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Monday 25 March 2019

Wexford hit rock bottom

Allianz Football League Division 4: Waterford 5-4 Wexford 0-12

Conor Devitt of Wexford under pressure from Jack Mullaney (Waterford)
Conor Devitt of Wexford under pressure from Jack Mullaney (Waterford)

Alan Aherne

It was generally felt that Wexford football had reached its nadir in that shambolic showing in London earlier this month, but we now know that this sadly wasn't the case.

A very bad situation was rendered even worse before a paltry attendance of 272 in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday when the team conceded a score more in keeping with an Under-12 game en route to a morale-shattering seven-point loss to 14-man Waterford in Division 4 of the Allianz League.

The ease in which the visitors were able to punish a very poor losing team repeatedly on the break was a sign of a serious coaching malaise as Waterford collected their first victory of the campaign, despite being a man short for the entire second-half.

And the outcome has painted a very sorry picture on the league table, with Wexford now placed rock bottom out of the 32 competing teams by virtue of a vastly inferior score difference (-24 as opposed to -8 for their conquerors on Sunday).

The least that anyone would have expected after the trimming in London was a strong response, especially on home soil, but it wasn't forthcoming on another dismal and depressing day.

Waterford hadn't won a competitive game since beating Wexford at the same venue in the All-Ireland qualifiers last summer, but new manager Benji Whelan and his backroom team, including recent Starlights boss Joe Hagan, had their homework done and got the victory they deserved, albeit with a very unusual scoreline.

Wexford have now conceded ten goals in four outings, keeping just one clean sheet, while they have only raised one green flag themselves in their sole victory at home to Antrim.

The county is at its lowest point that I can ever remember, and the general body language would suggest a growing disconnect between the management and at least some of the players.

Four changes were made from the London loss, with Gavin Sheehan and Conor Devitt both returning from injury, Glen Malone back after serving his suspension, and Ben Brosnan making his first start of the league campaign.

Shane Doyle, Mark O'Neill, Eoin Porter and Barry O'Connor were moved to the substitutes' bench, although the former sustained an injury in the pre-match warm-up, while the latter was one of the few decent performers and picked off two points following his introduction.

Wexford had a shocking wides count of 14, compared to a mere three from the victors, and they were spread fairly evenly throughout, with six before the break and eight in the second period.

Some of the shot selection was quite simply awful, and there was a distinct lack of patience on several occasions when they met a wall of Waterford players around the opposition 45-metre line and repeatedly took the wrong options.

In addition, the ball handling left a lot to be desired, with possession squandered time and time again as a result of poor concentration rather than the tackling ability of the winners.

Jason Curry opened Waterford's account after 63 seconds when he played a one-two with Tommy Prendergast from a '45, but Wexford responded with the next three points.

Jonathan Bealin started at full-forward rather than the '40 on this occasion, and a fair case can be made that he has been his team's best performer of the league thus far.

He did nothing to disprove that theory when he got on the end of a fine move involving Brian Malone (restored to a more familiar defensive role), Daithí Waters and Conor Devitt before kicking a neat left-footed leveller in the third minute.

An Eoghan Nolan effort that appeared to be dropping well short bounced over the crossbar midway through the opening quarter, and Bealin doubled his tally with a booming high kick from a Ben Brosnan off-load to make it 0-3 to 0-1.

The first two of those 14 wides followed from Conor Carty and Bealin, with Wexford losing Martin O'Connor - who had been a concern beforehand - in between owing to injury.

Tiarnan Rossiter came in to replace him at left half-back, and the home side had their first let-off in the 17th minute when a goal attempt by Fearghal Ó Cuirrín was blocked.

Jason Gleeson shook off the close attention of Michael Furlong to kick a solo point, with Brosnan and John Tubritt adding wides before the latter restored the two-point lead from a Daithí Waters pass at the end of a patient move in the 27th minute (0-4 to 0-2).

The first of the Waterford goals arrived just under 60 seconds later, with three Wexford players drawn to big midfielder Tommy Prendergast like bees to honey.

This meant that when he popped a handpass in behind the defensive cover, Ó Cuirrín was able to gallop in from the left wing and bury the ball in Matt Doyle's net.

Kevin O'Grady and John Tubritt brought the wides tally to six, before Eoghan Nolan equalised after a fine crossfield Jonathan Bealin pass (0-5 to 1-2).

However, Waterford netted again twelve seconds into first-half added time when Seán Whelan-Barrett and the influential Fearghal Ó Cuirrín combined to find Dylan Guiry who accepted the latter's pass at pace and calmly picked his spot for a three-point lead.

The visitors' tails were well and truly up after that score, but they suffered what should have been a major setback when full-back Ray Ó Ceallaigh received a straight red card for what referee John Hickey indicated was use of the boot on Ben Brosnan prior to a Wexford free that Jonathan Bealin pointed (2-2 to 0-6).

The home side resumed on the front foot, but only had one point to show for nearly ten minutes of camping in the leaders' half.

That came from a Bealin mark after a Daithí Waters pass, but a golden goal chance came to nothing in the 38th minute when Brosnan found Tiarnan Rossiter whose shot was well saved by Aaron Beresford.

In addition, Bealin, Tubritt (three) and Brosnan contributed to that mounting wides count before Waterford lifted the siege.

Although they only attacked at irregular intervals in that second-half, they looked menacing every time when faced by a porous Wexford defence.

The tracking back left a great deal to be desired, and Shane Ahearne kicked a '45 in the 47th minute after a shot by Fearghal Ó Cuirrín took a deflection over the endline off Gavin Sheehan (2-3 to 0-7).

Conor Devitt screwed a point attempt well wide before a brief purple patch gave Wexford the lead at a stage when they should have been able to capitalise to the full.

A good tackle by Eoghan Nolan started a move that ended with clubmate Glen Malone coming forward for a point, and his fellow defender Conor Carty duly equalised after Waterford's Jack Mullaney lost possession from the subsequent short kick-out.

Jonathan Bealin then pointed a free on the left wing after our neighbours were penalised for a line ball that didn't travel the required distance (0-10 to 2-3), but it all went pear-shaped from the kick-out.

That was won by Seán O'Donovan who moved the ball on to Fearghal Ó Cuirrín with what seemed like acres of open road to run into, and the speedster bore down on the Clonard end goal before rattling the net again with a composed low finish.

Substitute Barry O'Connor pulled back a point with his first kick, but over ten scoreless minutes featuring poor football from both sides followed before the fourth, game-clinching Waterford goal.

It came from another break, as Joe Allen found Shane Ahearne whose first-time kick off the ground seemed to loop off the lower body of the unfortunate Jonathan Bealin and end up in the net (4-3 to 0-11).

O'Connor kicked what proved to be the last Wexford point, with Tommy Prendergast left in glorious isolation to respond from a crossfield Ahearne pass before the humiliation was well and truly completed.

That happened in the 67th minute when the Wexford defence was cut to pieces once more, with Prendergast, Conor Murray and Jack Mullaney exchanging passes before Murray got on the end of the move again and palmed the ball into a gaping net (5-4 to 0-12).

Wides followed from Daithí Waters and Bealin, while a ball into the square was gathered by substitute David Shannon whose attempt for a consolation goal was smothered by Aaron Beresford.

Only the lenience of referee John Hickey, and the retaliation from Joe Allen, saved Waters from a possible red card for a dangerous challenge on Brian Looby deep in added time, with the former pair shown yellow cards instead.

John Tubritt plus Waterford's Dylan Guiry and Jack Mullaney had been booked earlier on an afternoon when Wexford were awarded ten of the game's 23 frees.

The losers now travel to Aughrim on Saturday for round five against Wicklow, with morale lower than it has ever been.

While the league is a complete write-off at this stage, pride alone should ensure a determination to improve in the last three games and shake off that horrible unwanted tag of currently being 32nd and last of the competing teams. Surely Wexford football is better than that.

Wexford: Matt Doyle; Michael Furlong (capt.), Gavin Sheehan, Conor Carty (0-1); Glen Malone (0-1), Brian Malone, Martin O'Connor; Daithí Waters, Niall Hughes; Conor Devitt, Kevin O'Grady, Eoghan Nolan (0-2); John Tubritt (0-1), Jonathan Bealin (0-5, 2 frees, 1 mark), Ben Brosnan. Subs. - Tiarnan Rossiter for O'Connor, inj. (16), Cathal Devereux for Tubritt (50), Barry O'Connor (0-2) for Devitt (53), David Shannon for O'Grady (63), Michael O'Regan for Brosnan (67).

Waterford: Aaron Beresford; Seán O'Donovan, Ray Ó Ceallaigh, James McGrath; Seán Whelan-Barrett, Michael Curry, Jason Gleeson (0-1); Shane Ahearne (1-1, 0-1 '45), Tommy Prendergast (0-1); Conor Murray (1-0), Brian Looby, Fearghal Ó Cuirrín (2-0); Jack Mullaney, Jason Curry (0-1), Dylan Guiry (1-0). Subs. - J.J. Hutchinson for J. Curry (HT), Joe Allen for Whelan-Barrett (49), Eoin O'Brien for Ó Cuirrín, inj. (62), Kieran Power for Gleeson (70), Corey Kennedy for Prendergast (70+4).

Referee: John Hickey (Carlow).

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