Wasteful Minors make exit
Much-changed team pays price for high wides count
The Wexford Minor hurlers underperformed for the second game running in Semple Stadium, Thurles, on Sunday, and unfortunately this one had fatal consequences as they exited from the All-Ireland championship at the quarter-final stage to a strong-finishing Limerick team.
Limerick 0-17 Wexford 0-9
This clash of provincial runners-up never rose above the mediocre, but the Shannonsiders were clearly the better team although their three points in added time gave the scoreline a somewhat flattering look.
The key moment from Wexford's point of view arrived with ten minutes left when they trailed by 0-11 to 0-8 after the sides had shared six points since half-time. Damien Reck and Liam Stafford combined to break through the Limerick rearguard, with Stafford's handpass going slightly too far to the left for Reck to take aim himself.
Instead he first-timed the ball across the goalmouth where Barry O'Connor was on hand to guide it to the net, but the joy was shortlived as the score was ruled out for a square ball.
It would have been interesting to see what type of finish would have unfolded if the goal had stood, but Limerick knew it was a lucky let-off and they turned in a powerful finish to pick off six of the last seven points and ease comfortably into the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.
The Wexford mentors made wholesale changes from the defeat in the Leinster decider, with the enforced absence of team captain Rory O'Connor a cruel loss on a day when only two of the starting six forwards managed a score from play.
Ciarán Murphy and Quinn Saunders didn't make the starting team either, with Conor Scallan, Mark O'Neill and Theo Doyle coming in while every outfield line was altered to some degree too thanks to a string of positional switches.
The most notable was the placing of regular forward Connal Flood in the half-back line and, while he was one of the better Wexford performers, his accuracy was also missed in a struggling attack.
The losers hit 15 wides compared to a mere five from Limerick, and that was never going to be sufficient to advance in a scrappy encounter.
Limerick free-taker Brian Ryan got them off the mark after just 29 seconds, with Liam Stafford landing an effort short before Barry O'Connor didn't connect sweetly with a line ball which went wide in the fourth minute.
Grateful Limerick goalkeeper Mark O'Kelly gathered another point attempt from Jack Cullen, who had switched from right to left immediately after the throw-in in a swap with Connal Flood. The Limerick attack also changed utterly from the regulation 10 to 15 formation which lined up at the start, and once the game took shape it was clear that Wexford captain Conor Firman was loose, with a spare man for the opposition at the other end.
A Josh Adams clearance was well caught and pointed by Conor Boylan - who had moved to right half-forward - to double the Limerick lead, but Wexford got off the mark in the fifth minute courtesy of Liam Stafford who linked up with Andy Walsh.
A Damien Reck '65 brought the sides level before Mark O'Neill posted the second of seven first-half wides, but Wexford hit the front for the one and only time midway through the first quarter when Theo Doyle robbed Ronan Connelly and split the posts (0-3 to 0-2).
Some excellent defending by full-back Darren Byrne kept Limerick captain Kyle Hayes at bay, but it wasn't long before the latter caught a Josh Adams free and set up Conor Boylan for the leveller.
And once Adams converted a free in the 15th minute, Limerick were never headed although the game remained competitive until well into the second-half. Conor Hearne moved out to the '40 in a swap with Damien Reck, with the latter striking a wide just before the boys in green regained that lead.
Free-taker Brian Ryan was on target twice, with a long-range placed ball from Jack Cullen collected by netminder Mark O'Kelly in between.
Mark O'Neill couldn't capitalise on a slight goal chance after a scramble before Conor Hearne and Barry O'Connor added to the wides tally, and another free from Ryan left Limerick 7-3 clear by the 24th minute.
A Jack Cullen free from distance was missed before the long wait for a Wexford score came to an end, with Theo Doyle adding his second point nearly 19 minutes after getting his first.
And the gap remained at three at half-time (0-8 to 0-5), with Kyle Hayes picking off a Limerick point before Brian Nash was booked for upending Gary Molloy as he soloed through and Damien Reck converted the free.
Molloy was back in defence on the re-start with Connal Flood partnering Andy Walsh at midfield. Both sides started poorly with two wides apiece, the Wexford pair coming from frees by Reck and Walsh.
David Woulfe widened the gap to four but Reck quickly cancelled that out after Mark O'Neill earned a free. Wexford were hanging in there without ever threatening to forcibly grab the initiative, but by the same token Limerick were finding it hard to turn their superiority into scores.
Michael O'Grady did make it 10-6 in their favour but Andy Walsh replied in the 41st minute from a Liam Stafford handpass. Quinn Saunders came on for Jack Cullen, with Connal Flood dropping back to the right flank of the defence and Barry O'Connor coming out to midfield.
The one big thing keeping Wexford in the hunt was the persistent fouling of their rivals, with the second-half count reading 8-1 by the twelfth minute. However, Damien Reck missed a placed ball that he really ought to have scored, and this didn't help as the mentors continued to chop and change in a bid to arrive at a successful formula.
Murtha Doyle entered the fray and there was still hope after a very good Brian Ryan point from the right sideline was followed by a fine solo effort from Liam Stafford to make it 11-8. That second point from the Adamstown lad arrived in the 47th minute, but Wexford were destined to score just one more time.
That square ball incident, with the finish by Barry O'Connor who was full-forward at the time, had a twin effect as it seemed to drain all hope from the Wexford crew whereas Limerick upped the stakes and made a decisive push for home.
The eventual losers added another four wides before the end from Liam Stafford, substitute Sam Wall (two) and Connal Flood, with the latter driving a free over the bar in added time when he was intent on aiming lower.
That score narrowed the gap to 14-9 as Limerick had pushed on after the disallowed Wexford goal with three points from Brian Ryan, the first two from frees. And Ryan certainly wasn't finished, picking out Conor Boylan for another point before adding two himself for good measure to leave the Wexford dreams in tatters.
Wexford: James Henebery (Faythe Harriers); Conor Scallan (Ferns St. Aidan's), Darren Byrne (Blackwater), Eoin Molloy (Naomh Eanna); Jack Cullen (Naomh Eanna), Conor Firman (St. Martin's, capt.), Connal Flood (Cloughbawn, 0-1 free); Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna), Andy Walsh (St. James', 0-1); Liam Stafford (Adamstown, 0-2), Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-3, 2 frees, 1 '65), Barry O'Connor (St. Martin's); Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers), Mark O'Neill (Gusserane), Theo Doyle (Naomh Eanna, 0-2). Subs. - Quinn Saunders (Our Lady's Island) for Cullen (41), Murtha Doyle (Oulart-The Ballagh) for T. Doyle (44), Sam Wall (Gusserane) for Hearne (51), Eoin Kelly (HWH-Bunclody) for O'Neill (56), also Jack Cushe (Naomh Eanna), Ciarán Murphy (Buffers Alley), Cormac Byrne (Faythe Harriers), Michael Codd (St. Martin's), Darragh Lyons (St. James').
Limerick: Mark O'Kelly; Brian Nash, Conor Nicholas, Ronan Connelly; Josh Adams (0-1 free), Ciarán O'Connor, Finn Hourigan; Jerome Boylan, Darragh Carroll; Michael O'Grady (0-1), Kyle Hayes (capt., 0-1), David Woulfe (0-1); Conor Boylan (0-3), Anthony Barrett, Brian Ryan (0-10, 6 frees). Subs. - Cal McCarthy for Carroll (29), Paul O'Riordan for Barrett (45), John Flynn for McCarthy (49), Cian Magnier-Flynn for Woulfe (53), Conor O'Grady for M. O'Grady (57).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow).