Late O'Connor point a big morale booster
Wexford 1-12 Dublin 0-14
The Wexford Senior footballers will be preparing for the Allianz League opener away to Fermanagh on January 28 with an extra pep in their step after they grabbed two points in added time to pip holders Dublin for a morale-boosting victory in their second and final Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup Group 1 clash before a big St. Patrick's Park crowd in sunny Enniscorthy on Sunday.
This was the perfect response from the largely untried and untested home side after that 16-point hammering away to Offaly eight days earlier, and those vital closing minutes were particularly impressive.
Wexford had taken the game to the experimental visitors from the off and were full value for a 1-9 to 0-6 interval lead.
However, Dublin had the light breeze behind them on the re-start and slowly but surely gnawed away at that six-point gap, eventually drawing level in the 61st minute when Colm Basquel kicked an excellent pointed free from tight to the left sideline (0-13 to 1-10).
The momentum had been with the holders for a long time beforehand, and the expectation was that they would drive on in the closing stages and leave Wexford empty-handed after a valiant effort.
Paul McLoughlin's charges had other ideas thankfully, and they finally managed to enjoy some sustained possession once again after playing second fiddle for so long.
Initially, though, they had nothing to show for it, with a Ben Brosnan point attempt blocked before Barry O'Connor kicked his team's fifth and final wide
Basquel fired to the right and off target from a long-range free, with almost ten minutes elapsing without a score before the Ballyboden St. Enda's attacker set up Kevin Callaghan who gave Dublin the lead for only the second time at this critical juncture (0-14 to 1-10).
The substitute struck seconds after the action had moved into added time, but Wexford had battled too hard and played too well in that first-half to hand victory to their rivals.
They responded in kind, with young Barry O'Connor playing a crucial role in their two late points.
Firstly the big man with the famous father was fouled from behind by Ryan Deegan after Darragh Pepper played a low pass into his path. Craig McCabe's placed-ball striking had been exceptional all afternoon, and the ex-captain of Wexford F.C. nailed his fourth to bring the sides level in the third added minute.
There was still time for a winner, and it fell to the Slaneysiders who hadn't beaten the Dubs in any game at Senior level since the 2-8 to 0-8 victory in the same competition in Wexford Park 21 years ago.
The vastly experienced Brian Malone exerted a huge influence on the youngsters around him throughout, and it was a case of master and pupil combining to yield rich rewards.
The St. Peter's teacher and mentor ran into trouble and went to ground in a central position, but he still managed to off-load to O'Connor, one of his key players in last year's Leinster Schools 'A' triumph.
The St. Martin's lad thumped the ball towards the dressing-room end posts and, although heavily outnumbered by the travelling support, the small Wexford contingent greeted the 74th-minute winner with roars of approval.
Dublin did try to mount one last attack in search of a second successive draw in the competition, but Seán McMahon lost possession and referee David Hickey brought proceedings to a halt after five added minutes.
That share of the spoils with Offaly in Parnell Park on Wednesday knocked Wexford out of the reckoning as it left the midlanders with three points, and it also made Dublin's task crystal clear.
Given that 16-point gap in Tullamore on December 30, it meant the boys in blue had to win by 17 in order to reach the last four.
That never even looked like a remote possibility at any stage however, with Wexford's controlled and composed ball retention setting the tone in the first-half.
Eight changes were made from the starting 15 against Offaly, with the most significant seeing the welcome return of long-serving duo Brian Malone and Daithí Waters to centre-back and midfield respectively.
Another experienced operator, Tiarnan Rossiter, was also included, along with the attacking trio of Barry O'Connor, Robert Frayne and Paul Curtis who all came off the bench in Tullamore.
And after 16 of the 25 used on that occasion were debutants, there was just one additional newcomer on this occasion as Pa Doyle of Starlights was favoured between the posts.
The other addition since that heavy Offaly loss was Barry O'Gorman of Taghmon-Camross, having only his third start and his seventh outing in total, with the last coming in a league match away to Fermanagh almost four years ago.
The one thing Wexford lacked more than anything in their first game was the presence of a wise old head or two, and they were a transformed team with Waters and Malone there to guide their every move. Apart from driving their colleagues on with their deeds when they had possession, they talked them through the game to great effect also, constantly offering guidance.
And with the youthful Dubs clearly lacking in that department, Wexford produced an excellent first 35 minutes despite falling behind initially to a Colm Basquel free.
Tiarnan Rossiter kicked the leveller in the third minute, firing a free to the left flank for Craig McCabe before racing on to accept the return and driving over in full stride.
McCabe was out in front from a Daithí Waters delivery and was duly fouled, composing himself before his first Senior inter-county point gave Wexford the lead.
And if that start was positive and promising, it got even better in the seventh minute.
Man mountain Daithí Waters spotted a gap and drove through from deep after a would-be first tackler bounced off his powerful left shoulder, and with the ground opening up he kept going until coolly planting a low shot to the net beyond RTE commentator Brian Carthy's son, John Brian (1-2 to 0-1).
Basquel responded from another free, but Wexford were oozing with confidence as a lengthy patient passing move ended with Nick Doyle popping the ball to Brian Malone who split the posts.
The midfielder also gave the last pass to Robert Frayne who made it 1-4 to 0-2 in the eleventh minute, with Dublin still searching for a score from play as Jim Rossiter set the tone at the back with some no-nonsense defending.
Colm Basquel did knock over his third placed ball in the 16th minute, but a sweetly-struck Craig McCabe '45 restored the five-point gap before left-footed Dublin free-taker Paddy Small made it 1-5 to 0-4.
His counterpart at the other end, Cathal Devereux, punished an off-the-ball tug by Eoin O'Brien on Paul Curtis, before Barry O'Connor veered one way and then the other prior to registering his first point in the 26th minute.
Dublin's first point from play finally arrived in the 28th minute, from Adam Rogers after a Paddy Small lay-off, and Glenn O'Reilly kicked their second from a Shane Carthy pass.
However, the younger of the Malone brothers, Glen, landed one in between after being set up by Robert Frayne, before Cathal Devereux earned and converted a free to leave Wexford with that deserved 1-9 to 0-6 half-time lead.
The Dublin recovery process got under way when Paddy Small latched on to an Adam Rogers free and pointed in the 39th minute.
Colm Basquel was fouled and duly punished the leaders, but a point effort from Graham Hannigan came back off the post before Pa Doyle did well to smother a shot from substitute Andy McGowan.
Wexford had been under a great deal of pressure, and it lifted momentarily when Craig McCabe grabbed their first score of the half from a free in the 51st minute after a tackle on Brian Malone earned a booking for Ryan Deegan (1-10 to 0-8).
That only looked like a brief respite from Dublin's all-out revival when midfielder Emmet O Conghaile popped up with a brace of quick-fire points, and the margin was down to two after a neat score via the outside of his right boot from the versatile Brian Howard - wearing number 4, but starting at full-forward before moving to midfield early on in a bid to curb the influence of Daithí Waters.
Pointed frees from Paddy Small and Colm Basquel, the latter a superb kick on the left, eventually brought Dublin level and should have handed them the full initiative.
However, the answer provided by Wexford was every bit as encouraging as their performance before the break, and they responded admirably to that late adversity to inflict that first defeat on the now-deposed Dubs since 1997 - going one better than two years ago when the sides drew (2-6 to 0-12) at the same venue.
Wexford were awarded 18 of the 39 frees, and the teams kicked five wides each, with the winners' first and last courtesy of match-winner Barry O'Connor, while Paul Curtis, Craig McCabe and Robert Frayne were responsible for the others in between.
Wexford: Pa Doyle (Starlights); Conor Carty (Castletown), Mark O'Neill (Gusserane), Jim Rossiter (St. Fintan's); Glen Malone (Shelmaliers, 0-1), Brian Malone (Shelmaliers, 0-1), Barry O'Gorman (Taghmon-Camross); Daithí Waters (St. Martin's, capt., 1-0), Nick Doyle (Starlights); Tiarnan Rossiter (St. Mary's, Rosslare, 0-1), Barry O'Connor (St. Martin's, 0-2), Robert Frayne (Duffry Rovers, 0-1); Cathal Devereux (Our Lady's Island, 0-2 frees), Paul Curtis (Clongeen), Craig McCabe (Shelmaliers, 0-4, 3 frees, 1 '45). Subs. - James Stafford (Glynn-Barntown) for Frayne (51), Ben Brosnan (Castletown) for Waters (55), Donnacha Holmes (Castletown) for Devereux (60), Darragh Pepper (Starlights) for Curtis (64), Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers) for Stafford (64), Alan Nolan (Taghmon-Camross) for Carty, inj. (66), also Conor Swaine (Horeswood), Martin O'Connor (HWH-Bunclody), Gavin Sheehan (Gusserane), Quinn Saunders (Our Lady's Island), Dylan Furlong (Sarsfields).
Dublin: John Brian Carthy; Ross McGowan, Eoin O'Brien, Craig Wilson; David Devereux, Graham Hannigan, Seán McMahon; Emmet O Conghaile (0-2), Seamus Ryan; Gerry Seaver, Colm Basquel (0-5 frees), Glenn O'Reilly (0-1); Paddy Small (0-3, 2 frees), Brian Howard (0-1), Adam Rogers (0-1). Subs. - Shane Carthy for Ryan, inj. (27), Andy McGowan for O'Reilly (HT), Darragh Kennedy for R. McGowan (HT), Ryan Deegan for S. Carthy, inj. (HT), Colin Doyle for Hannigan (45), Kevin Callaghan (0-1) for Seaver (48), Tom Quinn for Devereux (49), Chris Carty for Rogers (56), Niall Walsh for C. Carty (70+3).
Referee: David Hickey (Carlow).