Wexford recovery stuns Louth
EirGrid Leinster U20 Football Championship Q-final: Wexford 3-10 Louth 0-16
There was more than enough drama for Wexford supporters in Croke Park on Sunday week, but anyone looking for a little bit more got it in spades in the Gaelic Grounds, Drogheda, two nights later when a precious late penalty goal secured an EirGrid Leinster championship semi-final spot for the Under-20 footballers.
This game had just about everything, with the visitors gifted two bizarre first-half goals to help them on their way to an eight-point interval lead.
The margin rose quickly to ten on the re-start, but then it all went wrong as home side Louth came at Wexford in waves and hit eleven of the next twelve points to draw level in the 58th minute.
All of the momentum had shifted towards the Wee county, but there was another twist in the tale in added time.
Louth captain Fearghal Malone had a free around midfield but, frustrated by the lack of movement around him, he gave possession away cheaply.
Wexford took advantage, with Seán Nolan, Cathal Kirwan and James Kelly featuring in a swift passing exchange towards the town end before Michael Molloy was hauled back as he kicked the ball over the bar.
Referee Barry Tiernan chose to award the penalty rather than the point, and that left top scorer Jamie Myler with a decision to make.
Should he tap the spot-kick over the bar, or go for the jugular instead?
Fortune favours the brave, and the dangerous attacker had the courage to send goalkeeper Cillian Rice the wrong way and direct the ball low into the right corner of the net.
Wexford still had to play through another four and a half added minutes, but Liam Coleman claimed a crucial mark from a Darragh Brooks kick-out, and the latter then came out of goal to take two successive '45s after a Myler kick was initially blocked.
The first was dropped over his endline by the Louth netminder, while the second led to Wexford's eighth wide, but the most important thing was that the clock was ticking down and Louth had no more opportunities to seek an equalising goal.
Hindsight tells us that this exciting contest shouldn't have come as any surprise, bearing in mind that their 2017 clash in the Leinster Minor semi-final in Innovate Wexford Park was won by Louth on a 4-10 to 2-15 scoreline.
The teams brought out the best in each other again, and this was an extremely impressive win for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it arrived after a long trip via the M50 on a busy week day, hardly the ideal preparation for a game of this magnitude.
Secondly, the side started without influential wing-back Páraic Hughes, who injured his ankle in a club hurling game eight days earlier.
Just to make matters even worse, his defensive colleague and team captain Eoin Porter only lasted seven minutes before a tightening of his right hamstring forced him off.
The other factor to consider is that these young men would more than likely have been caught up in some shape or form in the Croke Park celebrations two days earlier, something they were quite entitled to do, just like the rest of us.
With all of those factors at play, lady luck kindly decided to jump on the Wexford bandwagon too, because to score two gift-wrapped goals in the first-half was surely unprecedented.
One might come along every now and then, but two in 22 minutes is indeed a rare occurrence.
The first arrived with the teams deadlocked on 0-2 each, after pointed frees by Horeswood colleagues Seán Nolan and Jamie Myler coming on either side of a Louth brace from a Fearghal Malone '45 and Liam Jackson.
That opening Louth score arrived after Wexford goalkeeper Darragh Brooks did very well to turn a Ben McKenna shot around his left post, but his netminding prowess wasn't replicated at the other end.
A Seán Forde handpass found Jamie Myler who was forced on to his less-favoured right foot, and his hopeful kick for a point was clearly dropping short.
Louth goalkeeper Cillian Rice seemed to completely misjudge the space between him and his near post though, and it looked like he thought the ball was going to tail wide.
Instead it arced in over his head to the net for a giveaway goal, pushing Wexford into a 1-2 to 0-2 lead.
They had been forced to re-group in defence by that stage after Porter's departure, with Gavin Sheehan moving out to centre-back, last year's Minor captain Ciarán Kavanagh going to the edge of the square, and Killian Pierce introduced in the corner.
Wexford made the most of their good fortune after that goal, with Myler posing such a threat that his direct marker was taken off after a mere 14 minutes.
Liam Coleman kicked a brilliant point from the right sideline after a mark, while Seán Forde added a point too before Myler latched on to a Seán Nolan free and turned swiftly on to his left peg before splitting the posts.
Louth wing-back Lenny Grey had managed one response, and further points from Keelan O'Neill and a John Gallagher free kept the home side in touch (1-5 to 0-5).
However, Wexford dominated the last nine minutes of the half, even though Myler drove a shot on goal into the side-netting after good work by Liam Coleman and Seán Nolan.
Darragh Brooks was called upfield to plant a '45 between the posts, and Myler made it 1-7 to 0-5 from a Ben Maddock pass before the latter played an unintended key role in the second Wexford goal.
The St. Martin's lad sent in a delivery into that no man's land between the posts and the edge of the square, but that earlier soft goal clearly induced panic in the Louth rearguard.
Corner-back Dan Corcoran - one of three Senior panel members in their back line along with Lenny Grey and Eoghan Callaghan - tried to fist the ball clear, but it came off the back of his hand and went past a flat-footed and surprised netminder to the net (2-7 to 0-5).
The situation improved even more inside three minutes of the re-start as Michael Molloy and Seán Nolan (free) widened the gap to ten, although an off-balance Corcoran came close to atoning for his error in between with a shot that tailed wide.
However, the remainder of the half right up to added time was fraught from a Wexford viewpoint.
They struggled to get the ball beyond midfield or to win Darragh Brooks' kick-outs which generally went long, save for one Liam Coleman mark.
In contrast, Pierse Hawkins (twice), Fearghal Malone and Ciarán McGlynn all plucked re-starts from the clouds as Louth came storming back.
Conor Gillespie started their revival with a point before it took a brave block by Liam O'Connor to deny John Gallagher a goal.
Gillespie (free) made it 2-9 to 0-7 before a rare Wexford attack saw a goalbound Michael Molloy shot saved at the expense of a '45 that Liam Coleman kicked wide.
Sensing that all was not lost, Louth pressed again and Fearghal Malone, John Gallagher (free and play) made it a five-point game by the 43rd minute.
Wing-back Enda Minogue has made it a welcome habit to venture forward and kick neat points of late, and he did it at a vital time near the end of the third quarter to momentarily ease some pressure after good work by Michael Molloy and Ben Maddock (2-10 to 0-10).
However, Louth were undaunted, and the smart money would have been on them to succeed when they rattled off six points in 14 minutes to equalise, with John Gallagher on fire in the right corner.
He hit three, while centre-back Eoghan Callaghan surged forward for one, substitute Shane Hickey scored with his first touch, and captain Malone levelled from a brilliant free via the ground after Liam O'Connor was black-carded for a tired tackle.
Darragh Brooks had also denied Liam Jackson a goal with a crucial save, but the siege was finally lifted.
A Jamie Myler free dropped short and was cleared before he got that big chance to snatch victory in added time, and his nerve held with that calm finish to seal a semi-final clash with Dublin in Parnell Park at 7.30 p.m. tonight (Tuesday).
Wexford: Darragh Brooks (Castletown, 0-1 '45); Ciarán Kavanagh (HWH-Bunclody), Gavin Sheehan (Gusserane), Liam O'Connor (St. Mary's, Rosslare); Byron Byrne (HWH-Bunclody), Eoin Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, capt.), Enda Minogue (Ballyhogue, 0-1); Ben Maddock (St. Martin's), Liam Coleman (Castletown, 0-1); Dylan McVeigh (Starlights), Adam Hogan (HWH-Bunclody), Michael Molloy (Kilanerin, 0-1); Jamie Myler (Horeswood, 2-3, 1-0 pen., 0-1 free), Seán Forde (Kilanerin, 0-1), Seán Nolan (Horeswood, 0-2 frees). Subs. - Killian Pierce (Castletown) for Porter, inj. (7), James Kelly (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy) for McVeigh, temp. (17-19), James Kelly for Hogan (50), Peter Kelly (Ballyhogue) for Maddock (50), Cathal Kirwan (Sarsfields) for O'Connor, black card (58), Dean Doyle (Ballyhogue) for McVeigh (60+1).
Louth: Cillian Rice; Dan Corcoran (own goal), Joe Mee, Owen Lennon; Lenny Grey (0-1), Eoghan Callaghan (0-1), Ciarán McGlynn; Fearghal Malone (capt., 0-3, 1 '45, 1 free), Pierse Hawkins; Gerry Gartland, Liam Jackson (0-1), Ben McKenna; Keelan O'Neill (0-1), Conor Gillespie (0-2, 1 free), John Gallagher (0-6, 2 frees). Subs. - Donal McKenny for Lennon (14), Ciarán Keenan for McKenna (19), Shane Hickey (0-1) for Jackson (50), Adam Hanratty for Gartland (60+4).
Referee: Barry Tiernan (Dublin).