Murphy's major put the outcome beyond doubt
Wexford's pacey attacking unit kept Wicklow on the back foot and ended the Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup campaign on a winning note in Páirc Uí Shíocháin, Gorey, on Sunday, with 2-11 scored from play on a bitterly cold day.
Wexford 2-15 - Wicklow 2-11
It was an encouraging display in many respects, with the strong running from the middle third and the regular presence of a man off the shoulder to accept a pass of particular note. Unfortunately that narrow loss to D.I.T. at the same venue seven days earlier has deprived Wexford of a semi-final clash with Kildare, a similar situation to last year when it was another set of students, from U.C.D., who spoiled the party.
However, the three games have been very beneficial to the new mentors in seeing the talent at their disposal in a competitive environment. On this occasion there was time for another five debutants to get a chance: Matthew Cody of Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, Shane Grannell from Buffers Alley, Paudie Barden of Adamstown, plus late substitutes Naomhan Rossiter (St. Mary's, Rosslare) and Syl Byrne (Ballyhogue).
The net has been trawled far and wide in the search for the best talent, and now an intensive three weeks' training lies in wait ahead of the Allianz League Division 3 opener against Clare on February 1 which has been moved from Cusack Park in Ennis to Milltown Malbay.
This was an open, entertaining affair which Wexford could have won by a lot more considering they shot 15 wides compared to Wicklow's five and also gifted the visitors their second goal. The Garden county led twice early on, courtesy of Mark Kenny first and then Darren Hayden, but both scores were cancelled out by Paudie Barden and Kevin O'Grady respectively, the latter after a neat sidestep.
A late tackle on Paddy Byrne led to Dermot Flood giving Wexford the lead for the first time from a free before the big Kilmore midfielder and Rob Tierney combined prior to Declan Murphy making it 0-4 to 0-2 in the 17th minute.
Byrne fired low and wide from a goal chance which featured Matthew Cody, Tierney and Murphy in the build-up before Wicklow did rattle the net.
It arrived in the 23rd minute to give them a 1-2 to 0-4 lead, with Conor Foley handpassing to Darren Hayden whose looping shot went in off Shane Roche's fingertips.
It was an impressive finish from the wing-forward but Wexford recovered well as Paddy Byrne played a one-two with Colm Kehoe to equalise before Rob Tierney set up the latter to restore the lead. Declan Murphy then sold a couple of lovely dummies en route to his second point, with Wicklow wing-back Michael Mangan cancelling that out before Wexford pounced for their first goal in the 31st minute.
Graham Carty picked out clubmate Dermot Flood whose sublime pass took a few defenders completely out of the game. Kevin O'Grady picked the right time to pop the ball to his left and newcomer Paudie Barden palmed it to the net over the head of William Hender-Phillips (1-7 to 1-3).
Wicklow did shoot two of the half's last three points, from Mark Kenny and Tommy Kelly, to go in trailing with 1-8 to 1-5, with the Wexford response sandwiched in between from Kevin O'Grady after the dominant Paddy Byrne won one of several kick-outs.
The leaders resumed with Ben Brosnan drafted in at full-forward and Kevin Day introduced at full-back, a move which freed up the latter's clubmate Joey Wadding to move to left half-back where his attacking insincts flourished.
Colm Kehoe was now partnering Paddy Byrne at midfield with Graham Carty on the '40, and the early exchanges were tight as Darren Hayden pointed two Wicklow frees and Kevin O'Grady hit the target in between.
Joey Wadding and Ben Brosnan created a goal chance for Tiarnan Rossiter which was kept out at the expense of a fruitless '45, but the daylight Wexford sought was only around the corner.
A two-point advantage quickly stretched to a cushion of six as Brosnan punished a foul on O'Grady with a free before the second goal arrived in the 50th minute.
The ground opened up in front of centre-back Rob Tierney and he didn't need a second invitation to drive forward before finding Declan Murphy.
The Horeswood attacker has been one of the most impressive newcomers, and he blasted a low shot to the net with his left boot to power Wexford ahead by 2-10 to 1-7.
Another bang in-form player, Kevin O'Grady, added a point before some of the good work was undone midway through the half. Shane Roche misjudged the flight of a Ross O'Brien delivery and allowed it to bounce off his body, with Conor Foley on hand to force the rebound over the line (2-11 to 2-7).
In fairness though, Wexford never looked like surrendering the initiative as eight points were shared prior to the end. Paudie Barden and John McGrath (free) swapped scores before Conor Foley reduced the gap to three, but Dermot Flood replied for Wexford in the 62nd minute (2-13 to 2-9).
Ben Brosnan accounted for the last two Wexford points from frees, with Foley again on target for Wicklow before Ross O'Brien narrowed the margin to four with the last kick of the game.
Wexford: Shane Roche; Páraic O'Keeffe, Joey Wadding, Michael Furlong (capt.); Tiarnan Rossiter, Rob Tierney, Matthew Cody; Paddy Byrne (0-1), Graham Carty; Declan Murphy (1-2), Colm Kehoe (0-1), Kevin O'Grady (0-4); Dermot Flood (0-2, 1 free), Shane Grannell, Paudie Barden (1-2). Subs. - Kevin Day for Cody (HT), Ben Brosnan (0-3 frees) for Grannell (HT), Brian Malone for Carty (58), Kevin Rowe for O'Grady (60), Naomhan Rossiter for Wadding (67), Syl Byrne for Murphy (67).
Wicklow: William Hender-Phillips; Jamie Snell, Pádraig Higgins, Martin O'Brien; Michael Mangan (0-1), Stephen Kelly, Kevin Murphy; Ross O'Brien (0-1), James Stafford (capt.); Brendan Kennedy, Mark Kenny (0-2), Darren Hayden (1-3, 0-2 frees); Tommy Kelly (0-1), Brendan McCrea, Conor Foley (1-2). Subs. - Dean Healy for Mangan (HT), Michael McLoughlin for O'Brien (HT), Paul McLoughlin for Stafford (43), John McGrath (0-1 free) for T. Kelly (45), Daniel Woods for Kennedy (52), Chris Murphy for Kenny (64).
Referee: Ronald Malone (Dublin).