Wexford keep their cool in frantic finish
Wexford 0-22 Dublin 2-14
This new-look championship format is set to provide a lot of twists and turns over the next three weeks, but Wexford have utilised their get out of jail free card already after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a marvellously entertaining finish to Sunday's hard-fought Leinster round robin clash with Dublin in Innovate Wexford Park.
The home side had looked slightly superior to their rivals for a long stretch in the second-half but, no matter how hard they tried, it was an impossible task to extend the gap between them to anything higher than five points.
And the advantage stood at four when this tight contest took another significant twist in the 61st minute after a handpass across goal from the left corner by Fiontán McGibb was missed by Damien Reck and claimed by Paul Ryan.
Dublin's top scorer was under pressure to get his shot away, but he managed it with aplomb and blasted the ball to the far corner of the net after initially moving back towards the source of the pass in order to make room.
All of a sudden Wexford were just one point in front (0-18 to 2-11) and that most precious of commodities - momentum - was with the Dubs who had been fortunate that an apparent foul on the impressive Liam Ryan in the build-up was missed by referee Colm Lyons.
They underlined that point emphatically too, with Danny Sutcliffe driving the ball down the left flank for Liam Rushe to equalise with his only point in the 64th minute.
And when Aidan Nolan missed a pass from Mark Fanning in this helter-skelter finale, Sutcliffe availed of the error to put Dublin clear by 2-13 to 0-18 and raise their hopes of making up for the previous Sunday's galling late loss to Kilkenny.
This was the time for Wexford to really show what they were made of, and they responded with a powerful finish to lay their hands on a pair of precious group points.
Diarmuid O'Keeffe made a vital block on Sutcliffe when he took aim at the posts again, and the temperature rose even higher after a foul by Cian O'Callaghan on Harry Kehoe in that favoured spot for a flashpoint at the venue: in front of the main stand at midfield, close to the sideline.
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy even got a push from an irate Simon Donohoe before the Wexford free was finally taken almost two minutes after it was awarded.
And the coolest man on the field was young Rory O'Connor who did what he had been doing all afternoon by splitting the posts from 63 metres to make it 0-19 to 2-13.
Forty seconds later though, Wexford had to do it all over again after Dublin substitute Cian Boland handpassed to fellow replacement David Treacy who restored their lead.
Danny Sutcliffe caught the puck-out and was fouled, but the long-range free from Seán Moran was driven wide some 20 seconds into the three added minutes announced.
Mark Fanning's re-start was an exocet that landed around the D at the town end, and it was caught superbly by the athletic Kevin Foley who was duly impeded as defenders swarmed around him.
This was a far more straightforward task for Rory O'Connor, but his best was yet to come.
Cian Boland overcooked a pass for the 14th and final Dublin wide (Wexford had 13), and a pulsating struggle was finally decided by two Wexford points in a fruitful 40-second spell.
All eleven of Rory O'Connor's scores beforehand had arrived from frees, but he had one special strike left in his locker and it almost raised the roof off the stand.
He was deep inside his own half when he got on to the ball after good work initially from Shaun Murphy, but he had the confidence and self-belief to have a go from a central position and it was destined for the black spot from the moment the ball left his hurl.
Just to be sure of success, Murphy cut out the last Dublin attack and found Diarmuid O'Keeffe who soloed down the left before parting at the ideal time for substitute Harry Kehoe to pick off the last point.
It was an absolutely vital game for Wexford to win, and the manner of their finish will work wonders for morale while also deflating a Dublin group who must be wondering what exactly do they have to do in order to win tight championship games.
The victors hadn't the advantage of a tough contest beforehand, and it showed at times, but the key factor to note was that they gained the win in trying circumstances and now must move on quickly to seek a similar outcome away to Offaly on Saturday (7 p.m.).
While the method of short passing out of defence and working the ball from line to line can draw criticism if a move breaks down, by the same token it's extremely effective when it works and very hard for the opposition to deal with.
Damien Reck typified the value of such a gameplan more than most with some fine surges, while his general defending was also very sound apart from a couple of errors prior to the two Dublin goals.
Shaun Murphy also stepped up to the plate with his best use of possession as the extra defender thus far, and the mentors will move on to the next game knowing that the likes of Conor McDonald, Lee Chin and Paul Morris all have a lot more to offer in attack.
Chin won the toss and Wexford played towards the Clonard end first, with the sides level twice early on before a run of three points from two Rory O'Connor frees, with a Morris strike from play sandwiched in between, put their side 5-2 clear by the twelfth minute.
Chin and O'Connor (free) had responded earlier to Dublin scores from a brace of Paul Ryan frees, but the leaders were rocked by the concession of an equalising goal in the 13th minute.
It came after a Reck handpass in defence was intercepted by Danny Sutcliffe who popped the ball to Ryan. His shot was blocked bravely by his namesake, Liam, but it broke kindly for Rian McBride who swept the ball to the net.
Rory O'Connor restored the lead from another free before Pádraig Foley fired over a beauty from long range on the left after playing a one-two of handpasses with Shaun Murphy in a tight area (0-7 to 1-2).
That score was needlessly cancelled as referee Colm Lyons spotted some off-the-ball holding on the 45-metre line prior to Alan Nolan's puck-out, and it resulted in a handy free for Paul Ryan.
He knocked over another after a rather soft award, but O'Connor made it 0-8 to 1-4 before striking his sole miss via a placed ball, from long range.
Wexford were punished for some wayward efforts at points, with Dublin edging into a slender lead after Jake Malone and Paddy Smyth fired over in the 32nd and 33rd minutes.
The home side's only first-half goal chance arrived on their next attack when Conor McDonald played a beautiful ball from the left into the path of Kevin Foley who joined the attack at full speed.
He in turn passed across for Paul Morris, but netminder Alan Nolan was off his line in a flash to make himself big and avert the danger.
McDonald, Jack O'Connor and, finally, Lee Chin were all tried as the inside attacker in the course of that half, and at least it ended well as Rory O'Connor brought his haul to seven points from frees with another couple to leave Wexford ahead by 0-10 to 1-6 at half-time.
Big brother Jack widened the gap to two just 17 seconds into the new period, but Dublin drew level after a converted Paul Ryan free was followed by a Rian McBride point from play.
A decent surge followed from the home side, with five scores added without reply between the 40th and 51st minutes.
Diarmuid O'Keeffe set up Aidan Nolan for the lead score before registering one himself after an initial probing ball from Nolan to Conor McDonald in the left corner (0-13 to 1-8).
Rory O'Connor and Pádraig Foley then landed frees before another from the former created that game-high gap of five towards the end of the third quarter.
A Paul Ryan '65, conceded in error by Mark Fanning, stopped the rot from Dublin's point of view, with Alan Nolan darting out again to ensure Rory O'Connor couldn't profit from Kevin Foley's flicked pass before a solo Cian Boland effort made it 0-16 to 1-10.
And although Chin and Foley restored that five-point lead, Dublin simply wouldn't go away and pulled back one courtesy of free-taker Ryan prior to that second goal.
Wexford had a chance in between after a delivery from Damien Reck fell for Paul Morris, but his pull was stopped and Diarmuid O'Keeffe fired his third wide seconds later from a Harry Kehoe pass.
It was all hands on deck in that energy-sapping conclusion, and it was a vitally important game to win because Wexford will know all too well that it was far from a foregone conclusion until that late insurance point from Kehoe.
And winning by such a tight margin in that heart-stopping fashion was considerably better than enjoying a stroll, something that was never going to happen to give the vastly under-rated Dublin their deserved dues.
With precious little time for anything else bar recovery, supporters will be on the road in big numbers to O'Connor Park in Tullamore next Saturday for the clash with bottom-of-the-table Offaly who drew the short straw with two opening round encounters against Galway and Kilkenny respectively.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Damien Reck; Shaun Murphy; Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1), Pádraig Foley (0-2, 1 free), Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.); Kevin Foley (0-1), Aidan Nolan (0-1); Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-2), Rory O'Connor (0-12, 11 frees), Jack O'Connor (0-1); Conor McDonald, Paul Morris (0-1). Subs. - Harry Kehoe (0-1) for McDonald (55), Cathal Dunbar for Morris (61).
Dublin: Alan Nolan; Bill O'Carroll, Cian O'Callaghan, Paddy Smyth (0-1); Chris Crummey (capt.), Seán Moran, Eoghan O'Donnell; Shane Barrett, Jake Malone (0-1); Rian McBride (1-1), Danny Sutcliffe (0-1), Fiontán McGibb; Paul Ryan (1-7, 0-6 frees, 0-1 '65), Liam Rushe (0-1), Fergal Whitely. Subs. - Tomás Connolly for Barrett (43), Cian Boland (0-1) for Whitely (43), David Treacy (0-1) for O'Carroll (51), Ronan Hayes for McBride (60), Paul Winters for McGibb (69).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).