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Monday 22 April 2019

Wexford hold on for victory

GAA Allianz Football League Division 4 Round 6: Wexford 0-14 Limerick 1-10

Conor Devitt looking for a colleague to lend some support to this attacking move
Conor Devitt looking for a colleague to lend some support to this attacking move

After leading from the 45th second onwards, it would have been rough justice on Wexford if they hadn't held on to take both points from this dead rubber Allianz Football League Division 4 game watched by a paltry official attendance of 102 in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.

And yet, they seemed certain to leave with only a share of the spoils when lively Limerick substitute Seán McSweeney called for a mark from an accurate long delivery by captain Iain Corbett in the third added minute.

The new arrival had already accounted for 1-1 as the visitors erased Wexford's healthy 0-14 to 0-8 lead to grab three scores on the trot and make it a one-point game.

He was only 20 metres out, slightly to the right of the posts and with the wind behind him, but his left-footed effort never turned in and instead resulted in Limerick's twelfth wide in all, and ninth of the second-half.

There was still some defending to do from Matt Doyle's kick-out, but a rival player carried the ball over the sideline on the uncovered stand side to deny the Munster men one last chance to launch another attack.

The final whistle that followed ensured that Wexford had won two league games back-to-back for the first time in Paul McLoughlin's managerial reign, and they now lie fourth in the table before Saturday's long trip to Owenbeg to face Division 4 finalists Derry which will complete the programme.

All involved will realise that they were steeped to avoid a draw at the death, as it was a bad miss on McSweeney's part from such a handy scoring position.

Nonetheless, nobody could dispute the reality that Wexford were due a bit of luck as well at some point in what has been a trying campaign, and their performance up to the 56th minute, when they scored for the last time, certainly merited the win that followed.

The team was unchanged from the victory over Wicklow, with the only tweak coming up front where Ben Brosnan and Barry O'Connor switched starting positions.

Wexford captain Michael Furlong won the toss and opted to play with the wind blowing towards the town end first, and this proved a particularly wise choice given the fact that the weather had improved significantly by the second-half.

Arguably the best feature of the home side's play was their patience in getting their more accurate shooters on the ball, and this tactic yielded a brace of points apiece before the break for Jonathan Bealin and Conor Devitt.

The two newcomers to inter-county football have already made themselves indispensable figures on the team. And while the Castletown attacker's astute finishing had been clear already in some of the earlier rounds, this was a break-out game for Devitt who doubled his personal tally after the interval to finish with an excellent points from play.

Eoghan Nolan had got the team off the mark in the 45th second from a Daithí Waters handpass, and he then nailed the first of two superbly-struck '45s to double the lead.

Peter Nash opened Limerick's account from a free in the fifth minute after a foul on his marauding captain, Iain Corbett, but the next four points were recorded by Wexford.

Eoghan Nolan had been unfortunate to strike the post with a point attempt, and the first of just two Wexford wides followed from Ben Brosnan before a fine block by Gavin Sheehan denied Jim Liston a possible chance of an equaliser.

Conor Devitt set up the chance for Jonathan Bealin to extend the gap to 0-3 to 0-1 in the eleventh minute, and the latter fired over again from the re-start after a mark and strong run by right half-back Glen Malone.

Wexford's big goal chance of the game arrived in the 14th minute in a move that featured Bealin, Niall Hughes, Barry O'Connor and Brian Malone before Kevin O'Grady blazed over from close range (0-5 to 0-1).

Limerick were fortunate to survive that move with their net intact, and they fell behind by another point when Eoghan Nolan intercepted a short kick-out and earned a free that Bealin curled over from the left flank.

Another pointed Peter Nash free lifted the siege before Matt Doyle used his feet to save a shot on goal by the same player after a Jamie Lee pass in the 17th minute.

Conor Devitt's opening score came via a post after good work by Waters and Bealin, with Mark O'Neill then making a vital interception at the other end to ensure Stephen Keeley didn't present full-forward Patrick Begley with a goal chance.

Iain Corbett came forward twice to kick net points for the visitors, the first with his left peg and the second with his right, while Devitt registered his second after a Bealin mark in between, and Eoghan Nolan knocked over another '45 (0-9 to 0-4).

The second, and what proved to be the last, Wexford wide followed in the 30th minute from Bealin, but his side still led by five points at the break after a late exchange between Niall Hughes and Jamie Lee.

The wind didn't have the same bearing on proceedings on the re-start as the weather had settled down, but it was still a difficult task for Wexford to play into the elements, towards the Clonard end.

However, the start was very promising, as a fine crossfield pass by Jonathan Bealin picked out Conor Devitt for his third point (0-11 to 0-5).

A key moment arrived in the Limerick attack that followed, as Jamie Lee found Cillian Fahy who cut inside from the left but saw his powerful drive turned over the bar by netminder Matt Doyle.

The concession of a goal at that stage would have been a major blow, but the shot-stopping of the Glynn-Barntown number one saved the day.

The wides started to mount for Limerick, with three on the trot from that second-half total of nine including one ball driven into the side-netting from close range by Peter Nash.

Still, Wexford had cause to be worried when points from Nash and free-taker Jamie Lee reduced their lead to 0-11 to 0-8 by the 46th minute.

At a critical juncture in the game, the leaders produced a very bright spell of football when it was sorely needed, responding with three points on the trot to give them some breathing space that made all the difference given what followed.

Daithí Waters burst his way to the edge of the 'D' and earned a relieving free - Wexford's first of the second-half - that Bealin converted, and the latter's consistency was evident once more as he punished another foul, this time on Kevin O'Grady.

Bealin and Ben Brosnan then combined for the excellent Conor Devitt to make it 0-14 to 0-8 in the 56th minute, but some hairy moments followed for Wexford as Limerick launched that late burst.

It started with a Cillian Fahy point, but the key score arrived with eight minutes left when Darragh Treacy found substitute Seán McSweeney whose accurate daisy-cutter from around the 20-metre mark on the left flew into the far corner of Matt Doyle's net (0-14 to 1-9).

Limerick had the initiative but couldn't make the most of it, striking three more wides before Daithí Waters ended another one of their dangerous attacks with a vital interception on his own 45-metre line.

The game was 50 seconds into the three added minutes annnounced when Iain Corbett had a shot on goal well saved by Matt Doyle, but the play was called back for a free that Seán McSweeney converted off the ground to make it 0-14 to 1-10.

Just when the Limerick scorer looked on course to claim a place among the ranks of super-subs, he fluffed his lines from that late mark to leave Wexford with a 50% record from their six outings thus far.

For the record, Eoghan Nolan and Limerick's Stephen Keeley were the only two players booked in a game featuring 33 frees in total, 16 for the winners.

Wexford: Matt Doyle; Michael Furlong (capt.), Mark O'Neill, Gavin Sheehan; Glen Malone, Brian Malone, Conor Carty; Daithí Waters, Niall Hughes (0-1); Conor Devitt (0-4), Ben Brosnan, Eoghan Nolan (0-3, 2 '45s); Kevin O'Grady (0-1), Jonathan Bealin (0-5, 3 frees), Barry O'Connor. Subs. - Eoin Porter for Carty (60), Tiarnan Rossiter for Hughes (64).

Limerick: Donal O'Sullivan; Luke Murphy, Paul Maher, Seán O'Dea; Brian Fanning, Iain Corbett (capt., 0-2), Jim Liston; Darragh Treacy, Tommie Childs; Michael Fitzgibbon, Cillian Fahy (0-2), Stephen Keeley; Peter Nash (0-3, 2 frees), Patrick Begley, Jamie Lee (0-2, 1 free). Subs. - Seamus O'Carroll for Fitzgibbon (49), Adam Kerins for Childs (53), Tony McCarthy for Liston (57), Seán McSweeney (1-1, 0-1 free) for Begley (60), Adrian Enright for Keeley (63).

Referee: David Murnane (Cork).   

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