Waters worth weight in gold
GAA, Allianz Football League Div 4 Round 2: Wexford 1-10 Antrim 0-9
Big Daithi Waters came off the bench at half-time and kicked a priceless goal in the 42nd minute that made the world of difference to 14-man Wexford as they bounced back from that big defeat in Leitrim with a gutsy victory against Antrim before a tiny Innovate Wexford Park crowd of 348 on Sunday.
It may have only been the second round, but in essence this Allianz Football League Division 4 tie was a must-win encounter for these promotion hopefuls given that both had been defeated one week earlier.
With Derry quite likely to top the table, the general belief is that second spot is the one up for grabs, so it was absolutely essential for Wexford to bounce back and they did that in commendable fashion.
And the fact that it was a truly awful game won't, and indeed shouldn't, concern the mentors or players, because the simple fact of the matter is that these two points were so precious that they had to be garnered by any means possible.
Both teams dominated possession for very long stretches when playing into the breeze in particular, but with all bar one opposing outfield player in defensive roles, it led to periods of two-plus minutes where the ball was kicked back and forth across the field without any attempt to gain territory.
It was all about patience and avoiding turnovers, and one team indulged in it as much as the other.
In fairness to Wexford, though, they found themselves in that role a man short from the 39th minute onwards, so they deserve credit for effectively managing the game after that goal from Waters gave them an immediate boost afterwards.
The scoreline hadn't changed from half-time (0-5 each) when Glen Malone jinked on to his left foot from a Niall Hughes pass but shot very tamely into the path of Antrim netminder Andrew Hasson as he attempted a point at the Clonard end.
Seconds later he was involved in an incident that left Niall Delargy grounded and in need of treatment, and referee Alan Kissane issued a straight red card with no complaints from the home team.
It looked like a Wexford side which had kicked ten first-half wides could be in for another chastening second period, just like in Carrick-on-Shannon seven days earlier, especially when Stephen Beatty put Antrim ahead after an offensive mark by Fintan Burke was followed by a quick transfer by Colum Duffin (0-6 to 0-5).
Daithí Waters and Ben Brosnan had been introduced at half-time for Barry O'Connor and Cathal Devereux respectively, and the duo brought all of their experience to bear and were instrumental in making correct use of the ball while guiding their younger colleagues around them.
And the key score arrived in the 42nd minute when Kevin O'Grady got on the ball just to the left of the posts and burned his marker before parting to the onrushing Waters who thumped his shot high into the far corner of the net.
For some reason best known to himself, the umpire on the green flag took what seemed like an age to raise it, as there was nothing dubious about the long-serving midfielder's seventh inter-county goal on his 87th appearance.
Wexford clearly still had a lot to do from that point onwards, but it was accomplished in fine style as very sound, disciplined defending restricted wind-aided Antrim to a mere three points whereas the leaders didn't kick any more wides while adding five scores for good measure.
The side showed two changes in personnel from the loss to Leitrim, with Glynn-Barntown's Matt Doyle replacing Conor Swaine in goal, while Mark O'Neill of Gusserane had an impressive outing at full-back after some positional changes were made following the exclusion of Eoghan Nolan.
Martin O'Connor had been one of the better performers on the edge of the square in round one, but his pace was better utilised at left half-back, while that great servant Brian Malone started at right half-forward on this occasion and was a most effective link between defence and attack.
Antrim's only really dangerous forward, Ryan Murray, gave them the lead from a crossfield Patrick McBride pass inside three minutes, but Jonathan Bealin responded quickly from a Conor Devitt handpass.
The latter followed with the first of those ten wides and, after Fintan Burke claimed a mark from the kick-out, he found McBride who restored the lead for the visitors, who were one-point losers to neighbours Derry in Corrigan Park a week earlier.
Devitt had his kick impeded after an offensive mark from a Shane Doyle pass in the seventh minute, and this led to a pointed free from Cathal Devereux since the position favoured a left-footer (0-2 each).
Nobody got in the way when Devitt repeated the trick, this time from Martin O'Connor's kick inside, and he became the first-ever Wexfordman to point from a mark in two successive games as the home side moved ahead.
Glen Malone was off target before an Antrim free moved from the 20- to the 13-metre line for dissent was tapped over by Ryan Murray in the 14th minute.
Malone did better, though, on the next Wexford attack after a long spell of possession, cutting inside the 45-metre line from a Niall Hughes lay-off and splitting the posts to make it 0-4 to 0-3.
Just three points were added in the 22 minutes that followed before half-time, with only one coming from Wexford who made life very hard on themselves by adding no fewer than eight wides.
Two came from offensive marks, by Kevin O'Grady and Niall Hughes respectively, while Glen Malone (two), O'Grady (two), Hughes and Devitt were off target too from general play.
Antrim had kicked a fine equaliser in the 21st minute, with Ryan Murray catching a long ball by Martin Johnston but deciding against the mark, instead turning and pointing off his left peg in one swift and stylish movement (0-4 each).
Wexford had wasted a goal chance beforehand when a poor Antrim kick-out was fisted by Jonathan Bealin into the path of Cathal Devereux, but he slipped before getting a pass to the free man inside.
O'Grady shook off a tackle after receiving the ball from Barry O'Connor and gave Wexford the advantage again, and they lost John Tubritt to injury - replaced by Michael O'Regan - before Antrim ended a long period on the ball in added time when Patrick McBride set up Patrick Gallagher for the equaliser (0-5 each).
After Glen Malone's dismissal and Daithí Waters' goal on the re-start, an Antrim point attempt from Stephen Beatty came back off the post before Jonathan Bealin kicked a sweet score off the outside of his right boot to make it 1-6 to 0-6.
And after holding on to the ball for more than two minutes, the gap widened to four when captain Michael Furlong and Brian Malone combined before the busy Ben Brosnan kicked a point near the end of the third quarter.
Antrim substitute Kevin Quinn responded with a good strike from outside the 45-metre line, and Conor Carty made a superb block moments later after Matt Doyle's kick-out spun away from Martin O'Connor into the path of an attacker.
Indeed, that led to a swift breakaway and a pointed free from Bealin after a foul on O'Grady, making it 1-8 to 0-7 as the game moved into the last 15 minutes.
Overlapping defender Patrick Gallagher doubled his own tally before a cynical trip on Brian Malone surprisingly didn't lead to a card but did result in another score for Bealin.
Although Ryan Murray converted a free, Antrim couldn't get that margin below three points, and they were unable to capitalise when the re-start was intercepted by the same player.
That was about the only chance they had to create a goal, while they were unlucky again when the post intervened once more after substitute Matthew Fitzpatrick shot for a point.
Michael Furlong made a vital interception in his own square and was fouled in the first of four added minutes, while cuteness won Brian Malone a free in a central position just inside the 'D' which was kicked high between the posts by Jonathan Bealin for the insurance point.
Substitute Eoghan Nolan did well to steal the ball from the grasp of Eoghan McCabe as Antrim attacked late on, and it was fitting that the game ended with Daithí Waters catching a Ben Brosnan free from deep since both men were instrumental in guiding their side to victory.
The free count was 18 to Wexford and 14 to Antrim, with the winners' ten wides all coming in the first-half while the northerners hit three before, and three after, the break.
Apart from Glen Malone's red, yellow cards were shown to Ben Brosnan, Ryan Murray, Mark Sweeney and Kevin Quinn, all in the second-half.
Next up for Wexford is a trip to London on Sunday to take on the side managed by our own Ciarán Deely - who have suffered losses already to Limerick and Derry - in McGovern Park, Ruislip.
Wexford: Matt Doyle; Michael Furlong (capt.), Mark O'Neill, Conor Carty; Glen Malone (0-1), Shane Doyle, Martin O'Connor; Barry O'Connor, Niall Hughes; Brian Malone, Jonathan Bealin (0-5, 3 frees), Conor Devitt (0-1 mark); Kevin O'Grady (0-1), Cathal Devereux (0-1 free), John Tubritt. Subs. - Michael O'Regan for Tubritt, inj. (30), Daithí Waters (1-0) for B. O'Connor (HT), Ben Brosnan (0-1) for Devereux (HT), Robert Frayne for Devitt (59), Eoghan Nolan for Carty, inj. (69).
Antrim: Andrew Hasson; Niall Delargy, Ricky Johnston, Patrick McCormick; Michael McCarry, Patrick Gallagher (0-2), Declan Lynch (capt.); Rúairí McCann (Aghagallon), Martin Johnston; Stephen Beatty (0-1), Mark Sweeney, Fintan Burke; Ryan Murray (0-4, 2 frees), Patrick McBride (0-1), Colum Duffin. Subs. - Matthew Fitzpatrick for Burke (47), Kevin Quinn (0-1) for Beatty (47), Rúairí McCann (Creggan) for McCarry (52), Eoghan McCabe for Duffin (57), Darren McCormick for McCann (Aghagallon, 59).
Referee: Alan Kissane (Waterford).