Wexford kick themselves out of contention
WEXFORD KICKED themselves out of contention for a place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland Senior football championship on a frustrating Saturday evening in Wexford Park when aimless shooting left them two points in arrears of Laois in a round three qualifier which was there for the taking.
No further analysis of this game is necessary after reading the wides count of 16 for the losers and just two for the far more economical victors who managed to advance despite conceding two giveaway first-half goals. Wexford were off target the grand total of 12 times in that opening period alone, and it will take more than the return of club fare next weekend to assist the players in getting this galling defeat out of their systems.
On a perfect evening for supporters and albeit an energy-sapping one for players, the home side went in at the break leading by 2-4 to 0-9 but this in itself didn't go close to telling the full story by that stage. While two Laois defensive errors were punished with a brace of well-taken goals, the midlanders had sent every chance they got over the bar in a faultless display of finishing, whereas the Wexford attack missed chance after chance.
It was particularly hard to take given the fact that the quality of ball being played inside was of a better than usual standard, and most importantly it was being delivered at pace without recourse to the debilitating crossfield passing around the middle third of old. However, no fewer than nine players contributed to the list of misses before the break, with Redmond Barry (three, one free), P.J. Banville (two), Paddy Byrne, David Murphy, Adrian Flynn, Ciarán Lyng, Brian Malone, Rory Quinlivan and Conor Carty all included.
The list of wides included one tackle on Banville which forced him over the endline and two over-cooked passes from Barry and Quinlivan, but the remainder were shots at the target which didn't reach their intended destination. And it meant that the home side held that slender interval lead when in fact they could and should have been at least six or seven points in the ascendancy.
Banville needed a mere 18 seconds to open their account with a high kick from the left corner, with Laois replying quickly as Minor star Evan O'Carroll re-paid the faith shown in him by manager Justin McNulty who started him ahead of Donie Kingston.
The first wide was kicked by Paddy Byrne in the third minute, but he was involved in a more productive move 60 seconds later when a David Murphy interception ended with Aindreas Doyle kicking the lead point off his less-favoured right boot.
Laois free-taker David Conway responded after Michael Furlong fouled Ross Munnelly, and the visitors hit the front for the first time in the eighth minute when Munnelly obliged from another free which was brought forward for dissent (0-3 to 0-2).
Conway doubled their lead after Robert Tierney impeded the diminutive corner-forward, with wides from Redmond Barry and David Murphy on either side of that score before Wexford struck for the first of their goals.
It arrived in the 14th minute when a sweet crossfield pass by Redmond Barry deceived Laois corner-back Peter O'Leary who got caught in no man's land under the flight of the ball. It arrived in Ciarán Lyng's arms and he bore down on goal before calmly handpassing to his right at the perfect time and P.J. Banville side-footed a low shot to the net for a 1-2 to 0-4 lead.
Barry followed up with wides from an attempted pass and a free before Laois levelled through Ross Munnelly after a high David Conway free from the left was collected by Conor Meredith who delivered the pass.
Adrian Flynn and Ciarán Lyng were next to contribute to the list of missed chances, but there was further cause for delight in the 20th minute when Laois over-played the ball trying to break out of defence and Colm Begley was caught in possession. Redmond Barry again delivered the telling pass for Adrian Flynn who was in an advanced position and picked his spot beyond Eoin Culliton to steer the Slaneysiders into a 2-2 to 0-5 advantage.
They kicked on for a spell after that tonic with two points from Ciarán Lyng, the first from a free after a push on P.J. Banville and the second from play after a one-two with Conor Carty.
However, that game-high lead of five points was quickly erased as Wexford didn't score again in the first-half after the 22nd minute whereas Laois pulled back four.
Ross Munnelly converted a free when Rory Quinlivan fouled Pádraig Clancy, with Brian Malone and P.J. Banville squandering chances at the other end before Munnelly kicked a neat effort from play after a raking long pass from Conor Meredith was cleverly palmed into his path by David Conway.
Good work on the endline by Conway, beating Graeme Molloy at the second attempt, set up Colm Begley for another point, with Quinlivan and Conor Carty bringing the wides figure to twelve before Munnelly made it 2-4 to 0-9 from a free shortly after Molloy blocked a shot on goal by wing-back Darren Strong.
While the wides were reduced to four on the re-start, courtesy of P.J. Banville, Ciarán Lyng (free), substitute James Holmes and Redmond Barry (free), an additional problem was the number of kicks - four in all - sent short to a grateful goalkeeper from Aindreas Doyle, Lyng and another replacement, Ben Brosnan (two).
Having said that, Wexford did open brightly when Rory Quinlivan picked out Conor Carty for a point after 70 seconds, but Laois were level by the 41st minute. Daithí Waters, who had a compelling battle with Laois captain John O'Loughlin, was punished for losing the ball in an attacking position when Colm Begley pointed on the breakaway, with David Conway equalising from a free after David Murphy fouled Conor Meredith.
The advantage was restored via a Ciarán Lyng free after Rory Quinlivan was illegally stopped in his tracks, but Laois countered via Ross Munnelly after Paddy Byrne gave the ball away to make it 0-12 to 2-6 in the 45th minute.
Shortly afterwards Wexford had their best goal chance of the half at a critical stage after Brian Malone worked hard along the endline and passed outside to Byrne. However, his low shot was well saved by Eoin Culliton and P.J. Banville was inches away from directing the rebound on target.
Colm Begley edged Laois in front by 0-13 to 2-6, and Banville should have done better with another chance in the 51st minute when his weak soccer-style effort was easily stopped by Culliton after Ciarán Lyng and Ben Brosnan combined to play him through.
Munnelly duly left two between them from a free awarded for a foul by Robert Tierney on Donie Kingston, and Wexford's evening was summed up with 15 minutes left when a handy free for Lyng was hooked high and wide after Graeme Molloy was tripped on a run forward by Evan O'Carroll who earned a booking.
Ben Brosnan had been introduced early in the half for Aindreas Doyle, and the next change saw James Holmes come in for Tierney with Conor Carty moving back into a defensive role.
Holmes and Paddy Byrne featured in the move which ended in a point for Lyng, but Munnelly punished another indiscretion by David Murphy as Shane Roche entered the fray for P.J. Banville.
The unfortunate Kevin Gore lasted just three minutes after his arrival for Paddy Byrne before being stretchered off with an injury and being replaced by Seán Culleton. Hopes of extra-time for the second week running rose when Molloy joined the attack again and Adrian Flynn tapped a pass to Lyng who reduced the gap to the minimum with just over one minute of normal time left.
However, Laois had the last say on the scoreboard when Donie Kingston and Conor Meredith combined to give substitute Colm Kelly a one-on-one confrontation with Anthony Masterson, but the netminder timed his dive to perfection and did very well to deflect the shot from point-blank range over the bar.
There was still slight hope with four minutes of added time to be played, but the ball was given away twice in attacking positions before Redmond Barry kicked a late free wide to sum up the chief problem afflicting Wexford on a gut-wrenching evening for the players.