he will be available for the must-win Waterford clash.
While a draw will be enough for Derek McGrath's side to clinch promotion, we need a victory and it's the ideal challenge for the team who will have a quarter-final to look forward to also regardless of the outcome on Sunday.
After winning the toss and opting to face the breeze, Wexford got off the mark with the first of Byrne's 15 points following a foul on Foley, with Zane Keenan replying from a placed ball before the arrival of the opening goal. It came in the fifth minute when Andrew Shore caught a Laois puck-out and fed Foley after ending up on the ground, with the Crossabeg-Ballymurn man's delivery won by Liam Og McGovern who shook off his opponent and kept up his fine record of finding the net at this level.
While the margin was extended to four points on three separate occasions in that first quarter, Wexford couldn't shake off a persistent Laois who had the gap down to one (1-6 to 0-8) midway through the half. Ian Byrne (three, two frees), Diarmuid O'Keeffe and Harry Kehoe accounted for the additional scores, but Laois efforts from distance regularly found the target with Charles Dwyer, Ross King and Willie Hyland leading the way in that regard.
Podge Doran had a chance for a goal in the 16th minute but his effort was saved by Eoin Reilly, with that move started by a spectacular Matthew O'Hanlon catch at the other end. That tit-for-tat pattern continued right up to half-time, with Laois drawing level (1-7 to 0-10) in the 23rd minute but Wexford managing to be one ahead (1-11 to 0-13) at the break.
Wing-backs Eoin Moore and Pádraig Foley had been switched after 18 minutes, with the latter needing all of his wits about him to cope with Willie Hyland who has been one of the best forwards in Leinster over the past five years. Andrew Shore later moved to centre-back in a direct swap with Lee Chin, while Podge Doran and Conor McDonald changed places up front leading up to half-time.
Ian Byrne had a hand in four successive scores, converting a '65 and a free before setting up Chin for an effort from play, and then adding yet another from a free on a day when he looked sharper than ever. The lead point arrived in added time when McDonald got off the mark, but Wexford clearly had a lot of sorting out to do and kept their opponents waiting on the field before returning to the heat of battle.
They had a tonic of a second goal just 14 seconds into the new period, and it was a complete giveaway as McDonald's high delivery was totally misjudged by Eoin Reilly and ended up in the net, with Podge Doran making a nuisance of himself in the number one's line of vision (2-11 to 0-13).
The score didn't deflate Laois though as they responded with points from Willie Hyland and a P.J. Scully line ball, but they were dealt another blow in the 40th minute. This time club colleagues Liam Og McGovern and Diarmuid O'Keeffe combined down the left flank, with the latter's handpass across goal missed by Harry Kehoe but rattled to the net by midfielder David Redmond for a 3-11 to 0-15 lead.
The ping-pong style of scoring continued, but it was significant that netminder Niall Breen, getting his chance instead of Mark Fanning, didn't have any shots to save. Laois were content to pick off points without testing the goalkeeper, and they did this quite well throughout. Indeed, six of the next eleven points after that Wexford goal went to the locals, with the efforts for Liam Dunne's side recorded by Ian Byrne (four, three frees) and Conor McDonald.
That made it 3-16 to 0-21 midway through the half, with David Redmond improvising superbly to scoop over a point under pressure before goal number four eased any pressure which had been building. Just over 13 minutes remained when a Liam Ryan centre found Liam Og McGovern in the right corner and, while his shot was saved by Eoin Reilly, he gathered the rebound and handpassed to Podge Doran who made no mistake (4-17 to 0-21).
Just over one minute later the net was rattling again, and it was all down to the persistence of substitute Kevin Foley whose hook created an overlap. Once again McGovern passed inside to the unmarked Conor McDonald, and he had a handy task in adding his second goal.
Wexford added five of the last eight points, courtesy of four more Ian Byrne frees and Liam Ryan, but trying to make sense of it all wasn't an easy task on a day when a blink of the eye was likely to result in missing a shot sailing over the bar.
Wexford: Niall Breen; Liam Ryan (0-1), Matthew O'Hanlon (capt.), Eoin Conroy; Pádraig Foley, Lee Chin (0-1), Eoin Moore; Andrew Shore, David Redmond (1-1); Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1), Podge Doran (1-0), Ian Byrne (0-15, 11 frees, 1 '65); Liam Og McGovern (1-0), Conor McDonald (2-2), Harry Kehoe (0-1). Subs. - Kevin Foley for O'Keeffe (53), Conor Devitt for Foley, inj. (61), Aidan Nolan for Redmond (65), Eanna Martin for Moore (67), Garrett Sinnott for Kehoe (68).
Laois: Eoin Reilly; Brian Stapleton, Cahir Healy, John A. Delaney; Matthew Whelan (capt.), James Walsh, Joe Fitzpatrick; Paddy Purcell (0-2), Patrick Whelan (0-3); Charles Dwyer (0-3), Zane Keenan (0-7, 4 frees), Willie Hyland (0-6); P.J. Scully (0-3, 1 line ball), Neil Foyle, Ross King (0-1). Subs. - Tommy Fitzgerald for Foyle (29), Tom Delaney for M. Whelan (HT), Joe Campion for King (HT), Conor Dunne for Walsh (54), Ben Conroy for Hyland, inj. (68).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).