Wexford surge to big victory
Wexford 4-21 Offaly 2-8
It was nigh on impossible to envisage such a one-sided outcome when Conor Freeman pointed a free in the 38th minute to leave Offaly trailing Wexford by the minimum (1-11 to 2-7) in this Bord Gais Energy Leinster Under-21 hurling championship quarter-final in Innovate Wexford Park on Wednesday.
It was the visitors' second score on the trot, but they were outclassed to such an extent from that stage onwards that the victors' passage to a last four clash away to Carlow on June 21 had been secured long before the finish.
Lively midfielder Rowan White broke from midfield for the second of his three points after the break before a somewhat fortuitous second Wexford goal marked the beginning of the end for Offaly.
Centre-back Aaron Maddock delivered a long ball in the 43rd minute and, as full-forward Stephen O'Gorman attempted to gather possession, it deflected off his hand or arm to the net.
That left Wexford clear by 2-12 to 2-7, and there was much to admire about their display thereafter as last year's Leinster runners-up were put to the sword with clinical efficiency.
Cathal Dunbar split the posts from a line ball on the left before availing of a Harry O'Connor handpass to leave seven between the sides with nine minutes left.
Offaly free-taker Conor Freeman replied with what turned out to be the midlanders' last point, even though they were generously given another one on the scoreboard for a Cillian Kiely shot waved as a wide in the 57th minute.
It was immaterial by that stage one way or the other, because Wexford were out of sight.
Darragh Pepper's first act after replacing Darren Codd was to avail of a short pass from fellow substitute Joe O'Connor on the right sideline and make it 2-15 to 2-8 with eight minutes to go.
Rory O'Connor added another point before Pepper set up Rowan White for his third, and another goal followed midway through the last quarter.
Rory O'Connor supplied the pass for the lively Cathal Dunbar who shot from the left across the body of netminder Eoghan Cahill and into the far corner of the net (3-17 to 2-8).
Joe Coleman (free) and Dunbar (two) piled on the misery for Offaly with further points, with the last one made in Ballygarrett as the assist came from another substitute, Cormac Moore.
There was still time for Darragh Pepper to stake a big claim for a starting berth in a fortnight's time, as he struck another 1-1 in added time.
The goal was well taken after another Moore pass, and the fact that these replacements made such telling impacts will have pleased mentors Tom Mullally, Shane Carley and Tom Foley no end.
Wexford had more than their fair share of problems in the first-half, with physically imposing Offaly forwards like Oisín Kelly and Eoghan Callaghan throwing their weight around, while the blocking of their defenders was top notch.
Stephen O'Gorman hit the first of ten Wexford wides, a figure matched by their rivals, before the locals got an early wake-up call when Callaghan's handpass picked out Kelly for an Offaly goal.
There was a measured, steady response from the home side, and they almost equalised from the puck-out as Rory O'Connor forced Eoghan Cahill into an excellent save.
Joe Coleman steadied the ship from a free before a fine hook by Dylan Watkins denied Darren Codd after Cathal Dunbar initially latched on to a Rowan White line ball.
Rory O'Connor and Dunbar brought the sides level before White set up Coleman who gave Wexford the lead for the first time in the tenth minute (0-4 to 1-0).
Stephen O'Gorman struck next before hitting the post from another point attempt 45 seconds later, but Offaly also looked capable of scoring on their own attacks.
Indeed, Darragh Hughes - drafted in as the Seniors' sub-goalkeeper against Laois in Portlaoise three days earlier - had to be at his very best to smother a shot from Ciarán Cleary after good work by Ben Conneely and Oisín Kelly in the 13th minute.
Conor Freeman left one between them from a free before Wexford pounced for their first goal early in the second quarter.
Rory O'Connor found clubmate Joe Coleman whose shot was blocked by Eoghan Cahill, but alert full-forward Stephen O'Gorman was on hand to force the rebound to the net (1-5 to 1-1).
Cillian Kiely and Cathal Dunbar exchanged points, but Offaly went on to enjoy a purple patch lasting six minutes that yielded 1-2 without reply.
Points from Ciarán Cleary and Liam Langton were sandwiched by a 20th-minute goal, with Conor Molloy's high ball towards the square directed to the net with a flick by Langton when it should have been dealt with by a static Wexford rearguard.
Joe Coleman had a goal shot saved shortly after and then missed the '65, but Wexford once again showed some mettle to establish a 1-10 to 2-4 interval lead after striking four points without reply.
Stephen O'Gorman availed of a Gary Molloy clearance for the leveller before team captain Harry O'Connor was picked out by club colleague Aaron Maddock, although the defence had to remain alert too as Michael O'Brien swept the ball away after Darragh Hughes initially dealt with a Conor Freeman placed ball.
Coleman widened the gap to 1-9 to 2-4 and, when Hughes gathered a long-range attempt from Cillian Kiely, the subsequent move ended with a point for Darren Codd to ensure that all six Wexford forwards had grabbed at least one score.
When Joe O'Connor replaced Daire Barden at half-time, it meant that seven St. Martin's players were on the field when the action resumed.
There was a nervy look to Wexford for a while though, with Offaly shooting three of the first four scores.
Conor Freeman's pointed free met an instant response as Harry O'Connor won the puck-out and fed Rowan White, but Oisín Kelly and Freeman (free) increased the unease among home supporters before the team upped the general performance by several notches to ease home.
Wexford: Darragh Hughes (Naomh Eanna); Michael O'Brien (St. Patrick's), Darren Byrne (Blackwater), Conor Firman (St. Martin's); Brian Quigley (Rathnure), Aaron Maddock (St. Martin's), Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna); Daire Barden (Fethard), Rowan White (Glynn-Barntown, 0-3); Joe Coleman (St. Martin's, 0-4, 3 frees), Rory O'Connor (St. Martin's, 0-2), Harry O'Connor (St. Martin's, capt., 0-1); Darren Codd (St. Martin's, 0-1), Stephen O'Gorman (Taghmon-Camross, 2-2), Cathal Dunbar (Ballygarrett, 1-6, 0-1 line ball). Subs. - Joe O'Connor (St. Martin's) for Barden (HT), Cormac Moore (Ballygarrett) for O'Brien (39), Darragh Pepper (Rapparees, 1-2) for Codd (52), John Doyle (St. Patrick's) for Coleman (55), Oisín Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn) for R. O'Connor (58), also Billy Dunne (Oulart-The Ballagh), Dillon Redmond (Rapparees), Shane Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers).
Offaly: Eoghan Cahill; Paddy Delaney, David O'Toole, Dylan Watkins; Eoghan Parlon, Ben Conneely (capt.), Conor Molloy; Pádraic Guinan, Ronan Hughes; Conor Freeman (0-4 frees), Ciarán Cleary (0-1), Cillian Kiely (0-1); Eoghan Callaghan, Oisín Kelly (1-1), Liam Langton (1-1). Subs. - Kevin Nugent for Callaghan (38), David Buckley for Cleary (52), John Murray for Langton (55), Eoin Carroll for Molloy (55), Brian Loughnane for Hughes (58).
Referee: Peter Burke (Kilkenny).