Treble hopes alive after hard win
Bord Gais Energy Leinster U20 Hurling Championship semi-final: Wexford 2-20 Offaly 1-18
Forty-nine years after Wexford last claimed a clean sweep of the three main Leinster hurling titles, the Under-20s are one step from completing the feat again after overcoming a gutsy Offaly in O'Connor Park, Tullamore, on Wednesday.
M.J. Reck's side always looked the more accomplished outfit, but Offaly hung around for long enough to set up a nervy last few minutes when John Murphy's long-range effort found the net.
It would have been an absolute sporting travesty had Wexford lost the contest late on but, showing the grit they will need as they advance to a Leinster final and All-Ireland semi-final, the Slaneysiders ended on the front foot, with Diarmuid Doyle wrapping up victory with an injury-time goal.
Given the eventual margin of victory was five points and that only one separated the sides in additional time, it might seem a bit peculiar to suggest that Wexford dominated most areas on the field.
However, it's true. They bossed the middle third, and apart from a brief spell in the second-half Offaly didn't get much joy in their half-forward line.
Wexford used the extra man well, mopping up more than their fair share of breaking balls, and the visitors' half-forward line did consistent damage too.
Offaly rarely looked like getting in for goals, although they did have the impressive Conor Langton picking off classy points inside, with the Wexford full-back line consistently doing an impressive job of keeping the opposition forwards in front of them.
The biggest area of improvement M.J. Reck will need is at the other end of the field. It was a big game and huge adjustment from club hurling for Seán O'Connor and, in particular, Diarmuid Doyle, and the first-half proved to be a real struggle against solid man-markers in the Offaly full-back line.
It says a lot about the character of both men that O'Connor was much more influential in the second-half and that Doyle was on hand to put the game to bed with a clinical finish when the opportunity arose in the 64th minute.
It took all of the Wexford team a few minutes to find Offaly's intensity level. However, the hosts managed just a Barry Kealey point and soon their opponents' class started to shine through.
Seán Keane-Carroll nabbed the opening score in the fifth minute, and clubmate Ross Banville matched that point a few seconds later.
Conor Langton equalised in the seventh minute, but it proved to be the last time the Faithful boys were on terms with Wexford.
That parity lasted less than a minute. Keane-Carroll notched his second point and Banville followed suit in the eleventh minute.
Wexford ended the opening quarter with a 1-4 to 0-3 lead after Conall Clancy collected a mis-hit Jack Reck line ball, raced away on the right, and drilled high to the net.
The sides matched scores in the second quarter, four points each, but only because Wexford swatted six wides to Offaly's one. Niall Murphy scored the first of the quartet and Banville added the other three for his side.
Brian Duignan picked off the first of the four for Offaly, while Cathal Kiely, who scored 0-20 against Dublin in the quarter-finals, added the other three from dead-balls to leave four points between the sides at the interval (1-8 to 0-7).
Despite a David Nally score within ten seconds of the re-start, Wexford still had a bright opening to the second-half.
Charlie McGuckin and Eoin Murphy both got on the scoresheet from midfield, Seán O'Connor and Conor Scallan pointed, and Banville brought his tally to six.
From coasting at 1-13 to 0-9 ahead, Wexford hit a few quick wides and Offaly found a little confidence around the middle third of the field.
Langton scored a couple of superb points and, when Cillian Ryan opened his account in the 46th minute, there was suddenly just a goal between the sides (1-14 to 0-14).
It was a revival that Wexford seemed to pour cold water on with points from Reck, Banville and Clancy in quick succession.
With many in a huge crowd of 5,172 likely contemplating a quick exit, Murphy's point attempt from the right sideline dropped short and into James Lawlor's net.
Suddenly the crowd was back with them and Offaly were aided by a string of farcical calls by Carlow referee David Hughes to edge them even closer.
Still, Wexford were playing the better hurling and should have wrapped the game up in the 56th minute when Keane-Carroll and Cian Fitzhenry gift-wrapped a chance for Seán O'Connor to net.
Credit to Offaly goalkeeper Eamonn Cleary, as he spread himself well, but it's not a chance that should be missed at this level.
Banville converted the resulting '65, but points for David Nally and Murphy pulled Offaly within one (1-18 to 1-17) in the 60th minute.
Wexford countered in their next attack when Keane-Carroll scored his third point, but Killian Sampson cut the deficit to one again.
When Fitzhenry was manhandled to the ground in midfield, probably the most blatant foul of the game, it took referee Hughes a couple of seconds and a significant amount of soul-searching to give the free.
Banville fired the spear through Offaly hearts by nailing the dead-ball from midfield before Keane-Carroll sent Diarmuid Doyle away in the next attack to wrap up a five-point win and a place in the final opposite Kilkenny in Innovate Wexford Park on July 17.
Wexford: James Lawlor (Ferns St. Aidan's); Eoin O'Leary (St. Martin's), Eoin Molloy (Naomh Eanna), Cathal O'Connor (Rathnure); Niall Murphy (Ferns St. Aidan's, 0-1), Mike Kelly (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Conor Scallan (Ferns St. Aidan's, 0-1); Charlie McGuckin (Naomh Eanna, capt., 0-1), Eoin Murphy (Ferns St. Aidan's, 0-1); Jack Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-1), Ross Banville (Shelmaliers, 0-10, 6 frees, 1 '65), Seán Keane-Carroll (Shelmaliers, 0-3); Diarmuid Doyle (Marshalstown-Castledockrell, 1-0), Conall Clancy (Faythe Harriers, 1-1), Seán O'Connor (Rathnure, 0-1). Subs. - Cian Fitzhenry (Duffry Rovers) for E. Murphy (44), Oran Carty (Rapparees) for S. O'Connor (58), also James Henebery (Faythe Harriers), Ben Maddock (St. Martin's), Mick Cleere (Geraldine O'Hanrahans), Ben Ronan (Rathnure), Chris Turner (Ferns St. Aidan's), James Byrne (Askamore), Ger Dempsey (Glynn-Barntown). Extended panel: Diarmuid Kehoe (Geraldine O'Hanrahans), Seán Cooper (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy), James Dempsey (Cloughbawn), Fiachra Hourihane (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Philip Dempsey (St. Martin's), Eoin Cullen (Liam Mellows), Kevin Cosgrave (Oylegate-Glenbrien).
Offaly: Eamonn Cleary; Dara Maher, Conor Butler, Ciarán Burke; Killian Sampson (0-1), Ross Ravenhill, Ryan Hogan; Joey Keenaghan, David Nally (capt., 0-4, 2 frees); Brian Duignan (0-1), Barry Kealey (0-1), Cillian Ryan (0-1); John Murphy (1-1), Cathal Kiely (0-5 frees), Conor Langton (0-4). Subs. - Conor Quinn for Kealey (36), Lochlann Kavanagh for Ryan (48), Seán Beatty for Maher, inj. (58).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow).