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U-17 hurlers reach Division 2 decider
A tremendous last 20 minutes saw South Wexford power on to a place in the inaugural Celtic Challenge Under-17 hurling John Scott Cup Division 2 final at the expense of long-time pace-setters North Clare in Rathleague on Saturday.
South Wexford 3-14 North Clare 1-14
The Munster side led by 1-9 to 1-7 at the break and had increased that advantage to four before their determined rivals hit a rich vein of form when it mattered most, outscoring them by 2-6 to 0-2 from the end of the third quarter onwards to set up a final clash with Kerry in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, this coming weekend.
What was most encouraging about the win was the manner in which South Wexford never panicked and stuck to trying to do the simple things well and keeping their shape.
And they were well rewarded in the end on an afternoon when just four players shared in their 3-14 tally at the Portlaoise club grounds.
The movement of North Clare centre-forward Breffni Horner posed problems early on as he grabbed two of their points to see them surge 6-2 clear by the tenth minute.
The impressive Seán Nolan - one of three county Minor footballers on board along with Jamie Myler and Sam Wall - had matched his first effort while Kyle Firman equalised for a second time after earning a free.
However, four scores on the bounce then underlined North Clare's early superiority before full-forward Wall pulled back a brace from placed balls.
A third point for Horner was followed by a well-taken levelling goal for South Wexford in the 18th minute, with what looked like a point-scoring attempt by Seán Nolan dropping short before it was caught and buried by corner-forward Jack O'Leary (1-4 to 0-7).
Seán Banville had an attempt for a second major saved as the rain came down briefly, and Kyle Firman gave South Wexford the lead for the first time from a free in the 23rd minute.
However, North Clare produced a better finish to the half to go in leading by 1-9 to 1-7 despite points from Seán Nolan and Sam Wall (free), with their key score arriving in the 27th minute when a long-range placed ball from Cian Minogue was watched all the way and batted to the net by Niall Moloney.
Nolan had nearly been set up for a goal by Jack O'Leary in that spell too, with South Wexford underlining that they were still very much in contention when Sam Wall narrowed the gap to the minimum on the re-start.
North Clare didn't punish them during a subsequent spell of dominance, although eventually outfield superiority paid off as three points on the trot left the subsequent losers four clear by the 40th minute (1-12 to 1-8).
It was from this point on that South Wexford showed their true mettle, with centre-back Jamie Myler growing into the game.
Points from Wall (free), Nolan and Firman reduced arrears to the minimum before a hurried clearance by Myler when he had more time to compose himself still paid off as it was gathered by Sam Wall who drove at the opposing posts before crashing home a brilliant solo goal (2-11 to 1-12).
A Tom O'Rourke pointed free briefly stopped the rot for North Clare, but they were outgunned from that stage onwards.
The deadly-accurate Nolan and Firman added points before Jack O'Leary put the icing on the cake in the 53rd minute, rattling the net with a powerful first-time strike after Seán Nolan had won a North Clare puck-out and fed Jamie Myler for the assist.
Free-takers Tom O'Rourke and Kyle Firman swapped points before the end, with defenders Myler, Ben Maddock and Philip Dempsey all collecting yellow cards as a 'thou shalt not pass' attitude ensured that the Banner boys were denied the goals they craved in the closing stages.
South Wexford: Fionn Slattery; Gavin Sheehan, Ricky McGrath (capt.), Philip Dempsey; Eoin O'Neill, Jamie Myler, Ben Maddock; Kyle Firman (0-5, 3 frees), Chris Cowman; Adam Cantwell, James Kelly, Seán Nolan (0-4); Seán Banville, Sam Wall (1-5, 0-4 frees), Jack O'Leary (2-0). Subs. - Shane Lacey for Banville (40), Philip Rawson for Cowman (43), Criostóir Reville for Kelly (60+1), also Adam Howlin, Kyle Roche, Adam Hearne, Alex Gondard, Pádraigh Reville, Daire Reville, Mark Murphy, Jimmy Sutton.
North Clare: Ronan Callinan; Seán Crowley, Seán Murphy, Feargal Kearney; Conor Cahill, Cian Minogue, Cathal Doyle; Alan Culligan, Conor Kearns; Tom O'Rourke (0-8, 6 frees), Breffni Horner (0-3), Eoin Fitzgerald; David Mescall (capt., 0-2), Darren Culligan (0-1), Niall Moloney (1-0). Subs. - Darragh O'Shea for Fitzgerald (21), Fitzgerald for Cahill (HT), Colin Haugh for D. Culligan (39), Aaron O'Brien for A. Culligan (47), Alan Culligan for O'Brien (56).
Referee: Shane Guinan (Offaly).