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Wednesday 21 August 2019

Minors are hit for six with their widest margin of defeat since 1935

GAA Electric Ireland Leinster Championship: Meath 6-13 Wexford 0-7

Wexford manager Peter Nolan
Wexford manager Peter Nolan

Alan Aherne in Navan

Wexford Football shipped another unwanted body blow in Páirc Tailteann, Navan, on Wednesday when the visitors' very slim chances of advancing to the quarter-final of the Electric Ireland Leinster Minor championship were ripped asunder by a strong-finishing Meath outfit in an error-ridden encounter.

The concession of three goals in a crazy period lasting a mere 63 seconds put the Royals on course for an even easier win than in the last clash of the counties at this venue in 2011 when the margin was 16 points (1-16 to 0-3).

And with their advantage extended to 24 by the finish, it was the second-highest defeat ever for Wexford in a championship which stretches all the way back to 1928 (Louth won the 1935 semi-final in Croke Park by 9-11 to 0-3).

The shell-shocked Slaneysiders went into this contest knowing that if Dublin beat Offaly, as expected, then a victory of three points or more would have seen them claim the second quarter-final spot on offer from Group 2.

That may have represented the cold facts of the matter, but anyone who had seen their two earlier games wouldn't have held out much hope of beating the reigning provincial champions in their own back yard.

And so it proved, although in mitigation an unfortunate accidental injury to defender Leigh Newport midway through the third quarter most likely contributed to Wexford's very poor finish.

They were trailing by 1-8 to 0-6 when the Our Lady's Island clubman went down and, with the medical personnel correctly exercising caution, there was a 13-minute delay before he was removed by stretcher from the field.

Thankfully, subsequent X-rays were all clear, with the injury diagnosed as bruising around Newport's hip and lower back.

Obviously, his team-mates didn't know that at the time, and it can't have been easy for 16- and 17-year-olds to concentrate on the game after seeing a valued team-mate in such distress.

Wexford conceded 5-5 thereafter, with just a point in reply, and their focus will now turn to the shield competition where targeting at least one win ought to be the priority.

The big loss might be a little easier to take if Meath looked like a very good team, but this wasn't really the case despite that vast gulf in the final scoreline.

Indeed, it was a very poor spectacle, with both sides guilty of delivering aimless hospital passes as possession was handed over cheaply, with the concentration levels all round not up to scratch.

Joe Curtis and Ryan Connolly, both lively substitutes in the defeats to Offaly and Dublin, were selected from the start this time in the wing-forward positions.

This suggested that the emphasis would be on trying to take on Meath and out-pace them down the flanks, a view borne out too by the re-deployment of the speedy Rory O'Connor from the '40 to the left corner.

And the plan met with initial success as Connolly set up O'Connor for an equalising solo point in the fourth minute, before both corner-forwards drifted outfield as the half wore on.

Indeed, that was only a brief glimpse of Wexford's attacking potential, as they quickly reverted to a tactic of pumping high ball in the general vicinity of isolated full-forward Jack O'Leary who had a direct marker plus a sweeper to contend with.

Meath had threatened a goal as early as the third minute when Niall Finnerty struck the crossbar, and Eoghan Frayne opened their account before that leveller from O'Connor.

Paddy Darcy made a goal-line clearance to deny Finnerty in a half marred by the intervention of the woodwork on several occasions.

Jack O'Leary struck the post with two point attempts, the first from a free, while Finnerty was thwarted twice more too in search of white flags after that early misfortune.

The best Wexford goal chance arrived in the eleventh minute when O'Leary caught a Leigh Whelan delivery and turned swiftly onto his left, only to send his kick to the right and wide.

He later got his fist to a floated free from Whelan, but netminder Dean Pluck read the flight of the ball and got behind it to make a comfortable save.

Meath's prowess at winning the Wexford kick-out was a stand-out feature, and it almost led to a goal in the 13th minute when Aaron Chinchilla won the re-start and fed Finnerty who blazed over.

Nonetheless, it gave the home side a lead that they held throughout, with Eoghan Frayne, Shane Smyth and Frayne again making it 0-5 to 0-1 before Liam Doyle - one of Wexford's brighter performers - pulled a point back from distance in the 25th minute.

David Bell (free) and Jack O'Leary went on to swap points, the latter from a Rory O'Connor delivery, although Ryan Connolly did well to cut out a pass intended for Seán O'Donoghue that would more than likely have ended in a Meath goal otherwise.

Getting to half-time without conceding a major was the priority at this stage, but those plans were laid bare in the 30th minute when a brilliant crossfield pass by Bell split the defence and set up Evan Corrigan for a well-worked goal.

Jack O'Leary pulled back a point from a free in added time, after a foul on Ryan Connolly, and Wexford did resume on a bright note as Ciarán Regan picked out Liam Doyle and Paul Deeny for points inside 80 seconds (1-6 to 0-6).

From that position of relative parity, Meath outscored the visitors by 5-7 to 0-1 thereafter.

Josh Carolan and David Bell (free) had already responded with points before Newport's injury and the long delay that followed.

The floodgates opened after Niall Finnerty cut in along the endline and set up Shane Smyth for a goal in the 54th minute.

The kick-out went straight to Carolan who found Bell, and he picked out Finnerty for an easy palmed finish to the net from close range (3-9 to 0-6).

As if matters couldn't get any worse, Carolan also won the next re-start and Eoghan Frayne - who had tormented Gorey Community School recently in the Scoil Dara (Kilcock) colours - applied the finish for a third goal in just 63 seconds.

Wexford's closing point came from a Jack O'Leary free after Liam Doyle was fouled before his shot on goal was saved.

The last seven minutes of the extra 13 saw Meath really go to town on their deflated rivals, adding a further 2-3 without reply.

Both goals were crashed home from very close range by David Bell and substitute Barry Thompson respectively, as Meath finished with a fine array of six different goalscorers on a night to forget for Wexford.

Wexford: Tommy Kennedy (Ballyhogue); Leigh Newport (Our Lady's Island), Brian Cushe (Naomh Eanna), Eamonn Doyle (Ballyhogue); Leigh Whelan (Ballyhogue), Jason Bolger (Kilanerin), Paddy Darcy (Kilanerin); Tom Kavanagh (Castletown), Paul Deeny (Volunteers, 0-1); Joe Curtis (Kilanerin), Ciarán Regan (HWH-Bunclody), Ryan Connolly (Naomh Eanna); Liam Doyle (Ballyhogue, 0-2), Jack O'Leary (St. Fintan's, capt., 0-3, 2 frees), Rory O'Connor (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, 0-1). Subs. - Shane Kehoe (Cloughbawn) for Cushe, inj. (HT), Liam Crowley (St. Fintan's) for Curtis (HT), Jason Murphy (Horeswood) for Newport, inj. (38), Tiarnan Malone (Shelmaliers) for Connolly (60+1), Oisín Waters (St. Martin's) for Darcy, black card (60+7), also Rory Tubritt (Naomh Eanna), Eoin Foley (Volunteers), Pádraig Kinsella (Ferns St. Aidan's), Rúairí O'Brien (Adamstown).

Meath: Dean Pluck; Jamie Fagan, Jamie McGovern, Harry Corscadden; Seán O'Donoghue, Aaron Chinchilla (0-1), Ciarán Caulfield; Josh Carolan (capt., 0-1), Endi Ehichoya; Shane Smyth (1-1), Cillian Hegarty, Evan Corrigan (1-0); Eoghan Frayne (1-3), Niall Finnerty (1-2, 0-1 free), David Bell (1-4, 0-4 frees). Subs. - Aitzol King (0-1) for Ehichoya (55), Barry Thompson (1-0) for Finnerty (57), Brian Cassidy for Caulfield (60+1), Adam McDonnell for Fagan (60+7), Harry Ryan for O'Donoghue (60+8), Jamie O'Shea for Corrigan (60+11).

Referee: Keith O'Brien (Westmeath).

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