Late goals crush young guns
Wexford lose eleventh decider since last win in 1985
Another year, another Leinster final appearance, and another crushing disappointment. That was the frustrating tale from Croke Park on Sunday as the Wexford Minor hurlers got their noses in front with seven minutes left in the Electric Ireland Leinster championship decider, only to be cruelly denied by a brace of late Dublin goals.
Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Hurling C'ship Final Dublin 2-12 Wexford 0-12
Standing on the field awaiting the presentation to the winners is one of the hardest things to endure in team sport, and it was the Slaneysiders' sorry fate for an incredible eleventh time since the county last tasted success at this level in 1985.
Any analysis of the game must be framed against the backdrop of the sad loss experienced by two team members, the O'Connor cousins, Barry and Rory, when their grandmother passed away on Saturday. It reminded everyone that it is only sport when all is said and done, and it's not the most important thing and never will be.
Both players deserve huge credit for lining out in such tough circumstances, and all is clearly not lost yet as Wexford have still earned the chance to take on the losers of the Munster decider between Limerick and Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Unfortunately they will do it without team captain and top scorer Rory O'Connor though. His late swipe at Dublin corner-back Jack O'Neill was an act borne purely out of frustration, but the straight red card that followed over three minutes into added time will result in a one-game ban.
This team had scored freely in the lead-up to the final, recording tallies of 5-15, 0-21 (after extra-time) and 2-24 in the wins over Westmeath, Dublin and Offaly respectively. Yet when it came to the big occasion the mentors struggled to come up with the best formation up front, a point borne out by the fact that just two of the six forwards managed a score, and a mere 0-5 of the losing tally came from play from this department.
Conor Hearne had been prolific in his finishing up to this point and his talents are best suited to centre-forward, so it was surprising to see him located on the edge of the square. The supply wasn't wonderful from the off though and he never got into the game, and although various formations and switches were tried up front, it was impossible to break down a Dublin rearguard marshalled superbly by full-back and captain Paddy Smyth.
He was a deserved winner of the man of the match award, although at times he had no direct opposition to contend with as Wexford played a two-man inside line.
Connal Flood, who did start on the '40, was one of the losers' best performers, but it was still significant that his two well-taken points came from locations around his normal posting on the left wing. He played in the right corner in the second-half with Quinn Saunders moving out, while Barry O'Connor was switched to centre-forward and Conor Hearne partnered Damien Reck at midfield.
Another notable factor though was that Dublin made greater use of their reserves, deploying five substitutes whereas one of the three introduced by Wexford arrived too late to make any impact.
For a long stage the game had shades of the 1985 final win (0-12 to 0-8 against Kilkenny) about it, a low-scoring and dour affair with an overall poor standard for the most part. This was particularly the case in the third quarter as Dublin, who led by 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time, finally widened the gap to three after a scoreless period for both teams lasting 13 minutes.
Something then stirred among the Wexford ranks, and it looked like they might make a push for home when four points without reply edged them ahead by 0-11 to 0-10 by the 53rd minute.
Damien Reck converted a free after a foul on Rory O'Connor for their first point in over quarter of an hour, and Connal Flood directed a good shot from the left just over the angle of post and crossbar to narrow the gap to one.
Gary Molloy was moved to midfield after the introduction of Michael Codd at right half-back, and the leveller arrived in the 51st minute when Rory O'Connor neatly controlled a James Henebery clearance and split the posts at the Hill 16 end.
Momentum was with Wexford at this stage, and they built on it when a Connal Flood snapshot was blocked for a '65 which Damien Reck knocked over to push his side into an 0-11 to 0-10 lead.
Sadly, all of that good work was undone by two Dublin goals, the first arriving in the 55th minute to restore their lead.
The second delivery into the danger zone in quick succession by left half-back Eoin Foley fell into the path of substitute John Walsh whose pull was saved by James Henebery, but the sliothar rebounded to Johnny McGuirk who drilled his ground shot to the net (1-10 to 0-11).
The goal visibly lifted the Dubs, and although two wides brought their final haul to 15 (Wexford had ten), the city crew wrapped up the title in the 59th minute.
A pass from right to left by influential centre-back Cian O'Sullivan located the fresh legs of substitute Peter Feeney who ran at a tiring defender before getting the ball across to Donal Burke whose first-time strike rattled the net.
It was well and truly game over, with points from John Walsh and Ciarán Dowling embellishing the lead further before Gary Molloy registered the last Wexford score and Rory O'Connor was dismissed.
The eventual losers had started well, as a handpass from Conor Firman fed his half-back partner Jack Cullen for a point after 47 seconds. Firman and the player behind him, Darren Byrne, formed a strong central spine to the defence, with Wexford's bright start continuing as Rory O'Connor converted a free.
However, supporters were left to wonder what might have been after O'Connor's goal attempt in the seventh minute from a Connal Flood delivery produced a brilliant save from Dara De Poire.
Wexford have failed to rattled the net now after 140 minutes of trying against the Dubs, and that was their best chance.
The placed ball accuracy of Colin Currie (free and '65) drew Dublin level by the tenth minute, but Flood restored the lead from close to the Cusack Stand sideline after Conor Firman played the ball into space.
Currie made it 0-3 each from play after his free from over 90 metres was eventually re-cycled to him, but a solo effort from Damien Reck pushed Wexford in front once again.
Hawkeye confirmed that Donal Burke's strike had split the posts for the Dubs, and it was the first of a run of three successive scores from the number nine operating in the half-forward line as they pushed on for a 0-6 to 0-4 lead.
Rory O'Connor intercepted a clearance to narrow the margin, with Conor Hearne moving out to his favoured centre-forward spot before Johnny McGuirk fired over from wide on the left for the boys in blue.
A run and handpass from Quinn Saunders led to the next point for Rory O'Connor, but the gap was back up to two at half-time (0-8 to 0-6) after Colin Currie was successful from a free.
The bright scoring start to the second period - with a Conor Burke point cancelled out by O'Connor's free in less than a minute and a half - suggested the scoreboard operator would be kept busy, but this was far from the case.
Both sides struggled through a sub-standard third quarter, before that fruitful six-minute period yielded four Wexford points without reply and pushed them ahead. Once that first Dublin goal went in though at such a late stage, there was only going to be one winner.
Wexford: James Henebery (Faythe Harriers); Ciarán Murphy (Buffers Alley), Darren Byrne (Blackwater), Eoin Molloy (Naomh Eanna); Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna, 0-1), Conor Firman (St. Martin's), Jack Cullen (Naomh Eanna, 0-1); Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-3, 1 free, 1 '65), Barry O'Connor (St. Martin's); Liam Stafford (Adamstown), Connal Flood (Cloughbawn, 0-2), Andy Walsh (St. James'); Rory O'Connor (St. Martin's, capt., 0-5, 2 frees), Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers), Quinn Saunders (Our Lady's Island). Subs. - Eoin Kelly (HWH-Bunclody) for B. O'Connor (44), Michael Codd (St. Martin's) for Walsh (50), Liam Pender (Duffry Rovers) for Saunders (59), also Jack Cushe (Naomh Eanna), Conor Scallan (Faythe Harriers), Cormac Byrne (Faythe Harriers), Eoin O'Leary (St. Martin's), Theo Doyle (Naomh Eanna), Mark O'Neill (Gusserane).
Dublin: Dara De Poire; Jack O'Neill, Paddy Smyth (capt.), Donnacha Ryan; Jack McVeigh, Cian O'Sullivan, Eoin Foley; Conor Ryan, Daire Gray; Conor Burke (0-1), Johnny McGuirk (1-1), Donal Burke (1-3); Ciarán Dowling (0-1), Mark O'Keeffe, Colin Currie (0-5, 2 frees, 2 '65s). Subs. - Ronan Hayes for O'Keeffe (34), David Hawkshaw for McVeigh (40), John Walsh (0-1) for Gray (41), David Keogh for C. Ryan (50), Peter Feeney for Currie (56).
Referee: Peter Burke (Kilkenny).