Wednesday 13 December 2017

Wexford nearly let it slip

Footballers recover to win after second-half collapse

Alan Aherne

Ben Brosnan taking on Waterford captain Tommy Prendergast
Ben Brosnan taking on Waterford captain Tommy Prendergast
Eoghan Nolan off-loads the ball on Saturday with club colleague Simon Donohoe in the background
Syl Byrne applies heavy pressure on Waterford defender Tadhg O hUallacháin

The Wexford Senior footballers nose-dived from a position of complete control to one of near-panic during a dramatic second-half in Fraher Field, Dungarvan, on Saturday.

Wexford 0-12 Waterford 0-11

Thankfully though, they steadied the ship after a priceless long-range point from a Michael O'Regan free, edging past a frustrated Waterford side to claim a third win from four outings in Division 4 of the Allianz League.

Indeed, it ended up being a very productive weekend on the whole for David Power and his charges, as Leitrim surprised Louth on Sunday to leave Wexford and the Wee county deadlocked on six points, with Antrim now out on their own at the top on eight.

It looked like a straightforward victory was on the cards when a fourth point from play by the outstanding Donal Shanley left the visitors 10-4 clear in the 44th minute. However, they completely lost their way for a long stretch thereafter as Waterford surged towards the Colligan River end goal in waves and picked off six unanswered points to draw level.

In actual fact, it took a magnificent near-post save from Anthony Masterson, acrobatically turning a Paul Whyte piledriver over the bar in the 63rd minute, to prevent Wexford from falling behind.

That point left them clinging to a 10-9 lead, but the locals had all the momentum. And when Donie Breathnach's pass found substitute J.J. Hutchinson who hooked over the equaliser with his first touch, Wexford were faced with a nightmare scenario.

Happily, there was a repeat of the first round showing against Leitrim in Bellefield as they battled their way to another one-point win, finding their feet again when it was needed most. The key moment arrived in the 67th minute when Waterford's Tadhg O hUallacháin was booked for a challenge on substitute Colm Kehoe in front of the posts roughly 52 metres out.

With Donal Shanley withdrawn earlier as a result of fatigue due to his heavy recent schedule, it was left to Michael O'Regan to step up to a most difficult kick off the ground. Not alone did he direct it over the black spot, but he managed it with yards to spare as the small Wexford support in the stand roared their approval.

The Slaneysiders' fifth wide of the half, and ninth in all (Waterford had five) followed when a Ben Brosnan effort to the far post went off O'Regan's fingertips. It was now a case of who would blink first, with Waterford seeking the leveller while Wexford looked for an insurance score.

Colm Kehoe lost possession in the last minute of normal time, but when the same thing happened to Waterford's Donie Breathnach as they attacked, Wexford made the most of it. A crossfield Brosnan pass found substitute Adrian Flynn in the right corner, and he showed a lot of composure before picking off another vital point which added to Waterford's frustration.

The three added minutes were still filled with anxiety, with Anthony Masterson catching a Paul Whyte free under the angle of post and crossbar before J.J. Hutchinson had a shot blocked for a '45 after Eoghan Nolan spilled possession.

That placed ball was converted by Whyte, but Waterford couldn't engineer another chance in the 55 seconds that followed as Wexford held on to win two successive league games under David Power for the first time. It only happened once before in all competitions - in last year's O'Byrne Cup versus I.T. Carlow and Wicklow.

Saturday's first-half was all about Donal Shanley as the skilful St. Fintan's youngster bounced back from the midweek Under-21 disappointment with a stellar show. He accounted for all of Wexford's points as they established a 6-3 interval lead, with three coming from play - one via the left boot and two off the right.

The defenders - including an all-Shelmaliers half-back trio which must be a rarity for this level of football - also deserved credit for their work as Waterford failed to score from play.

An early attempt from Donie Breathnach did rebound off the post before Shanley opened his account with a high kick from a Michael O'Regan off-load after a Tiarnan Rossiter pass in the fourth minute.

He made it two when Rossiter caught the resultant kick-out and was fouled, but Paul Whyte replied in the sixth minute. The Kilrossanty clubman was prolific for the losers but the last laugh went to another man from that part of the country around Lemybrien, Wexford selector Mick Walsh, who captained Waterford during his own playing days in the 1980s.

A second Whyte free, after an apparent harsh call against Robbie Vallejo, levelled matters in the eleventh minute, before a trademark Brian Malone burst forward nearly secured a goal.

He played a one-two with John Tubritt and was man-handled as he pulled no trigger, with the shot saved and the action called back for a free which Shanley duly converted.

Wexford's sole marksman showed his human side with a miss from a 45-metre placed ball before Ben Brosnan was short with a point attempt, but Waterford then hit their second and third wides.

Another foul on Malone led to a yellow card for sweeper Tommy Prendergast and Shanley's fourth point in the 22nd minute. The fourth Waterford wide which followed was notable for the fact that 25 of the 30 players were inside the Wexford '45 at the time.

Anthony Masterson fisted a high, dangerous Patrick Hurney kick clear before John Tubritt - part of a two-man full-forward line with Michael O'Regan - played a crossfield pass from the right to Shanley who split the posts with his left peg (0-5 to 0-2).

O'Regan and Shanley (free) posted wides while Waterford also added a fifth before a foul by Syl Byrne led to Paul Whyte's third and final score of the half.

However, there was still time for Shanley to make it 6-3 and then send another free wide, with the point coming from play in the 33rd minute after O'Regan was fouled and quickly delivered the ball into the right corner. That miss came after a comical moment when Waterford goalkeeper Stephen Enright soloed almost to the 60-metre mark before fouling the ball, and then the home side conceded further yardage owing to dissent.

Waterford, who were without any players from club champions Stradbally due to an ongoing dispute with the County Board, finally opened their account from play just 20 seconds into the new half when Ray O Ceallaigh set up fellow half-back Stephen Prendergast to make it 6-4.

However, Wexford responded with four points on the trot and really should have been able to make the game safe from that position. John Tubritt took some of the scoring pressure away from Donal Shanley from a Syl Byrne delivery before Robbie Vallejo timed a handpass off his shoulder to perfection and Ben Brosnan raced away to widen the gap to four.

Daithí Waters, whose influence grew in the second-half, found Tubritt who handpassed to Kieran Butler, but his low shot from the right corner went across goal and wide.

Shanley then returned to the scoresheet after that brief rest, converting his fourth free after a foul on O'Regan before making it 10-4 when the same player fed him in open play.

Nobody could have seen it coming, but Waterford then took over. Joey Veale bundled a Paul Whyte free to the net in the 46th minute, but the referee's whistle thankfully signalled a free out.

A tiring Donal Shanley then fired a free wide and landed an effort from play short before Whyte pulled back two pointed frees. Shanley missed another placed ball and Ben Brosnan's point effort came off the post before Whyte kicked his best free from the right corner with his left boot, having used his other foot for the earlier efforts (10-7).

A ball touched on the ground, after Anthony Masterson seemed to misjudge a long-range Whyte free, led to an easy tap-over for the latter in the 58th minute.

Adrian Flynn was short with two efforts in quick succession before John Tubritt kicked a wide, and Masterson's superb tip-over save followed after Joey Veale laid off a Michael O'Halloran punt forward to Whyte (10-9).

The equaliser quickly followed from J.J. Hutchinson, but Wexford's guile got them through in the end by the skin of their teeth.

Wexford: Anthony Masterson; Joey Wadding, Naomhan Rossiter, Robbie Vallejo; Brian Malone (capt.), Eoghan Nolan, Simon Donohoe; Syl Byrne, Daithí Waters; Kieran Butler, Donal Shanley (0-8, 4 frees), Tiarnan Rossiter; John Tubritt (0-1), Michael O'Regan (0-1 free), Ben Brosnan (0-1). Subs. - Adrian Flynn (0-1) for Shanley (56), Colm Kehoe for Byrne (59), Kevin Rowe for Butler (61), Paul Curtis for T. Rossiter (64), Rob Tierney for Vallejo (68).

Waterford: Stephen Enright; James McGrath, Maurice O'Gorman, Tadhg O hUallacháin; Ray O Ceallaigh, Stephen Prendergast (0-1), Brian Looby; Tommy Prendergast (capt.), Conor Prunty; Gavin Crotty, Donie Breathnach, Michael Curry; Joey Veale, Patrick Hurney, Paul Whyte (0-9, 7 frees, 1 '45). Subs. - Michael O'Halloran for O Ceallaigh (51), Peter Crowley for McGrath (58), Shaun Corcoran for Veale (63), J.J. Hutchinson (0-1) for Hurney (63).

Referee: Shane Hehir (Galway).

Wexford People

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