Mighty win against all odds
Fourteen-man Wexford outpoint Leitrim with fine show
It was a landmark occasion in every way in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon, on Sunday as Wexford made the long journey home after the county's historic first-ever competitive game on Leitrim soil with a valuable two points in the bag.
Wexford 0-16 Leitrim 0-14
And it ranks right up there among the most impressive performances on the road in recent years as the visitors seemed to have the odds stacked against them in the course of this hard-fought Allianz League Division 4 clash watched by an estimated crowd of 600.
For starters, they were down to 14 men from the 31st minute when newcomer James Stafford saw red for his response off the ball to an incident which was spotted by linesman John Gilmartin.
The team retired at half-time trailing by 0-8 to 0-5 and facing a tough task, and it appeared to be even more difficult when midfielder Colm Kehoe (hamstring) didn't come out for the second period.
They had already lost Ben Brosnan who pulled up with a recurrence of a recent injury after kicking a free in the 15th minute, while centre-back John Leacy had been forced to cry off after damaging ankle ligaments during the week.
Despite being without three key men from the spine of the team, Wexford gelled superbly as a unit in the second-half and kicked some glorious points to finally shake off the persistent Leitrim challenge.
The value of experience was clearly underlined as P.J. Banville and Ciarán Lyng were on fire up front, linking up superbly and contributing six points from play between them as well as a series of vital frees.
It was particularly pleasing to see the clinical execution of scores after the interval, with eleven points kicked with the aid of the wind and just four wides accumulated to bring the total to seven.
John Tubritt also chipped in with three vital white flags as Wexford pushed up on a weak Leitrim kick-out, having ceded possession to their rivals in the first-half from re-starts.
The high workrate of young Niall Hughes ensured that the loss of Colm Kehoe wasn't as serious as first feared, and he had a willing accomplice in Daithí Waters while the defence combined effectively to ensure that Leitrim never got a clear sight of goal.
This was only the teams' third league meeting, with the previous two taking place in Wexford Park and Bellefield respectively, and the footballers had the distinction of being the first-ever Wexford side to play at this fine venue.
And although facing the wind, they started brightly as Eoghan Nolan set up Ciarán Lyng for the first of his four points from play before Ben Brosnan punished an off-the-ball tug on John Tubritt which was spotted by referee Patrick Maguire.
Lyng was in the type of form that made him virtually unmarkable, even though Leitrim placed Fionn Carney as a shield in front of him when James Stafford dropped back to operate as a runner linking defence to attack.
Even after Stafford's dismissal, the home side didn't push forward and leave Lyng one-on-one with his marker, and nobody could blame them for that as, despite the added attention, he still caused havoc.
Leitrim played their way into the game after that slow start, with Gary Plunkett getting them off the mark before a brace of Emlyn Mulligan frees edged them 0-3 to 0-2 clear by the 14th minute.
Joey Wadding made a vital tackle before that lead score after Ryan O'Rourke drilled a fine pass into the path of Gary Plunkett, while Mulligan's second strike came when the play was brought back as no advantage accrued since O'Rourke's goal attempt was well saved by Shane Roche.
Paul Curtis came in for the stricken Brosnan and immediately set up P.J. Banville whose high kick into the clouds produced the leveller in the 18th minute.
Banville then supplied an outfield pass from the endline to John Tubritt who restored the visitors' lead, but it didn't last long as Mulligan levelled after a harsh free given against Daithí Waters (0-4 each).
That marked the start of a very bright Leitrim spell as they finally put the advantage of the elements to full use. Mulligan (free), Gary Plunkett and another Mulligan free gave them a three-point lead, with the Stafford dismissal coming in between their sixth and seventh scores.
Kevin O'Grady drifted back to take up the role vacated by the Glynn-Barntown lad, and Lyng stepped up with a glorious point off his right boot from the right corner following a one-two with Tubritt seconds into added time.
A lovely turn and finish by Ryan O'Rourke left Leitrim 0-8 to 0-5 clear at the break though, and it was going to take an effort of major proportions from Wexford to turn things around.
They responded in spades though, and the collective effort was immense. Banville and Lyng linked up to provide Tubritt with his second point which was cancelled out by Mark Plunkett.
A glorious pass from Banville then gave Lyng the room to make it 9-7, with Tubritt pouncing on the weak kick-out which hung in the air and returning it over the bar with interest.
Although Gary Plunkett swung a boot at a loose ball to restore Leitrim's two-point lead, it didn't last long.
Banville nailed two vital frees, the first after Daithí Waters was impeded 46 metres out, and the second earned himself using plenty of guile (0-10 each).
Parity didn't last long though, as Leitrim midfielder Dean McGovern soloed through to restore their lead before Emlyn Mulligan added another free in the 51st minute.
Michael O'Regan was introduced for John Tubritt who had run himself into the ground, and his first act was to drive a trademark booming free off the ground from 55 metres between the posts.
Lyng then showed his class to equalise in the 58th minute after Jim Rossiter joined the attack and picked him out down the left. He had to stoop very low to control the pass with his hand before turning and finishing with aplomb.
Yet, Leitrim responded once more as substitute Keith Beirne swung one over with his left boot to leave them 0-13 to 0-12 clear.
It was at this point, with the outcome in the balance, that Wexford really showed how much they wanted the victory.
Four points in just under eight minutes effectively guaranteed them success as they applied strong pressure on the Leitrim kick-out despite that numerical disadvantage and came up trumps.
P.J. Banville levelled after a one-two with Eoghan Nolan before winning the re-start, earning a free, and knocking it over even though it wasn't the easiest of chances.
A couple of opportunities were missed as the outcome remained in the balance, but when Michael Furlong was fouled on the right some 30 metres out close to the sideline, Ciarán Lyng nailed the vital free off the ground.
Even better followed as the kick-out was intercepted by Eoghan Nolan who widened the gap to three (0-16 to 0-13).
Nevin O'Donnell did pull one point back from a free in added time, but there was no way a solid defence was going to give up a goal chance at that stage as Wexford held out to set up an important home clash with fellow unbeaten side Waterford on Sunday week.
Wexford: Shane Roche; Jim Rossiter, Michael Furlong, Brian Malone; Eoghan Nolan (0-1), Joey Wadding, Tiarnan Rossiter; Daithí Waters, Colm Kehoe; Kevin O'Grady, Ben Brosnan (0-1 free), P.J. Banville (0-5, 3 frees); James Stafford, Ciarán Lyng (0-5, 1 free), John Tubritt (0-3). Subs. - Paul Curtis for Brosnan, inj. (15), Niall Hughes for Kehoe, inj. (HT), Michael O'Regan (0-1 free) for Tubritt (54), Jake Firman for O'Grady (62), Conor Carty for Curtis (67).
Leitrim: Philip Farrelly; Matthew Murphy, Alan Armstrong, Fionn Carney; James Rooney, Donal Wrynn (capt.), Oisín Madden; Shane Moran, Dean McGovern (0-1); Mark Plunkett (0-1), Gary Plunkett (0-3), Ryan O'Rourke (0-1); Emlyn Mulligan (0-6 frees), Brendan Gallagher, Damien Moran. Subs. - Jack Heslin for G. Plunkett (54), Keith Beirne (0-1) for S. Moran (56), Gary Reynolds for Murphy (63), Nevin O'Donnell (0-1 free) for D. Moran (63), Ronan Kennedy for Heslin (70), Barry Prior for Rooney (70).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford).