Wednesday 19 June 2019

Wexford battle to earn second draw

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Round Robin: Wexford 0-16 Galway 0-16

Jack O’Connor taking on John Hanbury in the closing stages of Sunday’s encounter in Salthill
Jack O’Connor taking on John Hanbury in the closing stages of Sunday’s encounter in Salthill

Brendan Furlong in Pearse Stadium, Salthill

Where does one start with what went down in Pearse Stadium, Salthill, on Sunday? How about Wexford's amazing second-half comeback that brought them within a stroke of the ball of winning? How about the stirring display of the defence that restricted the Galway attack who had only one direct shot on Mark Fanning's goal?

How about the 30 wides, 16 to Wexford, during the course of 70 windswept minutes? How about Wexford's late goal chance, when Cathal Dunbar had his effort saved?

Or Lee Chin's late point attempt that dropped agonisingly wide? And then there was Jason Flynn's second-last Galway point in the 68th minute that gave his side the minimum lead that was clearly wide from the press box vantage point?

But it was the dismissal of manager Davy Fitzgerald to the stand that ignited the Wexford flame. Nine minutes into the second-half, Wexford were trailing by seven points (0-12 to 0-5) when Fitzgerald remonstrated with the fourth official after Damien Reck had been taken out of the game by a third-man Jason Flynn tackle.

Referee Johnny Murphy, who had a dreadful game, sent the Wexford manager to the stand, a sight that drove on his players to supreme efforts.

Indeed, they were back level by the 60th minute, one point clear with seven minutes remaining, and then stormed back for Liam Og McGovern to level the game once again two minutes from the end, before those two late winning chances arrived.

Any one of those would do as a starting point to kick off a discussion, and we have only barely mentioned the standard of refereeing which was clearly short of inter-county Senior standard.

Murphy laboured in his efforts to stamp authority on the game, clearly seen by his first-half decision when he penalised Damien Reck for over-carrying, when it was clear to see the Wexford defender had been on the receiving end of a blow to the face, an injury that forced him to leave the pitch for treatment for a blood injury, but thankfully Niall Burke pulled the ensuing free wide.

Pearse Stadium has not been a happy hunting ground for Wexford when it comes to officialdom as in the league quarter-final they suffered from the handling of referee Cathal McAllister, who incidentally was the linesman on the side of the pitch when Reck was taken out of the game in the second-half.

Having highlighted all those talking points, cast them aside for further discussion, as in the end it was the Model county who felt proud when the final whistle eventually went, since they had capped an amazing comeback with a draw, and came ever so close to victory.

It was a battling display of composure, strength and skill, coupled with an ability to stick to their gameplan, which meant so much as they hauled Galway in, silencing the large home crowd in the process.

Indeed, they were silenced so much that they belatedly cheered Jason Flynn's point, with the umpire's decision to award that second-last Galway score, although linesman McAllister must have had a clear view of the ball sailing the wrong side of the post.

This was a game which meant so much to both sides. Galway were seeking a second successive home victory, before they travel to Kilkenny and Dublin, while Wexford were aiming to build on their draw with Dublin, and take something from a second successive away game, to bring into their two home fixtures with Carlow and Kilkenny.

Now undefeated going into two home fixtures, with two points from a possible four, they realise that maintaining an unbeaten run through home victories would propel them into a provincial final.

It was clearly evident from the opening minutes that the swirling wind was going to have a major impact on this game. Lee Chin saw two frees swing wide inside the opening two minutes, while at the opposite end, Galway recorded three wides through the opening three minutes, before Jason Flynn pointed a fifth-minute free.

Then Galway were presented with a further chance, but after Seán Loftus had played a great ball down the wing over the Wexford defence, Niall Burke finished badly wide.

However, considering the wind was to become such a vital factor, it was vitally important that Wexford, playing into the elements, would restrict the Galway lead, which Flynn extended when he beat Pádraig Foley to the ball.

Galway were proving the more accurate as Conor Whelan plucked a high Cathal Mannion delivery from the air to point, which was followed by a Niall Burke pointed '65, leaving the home side with a 0-4 to nil lead after nine minutes.

In between a misplaced short puck-out led to a goal chance for Conor Cooney, but he was slow to get his shot away and Mark Fanning turned it around the post with his body.

Considering the challenges were so heavy, the hurling was being played in the middle third of the pitch, and Wexford were maintaining a grip on the early Galway charge.

But when Niall Burke (free) and Conor Whelan swung over long-range points, concern was now beginning to show in the Wexford camp, as the westerners had pulled 0-6 to nil clear by the 17th minute.

Wexford's finishing was doing little to erase those concerns as they had hit seven wides before they eventually opened their account through a superb Lee Chin 22nd-minute point off the sideline.

After that moment of inspiration, Wexford seemed to settle as within a further minute Aidan Nolan had swung over his side's second point, leaving four separating the sides (0-6 to 0-2).

Niall Burke and Lee Chin (free) exchanged points, before a Chin '65 after 'keeper Colm Callanan had spilled a Rory O'Connor effort over the sideline left the scoreline at 0-8 to 0-4.

Galway finished the half with points from Conor Cooney and Conor Whelan to lead by 0-10 to 0-4 at the interval.

Wexford moved to address the six-point interval deficit within 30 seconds of the re-start with a fine Diarmuid O'Keeffe point from out close to the sideline.

Five hectic minutes followed as both sides strove for the initiative. Niall Burke was wide with a free attempt into the wind, but Jason Flynn followed with a 41st-minute pointed free to restore his side's six-point advantage.

Now it was time for Wexford to start eating into that Galway lead. Mark Fanning was wide with a long-range free, before Flynn's 46th-minute pointed free put seven between the sides (0-12 to 0-5).

Fitzgerald's dismissal was the next big talking point, but it ignited his charges, as Cathal Dunbar pointed one minute later.

When Flynn responded with a pointed free there was still seven separating the sides (0-13 to 0-6) eleven minutes into the second-half.

Considering the way the game was developing it was going to need someone to grasp the nettle, and Chin began to play off hard-won possession, adding two pointed frees, although Galway responded through a Mannion point, leaving it 0-14 to 0-8 after 50 minutes.

Chin hit back with a pointed free before striking his sixth wide, but the inspiring moment arrived 14 minutes from the end.

Wexford delightfully played the ball through the hands from deep in defence, with Rory O'Connor swinging over an inspirational point, making it 0-14 to 0-10.

Dunbar and Chin (free) followed with points, while Rory O'Connor pointed superbly off the wing to leave the minimum separating the sides (0-14 to 0-13) with eleven minutes remaining.

Wexford had now introduced both Jack O'Connor and Paul Morris as they went for victory. Conor McDonald pointed the sides level with ten minutes remaining, and with seven minutes left Shaun Murphy got himself into an attacking position to point Wexford in front (0-15 to 0-14).

With the clock ticking down, Mark Fanning was wide with another long-range free, while three minutes from the end it took a moment of inspirational defending from Jack O'Connor to deny Conor Cooney a goal, with Flynn pointing the resulting '65 to draw the sides level once again (0-15 each).

Both sides lost possession in the intensity of the exchanges, and then came Flynn's lead point, but Wexford refused to accept defeat.

Minutes after preventing an almost certain goal at the opposite end, Jack O'Connor popped up close to the Galway goal to collect a Conor McDonald delivery and lay the pass off to Cathal Dunbar whose low shot was saved by 'keeper Callanan two minutes into additional time, and this after Flynn and Liam Og McGovern had exchanged points.

Then came Chin's point attempt in additional time to close out the game for Wexford, but it dropped agonisingly wide of the post, with the final whistle following on the puck-out.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Damien Reck; Kevin Foley; Pádraig Foley, Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Shaun Murphy (0-1); Aidan Nolan (0-1), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Liam Og McGovern (0-1), Lee Chin (0-7, 5 frees, 1 '65), Rory O'Connor (0-2); Conor McDonald (0-1), Cathal Dunbar (0-2). Subs.- Shane Reck for D. Reck, temp. (9-11), Paul Morris for Nolan (49), Jack O'Connor for P. Foley (49).

Galway: Colm Callanan; Pádraig Mannion, Daithí Burke, Aidan Harte; Seán Loftus, Gearóid McInerney, Joseph Cooney; Johnny Coen, David Burke (0-1); Cathal Mannion (0-1), Niall Burke (0-3, 1 free, 1 '65), Jason Flynn (0-7, 4 frees, 1 '65); Conor Whelan (0-3), Conor Cooney (0-1), Brian Concannon. Subs. - Jonathan Glynn for N.Burke (40), Kevin Hussey for Coen (56), John Hanbury for J. Cooney (60), David Glennon for Concannon (65).

Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick).

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