Wexford return to Division 4
Derry 2-20 Wexford 3-8
Wexford's immediate return to Division 4 of the Allianz Football League was confirmed before a tiny crowd of 446 in Celtic Park on Sunday when their sixth successive defeat of the campaign erased the last slim chance of survival.
The visitors still had four points to play for when they made the long journey north, but the outcome means that their concluding tie when they host Armagh this coming weekend will be a dead rubber.
In reality, they never looked like getting the victory they needed despite scoring three second-half goals, as Derry were full value for their winning margin of nine points - Wexford's biggest defeat of the campaign.
The one bright aspect of the losers' display was the excellent performance of young Barry O'Connor who kicked three glorious first-half points from play and was central to most promising moves after a switch from the tight confines of right corner-forward to midfield.
The Derry folk in the small attendance will remember his name long after the minutiae of the game are forgotten, although they had a star of their own too in attack-minded number eight Conor McAtamney who finished with an impressive six points from play.
Their Slaughtneil contingent are being gradually re-introduced to the fold also, with Pádraig Cassidy, Karl McKaigue and half-time substitute Shane McGuigan all making telling contributions.
With Wexford minus the services of captain Daithí Waters and Brian Malone, who were attending Ciarán Lyng's wedding in Spain, along with the suspended Ben Brosnan, it meant that Conor Carty was the only member of the starting 15 with 50 appearances or more for the county.
He was joined in that respect for the second-half by Tiarnan Rossiter, but in general terms this was a team with precious little experience of taking on an Ulster side in their own back yard.
The team showed four changes from that which started in the loss to Offaly, with Malone, Rossiter, Brosnan and Craig McCabe replaced by league debutant Alan Nolan, Shane Doyle, Barry O'Gorman and the man of the moment, Barry O'Connor.
And although Wexford had bright spells in both halves, they weren't sustained and the Derry attack found it too easy to split the defence wide open and pick off points at will.
There was definitely going to be no recovery when the visitors trailed by 2-8 to 0-7 at half-time after playing with the wind blowing into the Brandywell end, and they hit an unusual tally of 3-1 thereafter, with the point not arriving until deep into added time from a Paul Curtis free.
Wexford nearly struck for a freak early goal, as a Conor Carty placed ball just 46 seconds in gathered pace with the elements behind it and cannoned off the near post when netminder Ben McKinless appeared to think it was going wide.
Last year's Minor, Pádraig McGrogan, slotted into the sweeper role for the locals who set out their stall with points from Conor McAtamney and a fisted effort by Benny Heron after the former's kick dropped short.
After James Stafford kicked the first of 14 Wexford wides (seven per half, compared to just five overall from Derry), their account was opened in the eighth minute from Eoghan Nolan after good work by Taghmon-Camross duo Barry O'Gorman and Alan Nolan.
However, the defence was ripped apart just over 60 seconds later when a quick exchange of passes between Pádraig Cassidy and Enda Lynn ended with Pádraig McGrogan joining the attack at pace and rifling the ball to the far corner of Conor Swaine's net (1-2 to 0-1).
Lynn blazed over with another goal on the cards before McAtamney widened the gap to six, but Wexford managed to steady themselves with a two-point haul in just over one minute.
Barry O'Gorman kicked the first after a one-two with James Stafford, and the efforts of Robert Frayne and Stafford in a tight pocket on the right created room for Glen Malone to advance from wing-back and make it 1-4 to 0-3.
Unfortunately, Derry seemed capable of scoring every time they carried the ball into the wind, and that trend continued as the influential Pádraig Cassidy nailed one with the outside of his boot before veteran Mark Lynch knocked over a couple of frees.
John Tubritt kicked a high shot wide on his near left post before Barry O'Connor struck a sweet point from just inside the 45-metre line after an Alan Nolan handpass in the 22nd minute.
The sole first-half Derry wide, from Niall Toner, was followed by a second beauty from O'Connor, this time from a tight angle near the right sideline, and his third came from a free won by Eoghan Nolan moments after John Tubritt's interest in the game ended with a hamstring injury (1-7 to 0-6).
A long-range point attempt from Naomhan Rossiter came back off the post into the grateful arms of Kevin Johnston before Wexford's golden chance for a first-half goal arrived in the 30th minute.
New arrival Donal Shanley found Barry O'Connor who drove down the middle before popping a handpass to the strong-running Robert Frayne on his left, but the Duffry Rovers man struck the side-netting to Derry's immense relief.
A wide followed from Conor Carty before Conor McAtamney and Barry O'Connor both registered their third points from play inside 35 seconds, with the latter's coming from the 45-metre line again to gasps of admiration from the large Derry contingent in the press box.
A cruel blow was shipped in the 35th minute when Emmett Bradley found Mark Lynch on the endline and then moved inside for the return handpass, which did get a touch from a defender, to fist the ball to the net from close range (2-8 to 0-7).
An attempted Barry O'Connor pass plus a Donal Shanley '45 accounted for two more Wexford wides before the interval, but the outcome was sadly inevitable at that juncture.
Tiarnan Rossiter came in for Nick Doyle at the break, appearing at left half-back with Glen Malone and O'Connor resuming as the midfield pairing, while Barry O'Gorman was right half-forward.
One unfortunate aspect of the second-half was Donal Shanley's off-day from frees and the management's apparent inability to see that a right-footed kicker wasn't the best man to be taking placed balls from that area of the field.
While two of his efforts veered left from central positions, the other three were from the right and he kicked all of them across goal and wide. They seemed to be ready-made for a left-footer like Conor Carty, but Shanley was kept at a thankless task to no avail.
The first two of those misses came in the opening six minutes after the St. Fintan's man did well to win both frees, but Derry continued to underline their superiority as Emmett Bradley, Pádraig McGrogan, Mark Lynch (free) and Conor McAtamney stretched their lead to 2-12 to 0-7.
Surprisingly, the leaders then went for 15 minutes without another score, and perhaps complacency was a factor but they had to wake up again after Wexford punished them with two goals.
The first came in the 48th minute after a good crossfield ball from right to left by Glen Malone found clubmate Eoghan Nolan who popped a pass to the overlapping Shane Doyle, and the Ballyhogue man grabbed his first-ever inter-county Senior score with a composed finish.
And there was a stroke of good fortune about the second goal as Derry's Pádraig McGrogan seemed to stop a Paul Curtis shot with his backside, but otherwise impressive referee Eamonn O'Grady from Leitrim booked him for an apparent footblock and Naomhan Rossiter calmly sent Ben McKinless the wrong way from the penalty spot (2-12 to 2-7).
That was the wake-up call Derry needed, and they duly responded with five points in just three and a half minutes. Jim Rossiter deflected a goalbound Enda Lynn effort over before the rampant McAtamney, Niall Toner, Shane McGuigan and McAtamney again made it a ten-point game.
There was one more kick left in Wexford all the same, with a quickly-taken Barry O'Connor free locating Conor Carty in acres of space. And while the Castletown man's low shot came back off the post, Paul Curtis was following up to fist it to the net (2-17 to 3-7).
Alas, it was only a consolation score, with Derry coasting to just their second win of the campaign as substitute Terence O'Brien (free), Niall Toner and Shane McGuigan brought their points tally to 20.
Pádraig McGrogan was dismissed on a second yellow card in the fifth added minute, and left-footer Paul Curtis, who hadn't been on the field for the first two of those missed kicks from the same spot by Donal Shanley, tapped over the game's closing score.
Wexford were awarded 27 of the 47 frees and, apart from that double booking for McGrogan, yellow cards were also shown in the second-half to Rúairí Mooney for persistent fouling of Shanley, as well as Conor McAtamney, Pádraig Cassidy, and Barry O'Connor.
The fact that the disciplinary issues of earlier rounds have clearly been addressed - with just one booking, in added time - was about the only other positive to take from another chastening experience.
In all honesty, it's not a huge surprise that the team has dropped down again to Division 4 without a win thus far. The likelihood of that happening was flagged from before the campaign started, and it may well be the case that such a green group of players will be in a better position to build something from the basement level.
That's a long way off right now, though, with the focus turning to Saturday evening, May 12, and the visit of Laois to Innovate Wexford Park for the championship opener. Next Sunday's final league tie against table-toppers Armagh at the same venue will be the last competitive fixture beforehand.
Wexford: Conor Swaine; Jim Rossiter, Naomhan Rossiter (1-0 pen.), Alan Nolan; Glen Malone (0-1), Shane Doyle (1-0), Michael Furlong (capt.); Nick Doyle, Barry O'Gorman (0-1); Conor Carty, James Stafford, Robert Frayne; Barry O'Connor (0-4, 1 free), Eoghan Nolan (0-1), John Tubritt. Subs. - Donal Shanley for Tubritt, inj. (27), Tiarnan Rossiter for N. Doyle (HT), Paul Curtis (1-1, 0-1 free) for Frayne (46), Mark O'Neill for J. Rossiter (46), Donnacha Holmes for O'Gorman (55), Martin O'Connor for S. Doyle (68).
Derry: Ben McKinless; Rúairí Mooney, Conor McCluskey, Kevin Johnston; Karl McKaigue, Carlus McWilliams, Peter Hagan; Conor McAtamney (0-6), Emmett Bradley (1-1); Enda Lynn (capt., 0-2), Benny Heron (0-1), Pádraig Cassidy (0-1); Pádraig McGrogan (1-1), Mark Lynch (0-3 frees), Niall Toner (0-2). Subs. - Shane McGuigan (0-2) for Heron (HT), Danny Tallon for Lynch (48), Terence O'Brien (0-1 free) for Bradley (52).
Referee: Eamonn O'Grady (Leitrim).