Saturday 21 September 2019

Seven is the magic number

Wexford secure wonder goal as spot sealed in decider

Jack O’Connor and Offaly’s Joe Maher fight it out for the ball
Jack O’Connor and Offaly’s Joe Maher fight it out for the ball
Full-back Liam Ryan makes a fine catch over the head of Johnny O’Toole-Greene (Offaly)
Man of the match Kevin Foley shows his delight with the outcome

Alan Aherne

Seven was the magic number in O'Connor Park, Tullamore on Wednesday when the Wexford Under-21 hurlers produced enough impressive moments in a patchy performance overall to account for Offaly and advance to a Bord Gais Energy Leinster championship final meeting at home to Kilkenny on July 8.

Wexford 2-16 Offaly 1-12

As well as being the winning margin, it was the impressive tally of points from play struck by the excellent Kevin Foley who was a richly-deserved winner of the man of the match award.

And seven was also the number of Wexford players involved in their breathtaking second goal just under nine minutes from the end of normal time which had social media sites buzzing for the rest of the week.

The speed of hurling and the manner in which a missed chance at one end can be followed so quickly by a score at the other was never emphasised as well. Wexford led by 1-13 to 0-11 when Adrian Cleary passed to Matthew Maloney who had an Offaly goal on his mind, but Andrew Kenny raced across to get in a telling block.

That killed the momentum of the shot and when it entered Oliver O'Leary's vicinity, the netminder flicked it out first-time to team captain Eoin Conroy in the left corner. His drive to midfield was controlled expertly by Kevin Foley after taking a big bounce, with James Cash sending a first-time delivery towards full-forward Conor McDonald.

The pièce de résistance of the move followed as the Senior stalwart beautifully cushioned the sliothar with the deftest of flicks into the path of onrushing substitute Cathal Dunbar who bore down on goal before giving Kevin O'Connor no chance and wrapping up the win.

In truth, Wexford had always looked like pulling away once they goaled for the first time in the 39th minute, but that second major was a spectacular way of making doubly sure.

And because of its quality - an undoubted early leader in the goal of the year stakes - it meant that an outstanding piece of vision in the lead-up to that first goal probably didn't get the credit it deserved. Peter Sutton had a very handy option for a point after exchanging passes with James Cash which he eschewed, instead picking out Conor McDonald with a beautiful delivery and his fellow attacker simply couldn't miss.

And yet, despite the quality of the goals and the comfortable winning margin, it was understandable why manager J.J. Doyle wasn't fully happy at the finish. Many of the eleven second-half wides (from a total of 15) arose after individuals forgot momentarily that they were part of a team and tried to score from difficult positions, while others were simply very bad misses.

And while Wexford went into the game as warm favourites, they certainly got a decent test for 40 minutes from the locals who were managed by Ciarán McDonald, former full-forward with his native Crossabeg-Ballymurn.

The small crowd meant that the words of Doyle during the warm-up were audible in the stand, and he wasn't pleased with the general air of lethargy. And this seemed to take a long time to overcome as Offaly drove at Wexford early on and the visitors didn't appear comfortable for most of that first-half.

A combination of dropping an extra player back and the forwards regularly swapping places unsettled the holders, but to be fair they stepped it up considerably in the second-half after trailing by 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time.

Gavin Bailey and Andrew Kenny were short with early efforts before wing-back Jack O'Connor won a tussle with the dangerous Emmet Nolan close to the left sideline and fired over a sweet opening point after just 52 seconds.

Offaly moved Cillian Kiely - a thorn in the side of Shelmaliers with his club, Kilcormac-Killoughey, late last year - from left half to full-back in a bid to keep tabs on Conor McDonald who fired the first Wexford wide in the fourth minute.

The midlanders were buoyed by three points on the trot from Dylan Murray (free), Emmet Nolan and another Murray placed ball before a catch and neat pass by Jack O'Connor set up Kevin Foley for his opener in the eighth minute.

The Rapparees lad showed no signs of trauma after witnessing the Kilkenny machine up close and personal in Nowlan Park three days earlier, and his superb movement away from the centre-forward berth was the key which unlocked the Offaly defence so many times.

Conor Doughan's long-range free made it 0-4 to 0-2 before corner-back Simon Donohoe - left in a free role - picked out Gavin Bailey who split the posts from midfield.

Wexford were struggling to find a decent rhythm though and McDonald wasn't seeing enough of the ball, with Dylan Murray restoring the two-point gap before an Emmet Nolan flick from a Pádraig Guinan centre went tantalisingly across Oliver O'Leary's goal and harmlessly wide.

A McDonald '65 left Wexford trailing by 0-5 to 0-4, but Offaly were doggedly determined and Emmet Nolan pointed again before the former - now at centre-forward after a swap with Kevin Foley - missed the target from play.

Another Nolan point left the underdogs with their highest lead of the evening, although Wexford had their first goal chance from the puck-out. Andrew Kenny caught cleanly and fed Kevin Foley whose effort was well saved for a '65 which was again knocked over the endline by an Offaly man, leaving Conor McDonald to convert at the second attempt.

Kenny was then moved to the full-back line and proceeded to have a fine game in that new role, with Simon Donohoe withdrawn and lively substitute Cathal Dunbar also making a big impact in the forwards for the second game running. With Liam Ryan also commanding the area in front of Oliver O'Leary and Eoin Conroy tidy in the corner, it left Wexford with a strong defensive unit which was embellished by the good work of the half-back line as the game wore on.

The margin was down to the minimum by the break (0-8 to 0-7), with Kevin Foley pointing twice on either side of a Cathal Mahon effort for Offaly while Gavin Bailey and Shane Murphy brought the wides tally to four.

Wexford resumed with McDonald back on the edge of the square and Foley on the '40, and the former brought them level from an early free after Cillian Kiely was yellow-carded for his careless challenge on the Gorey lad.

Pádraig Foley had struck a wide from the throw-in and McDonald added his third before the man whose radar was working better than the rest, Kevin Foley, restored the lead Wexford had lost in the fifth minute from a Jim White pass down the left flank (0-9 to 0-8).

He repeated the dose from a Shane Murphy handpass before Peter Sutton nearly capitalised on a low Offaly puck-out which Conor McDonald half-blocked, only to run out of room.

Emmet Nolan showed that the locals' challenge was still very much alive when he played a one-two with Matthew Maloney from a line ball and split the posts, but daylight finally started to appear after that unselfish play from Peter Sutton picked out Conor McDonald for his goal (1-10 to 0-9).

A move that started with a fine Liam Ryan catch ended with another Kevin Foley point, before Cathal Dunbar and Foley again split the posts in between two converted Offaly frees from Dylan Murray.

Ironically enough, that glorious goal from Dunbar had been preceded by the sloppiest spell of all from Wexford as five wides were stuck in less than four minutes. Substitute Tony French and a McDonald brace, including his sole point from play, completed the winners' scoring tally, while Offaly were reduced to 14 men near the end when Cillian Kiely collected a second yellow for a frustrated swipe at Conor Devitt under a high, dropping free close to the Wexford goal.

Offaly did manage a last-gasp consolation goal though, with two Wexford players colliding under a puck-out in midfield and Andrew Connolly working a pass down the right to Matthew Maloney who shot low to the far corner of the road end net.

Wexford: Oliver O'Leary; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Eoin Conroy (capt.); Jim White, Pádraig Foley, Jack O'Connor (0-1); Conor Devitt, Gavin Bailey (0-1); Andrew Kenny, Kevin Foley (0-7), James Cash; Shane Murphy, Conor McDonald (1-5, 0-2 '65s, 0-2 frees), Peter Sutton. Subs. - Cathal Dunbar (1-1) for Donohoe (25), Sam Kelly for Murphy (37), Tony French (0-1) for Sutton (46), Seán Kenny for Cash (53).

Offaly: Kevin O'Connor; Darragh Corbett, Cillian Kiely, Paddy Rigney; Ger Crowe, Conor Doughan (capt., 0-1 free), Dan Doughan; Cathal Mahon (0-1), Pádraig Guinan; Emmet Nolan (0-4), Matthew Maloney (1-0), Johnny O'Toole-Greene; Adrian Cleary, Joe Maher, Dylan Murray (0-5, 4 frees, 1 '65). Subs. - Shane Guinan (0-1) for Maher (HT), Conor Molloy for Mahon (45), Andrew Connolly for O'Toole-Greene (45), Paul Kinsella for Cleary (52).

Referee: Peter Burke (Kilkenny).

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