Promise displayed in defeat
Sligo 1-16 Wexford 1-13
Sluggish starts to both halves cost the Wexford Senior footballers dearly in Markievicz Park, Sligo, on Sunday as a much-improved performance in many aspects ultimately failed to secure a first set of Allianz Football League Division 3 points.
It's going to be a steep learning curve for this generally very young and inexperienced side, but there was more than enough evidence to suggest that they will gradually find their feet as they remained firmly in contention until the last of seven added minutes.
Wexford camped in the Sligo half for long spells in the final quarter in particular, with some of those who had made their debuts in Enniskillen seven days earlier looking a lot more composed and eager to get on the ball on this occasion.
And it made for a nervy ending to the game for the victors, playing at home for the first time since the appointment of Tyrone's Cathal Corey as manager, and collecting the points one week after a heavy loss away to Armagh.
All bar one point of Wexford's final tally of 1-13 came from play, with three of the substitutes used among the scorers. Indeed, the arrivals off the bench all brought something extra to proceedings, but it was a pity that the visitors had left themselves with so much to do from an early stage.
The team showed four changes from the defeat to Fermanagh, with Brian Malone (suspended), Barry O'Gorman, Barry O'Connor and Eoghan Nolan (injured) replaced by Conor Carty, Syl Byrne, James Stafford and seasoned campaigner Ben Brosnan respectively.
Mark O'Neill moved from full-back to the number six slot in the shake-up, with Tiarnan Rossiter reverting back to a defensive role and big Nick Doyle alternating with Brosnan between the '40 and the edge of the square.
The first 20 minutes proved very frustrating, because Wexford had an equal share of possession but were a lot more wasteful than Sligo, chalking up four of their ten wides while also missing one golden goal chance.
In contrast, the more efficient locals raced into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead, with captain and free-taker Adrian Marren opening their account before strong midfielder Patrick O'Connor doubled the advantage.
Wexford's first point came in the twelfth minute, with Nick Doyle finishing a move involving Donal Shanley and Tiarnan Rossiter, but the opportunity to surge ahead wasn't taken on the next attack.
A long ball from Doyle broke off a falling Ben Brosnan into the path of Paul Curtis who was one-on-one with Sligo's Aidan Devaney, but his shot was deflected for a '45 that Shanley dropped short.
It was a lucky escape for the Connacht side, and they reacted swiftly and decisively with three points on the trot from Stephen Coen (free and play) and Adrian Marren (free).
Prior to that goal miss, Paul Curtis (three) and Craig McCabe had registered wides, although in one of those instances the Clongeen player carried the ball over the endline in a tackle and wasn't in the act of taking a shot.
Nick Doyle had also dropped one attempt short but, on a more positive note, captain Daithí Waters had plucked the first two of his four marks from the clouds and was competing manfully with a strong Sligo pairing.
The first scoreable free for Wexford didn't arrive until the 21st minute when James Stafford's jersey was tugged, but Ben Brosnan struck it from right to left and wide.
And a tough task was compounded moments later when Sligo's Eoin McHugh just about found Niall Murphy with a handpass, with Mark O'Neill getting fingertips to the ball without changing its trajectory. The international rules player had slipped inside the cover and calmly picked his spot in the roof of Pa Doyle's net (1-5 to 0-1).
The leaders had the complete upper hand at that stage, on a day when the 150th birthday anniversary of the Countess after whom their pitch is named was being marked at a ceremony in Glasnevin.
Pa Doyle sent his second kick-out of the half over the right sideline, and Wexford looked in serious bother, but in fairness they responded and had left themselves with a fighting chance by half-time.
James Stafford - who had his best game yet in a Wexford jersey - supplied the final pass for Ben Brosnan to double their tally in the 26th minute, only for Seán Carrabine to respond.
However, Paul McLoughlin's side were very impressive in the five minutes before the break, kicking four points on the trot after an initial effort from Donal Shanley didn't have the legs to clear the crossbar.
A good long ball by Conor Carty led to a first point of the campaign for Paul Curtis, with James Stafford following suit before Curtis registered again, this time from a Daithí Waters delivery.
And when Ben Brosnan - back at full-forward after a spell on the '40 - kicked an absolute beauty from close to the left sideline in the 35th minute, Sligo were within touching distance (1-6 to 0-6).
Waters collected the game's first yellow card in added time for an accumulation of fouls, at the end of a half featuring a free count of 19-7 in favour of the leaders.
Cathal Devereux had replaced Craig McCabe in the 26th minute, and the introduction of Donnacha Holmes at right half-forward for the second-half led to a significant positional switch.
Mark O'Neill departed, with Glen Malone moving to centre-back and James Stafford reverting to the number five slot from where he exerted a massive influence, adding two points to his tally in the process.
However, the start of the second-half was a mirror image of the first as Sligo outscored the opposition by five points to one over the opening 13 minutes to surge clear by 1-11 to 0-7.
Just twelve seconds had elapsed when Patrick O'Connor set up midfield colleague Darragh Cummins to split the posts, and Pat Hughes made it 1-8 to 0-6 from a Stephen Coen lay-off.
A bad kick-out after a Ben Brosnan wide, sent straight to Paul Curtis, led to an easy point for the former, but Sligo responded with three on the trot from Seán Carrabine, Patrick O'Connor and Stephen Coen (free), with Nick Doyle booked for a foul on Neil Ewing prior to that last score.
An off-balance Tiarnan Rossiter had kicked the second of Wexford's five wides after the break, but a gradual improvement in fortunes started with points from James Stafford and lively substitute Barry O'Connor on either side of a goal chance blazed high and off target by Sligo's Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch (1-11 to 0-9).
Stephen Coen widened the gap to six before Daithí Waters and Jim Rossiter struck wides, but a piece of quick thinking yielded the Wexford goal and brought them right back into contention in the 57th minute.
Everyone expected Ben Brosnan to tap over a free after Nick Doyle was fouled in a central position, but instead it was quickly taken to the left where Cathal Devereux showed good composure to slot a low left-footed shot into the opposite corner of the net, taking a deflection off a defender en route (1-12 to 1-9).
That score filled the visitors with belief, and they really went for it in a lively conclusion, sharing the last eight points in the process.
While they were caught on the break and some errors were punished, in general it was refreshing to see the willingness of each and every one of the new faces to demand possession and take on the leaders who knew they had been in a tough contest by the finish.
A Patrick O'Connor piledriver was touched over the bar by a vigilant Pa Doyle before Nick Doyle cancelled that point from a Cathal Devereux pass in the 60th minute (1-13 to 1-10).
Stephen Coen and Adrian Marren (free) were next to strike in between Nick Doyle's second mark, and quite a long delay followed after James Stafford was booked for a foul on Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch who had to be replaced.
It was a big factor in the seven added minutes, and Wexford entered that phase of the game four in arrears after substitute Barry O'Gorman kicked a point with his first involvement after good work by fellow replacements Barry O'Connor and Donnacha Holmes (1-15 to 1-11).
A black card for Eoin McHugh robbed Sligo of one of their better defenders, and Wexford had them very concerned when Ben Brosnan knocked over a free after Robert Frayne was pushed before James Stafford kicked a beauty with the outside of his boot.
At a two-point game it was there to be won, but unfortunately Brosnan sent a tough free to the right and wide before Sligo also squandered a couple of chances to finally wrap it up.
A big tackle on Robert Frayne led to a turnover, while the wily Ross Donovan won a 50-50 with Brosnan from a long James Stafford delivery as late scores eluded Wexford.
Sligo's insurance point was delivered from a Liam Gaughan free, with nine extra minutes played by that juncture.
And unfortunately it came at a huge cost for the visitors as a despairing lunge by Michael Furlong on Kyle Cawley resulted in a straight red card for the defender which will rule him out of Sunday's home clash with Westmeath.
The second-half free count was 11-10 in the victors' favour, and they hit one more wide overall than Wexford (also 11-10).
Wexford: Pa Doyle; Michael Furlong, Jim Rossiter, Conor Carty; Glen Malone, Mark O'Neill, Tiarnan Rossiter; Daithí Waters (capt.), Syl Byrne; James Stafford (0-3), Nick Doyle (0-2), Donal Shanley; Paul Curtis (0-2), Ben Brosnan (0-4, 1 free), Craig McCabe. Subs. - Cathal Devereux (1-0) for McCabe (26), Donnacha Holmes for O'Neill (HT), Barry O'Connor (0-1) for Byrne (42), Darragh Pepper for Curtis, temp. (46-47), Robert Frayne for Shanley (53), Shane Doyle for T. Rossiter (58), Barry O'Gorman (0-1) for Curtis (66).
Sligo: Aidan Devaney; Ross Donovan, Luke Nicholson, Eddie McGuinness; Eoin McHugh, Neil Ewing, Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch; Patrick O'Connor (0-3), Darragh Cummins (0-1); Finian Cawley, Niall Murphy (1-0), Seán Carrabine (0-2); Stephen Coen (0-5, 2 frees), Pat Hughes (0-1), Adrian Marren (capt., 0-3 frees). Subs. - Liam Gaughan (0-1 free) for Hughes (54), Cian Breheny for Cawley (61), Kyle Cawley for Coen (63), Paul Kilcoyne for O'Kelly-Lynch, inj. (67), James Clarke for McHugh, black card (69), Jodie O'Reilly for Marren (70+7).
Referee: Seán Laverty (Antrim).