Offaly survive late siege
Gaa, Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Football Championship: Offaly 1-10 Wexford 1-9
High drama around the Offaly square deep into added time failed to yield the desired result in Bellefield on Tuesday when the Wexford Minor footballers were pipped by the minimum margin in their Electric Ireland Leinster championship Group 2 opener by the relieved visitors.
Trailing by three points as the clock moved past the 30-minute mark, the young Model county men laid siege to the opposition posts in a valiant attempt to get the goal they needed.
They had to be content with a point first, from a free via the ground by captain Jack O'Leary, after Offaly were reduced to 14 when their captain, wing-back Lee Pearson, collected a second yellow card for hauling down a menacing Ciarán Regan.
In excess of four and a half minutes was played after that score, with Wexford losing defender Eamonn Doyle to a black card before Darragh Flynn blazed a poor wide near the corner flag for the leaders.
And Offaly came under sustained pressure thereafter, with a dangerous lob by Liam Doyle caught by midfielder and clubmate Leigh Whelan whose shot was blocked for a '45.
That kick was taken short by substitute Ryan Connolly to Paddy Darcy who dropped the ball in once more, and it was caught by Jack O'Leary.
He scarcely had room to move, though, as Offaly's swarm defence did its job, but there was still hope as the ball ended up over the endline for another '45.
Connolly tapped this one sideways to Jason Bolger whose accurate kick landed in the square and, while O'Leary leaped higher than anyone else and got a vital touch, unfortunately it went over rather than under the bar to make it a one-point game.
The full-time whistle sounded on the kick-out, after six additional minutes, with the roars of relief from the Offaly players highlighting just how close they had come to either drawing, or even losing, the game.
The teams were well matched in an error-strewn clash of generally poor to average quality and, with matches to come against Dublin and holders Meath, one got the distinct impression that this represented the best opportunity for both to garner some points.
There was a tentative start, with three wides from Offaly and two at the other end before Wexford finally opened the scoring in the tenth minute.
It came after a defensive error, as Jason Murphy and Liam Crowley worked the ball to Rory O'Connor whose kick for a point fell short, but it was fumbled by the netminder and Jack O'Leary was on hand to slot the break to the net.
Adam Kelly settled Offaly with a point from a Lee Pearson lay-off, but Wexford led by a game-high 1-2 to 0-1 at the close of the opening quarter.
A late tackle on Crowley led to a pointed free from clubmate O'Leary who also got his hand to the poor kick-out that followed from Cathal Ryan.
Liam Doyle gathered possession in the right corner and set up Rory O'Connor to widen the gap to four points, but that was followed by a 15-minute scoreless spell for the leaders.
One of their main tactics was route one ball into full-forward O'Leary - a survivor from last year's squad along with Ciarán Regan and Joe O'Sullivan - but they were equally insistent on passing across the field between the '65 and the '45 without any real reward.
Big full-forward Morgan Tynan was the main source of danger from Offaly and pointed with his left boot from a Harry Plunkett pass in the 19th minute, and he was unfortunate to kick a free off the top of the left post and back into play before Darragh Flynn made it 1-2 to 0-3.
Tynan converted his next free and then equalised from the kick-out that followed after an interception by Cormac Delaney, but Wexford enjoyed a better finish to the opening half.
A foul on Ciarán Regan led to Jack O'Leary restoring their lead from a 40-metre free in the 29th minute, and the half ended with Rory O'Connor's second point after good work by Liam Doyle and Leigh Whelan (1-4 to 0-5).
Regan had moved to partner Whelan at midfield just before half-time after the introduction of Tiarnan Malone at corner-forward, and the Bunclody lad's ball-winning from the throw-in for the second period led to a well-taken point.
Malone and Shane Kehoe also featured in the move, with the latter fouled and Jack O'Leary making it 1-5 to 0-5 from the placed ball.
The first of four frees converted by Cormac Delaney after the interval was followed by two gilt-edged goal chances for Offaly, with the second taken although the first was missed.
That came after an ill-judged backpass by a Wexford player into the path of an unmarked Morgan Tynan whose shot got a touch on to the post from netminder Tommy Kennedy.
However, Tynan made amends in the 42nd minute after accepting a pass from recent introduction Jay Sheerin and making inroads on goal from the right corner.
A technical foul led to a penalty being awarded by referee David Hickey, with Delaney drilling the ball beyond Kennedy although he did get a touch on it.
The goal put Offaly in front for the first time and they never relinquished that lead, despite living on their nerves near the finish.
Three times their number 15, Darragh Flynn, was fouled by the same Wexford player who was trying to tackle from behind, and free-taker Cormac Delaney was unerring from the placed balls that followed.
Jack O'Leary had punished a push on Ciarán Regan in between the first and second Offaly points, an incident that led to a first yellow card for Lee Pearson.
And after wides from O'Leary (free) and Shane Kehoe, the former played one short to substitute Ryan Connolly who split the posts to make it 1-8 to 1-7 in Offaly's favour in the 56th minute.
A Wexford mark from the kick-out was wasted as the ball was given away, and that led to a valuable Offaly point from Jay Sheerin who was left unchallenged as the defenders were reluctant to take a chance and leave their own direct opponents to make a tackle.
The seventh Wexford wide (Offaly had ten) followed from Rory O'Connor before Cormac Delaney once again punished the persistent fouling on Darragh Flynn, a quite obvious defensive flaw that must have been missed by the mentors on the sideline and the 'eyes in the sky' in the stand.
Although that left Offaly with their biggest lead of the evening, it was pared down to just one point in that heart-stopping finale, but Wexford were left with regrets at the end.
They will return to Bellefield on Wednesday, May 8, to meet Dublin (who beat Meath by 4-10 to 2-10 in Parnell Park), and Navan will be the venue for their clash with the Royals seven days later.
Wexford: Tommy Kennedy (Ballyhogue); Brian Cushe (Naomh Eanna), Paddy Darcy (Kilanerin), Jason Bolger (Kilanerin); Jason Murphy (Horeswood), Leigh Newport (Our Lady's Island), Eamonn Doyle (Ballyhogue); Leigh Whelan (Ballyhogue), Tom Kavanagh (Castletown); Liam Crowley (St. Fintan's), Rory O'Connor (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, 0-2), Shane Kehoe (Cloughbawn); Liam Doyle (Ballyhogue), Jack O'Leary (St. Fintan's, capt., 1-6, 0-5 frees), Ciarán Regan (HWH-Bunclody). Subs. - Tiarnan Malone (Shelmaliers) for Kavanagh (27), Ryan Connolly (Naomh Eanna, 0-1) for Murphy (44), Joe Curtis (Kilanerin) for Crowley (45), Joe O'Sullivan (Horeswood) for E. Doyle, black card (60+4), also Tommy Barron (St. James'), James Rossiter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Paul Deeny (Volunteers), Conal McGuinness (Glynn-Barntown), Joe Barrett (St. Martin's).
Offaly: Cathal Ryan; David Carty, Fionn Dempsey, David Dempsey; John Furlong, Adam Strong, Lee Pearson (capt.); Ryan Strong, Luke Egan; Aran Byrne, Cormac Delaney (1-4, 0-4 frees, 1-0 pen.), Adam Kelly (0-1); Harry Plunkett, Morgan Tynan (0-3, 1 free), Darragh Flynn (0-1). Subs. - Jay Sheerin (0-1) for R. Strong (38), Corey White for Byrne (50), Michael Fox for Plunkett (60).
Referee: David Hickey (Carlow).