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Wednesday 23 January 2019

Wexford's first win on road since June '17

Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup: Wexford 0-16 Louth 1-6

Paul Curtis scoring an early goal for Wexford that was disallowed for an infringement of the three consecutive handpasses experimental rule
Paul Curtis scoring an early goal for Wexford that was disallowed for an infringement of the three consecutive handpasses experimental rule
Controversial restriction on the Gaelic football handpass is likely to continue

Alan Aherne

Curiosity more than anything else convinced a small crowd to leave the comfort of their homes and travel to the Louth Centre of Excellence in Darver on a cold, wet Saturday evening to witness the start of the new inter-county football campaign for 2019.

This Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup opener offered the first chance to witness the five new experimental rules in a competitive setting, and the jury will remain out on their benefits or otherwise until a review takes place prior to the start of the Allianz Leagues.

And while results at this stage of the year are not looked upon with any degree of importance, at the same time this must be regarded as a very positive outcome for Wexford.

It was refreshing to note manager Paul McLoughlin stressing last week that he won't be entertaining any excuses if the squad doesn't improve after a dismal 2018.

And it was equally encouraging to witness the determined manner in which this game was approached, with the visitors full value for a seven-point win after kicking some fine scores in a bleak, exposed setting where the combatants had to contend with a few spells of driving rain and the constant biting wind.

Wexford only managed two victories in their 2018 campaign - against the Dublin third string in this competition, and at the expense of the already-promoted Armagh in their final league game.

Those games were in St. Patrick's Park and Innovate Wexford Park respectively, so Saturday's success was the first on the road by the footballers since Seamus McEnaney's side pipped Limerick by 0-12 to 0-11 in the first round of the All-Ireland qualifiers in the Gaelic Grounds on June 24, 2017.

Given the low base from which they are starting, every victory has to be taken on its merits, and hopefully this one will instill confidence in a young squad that has struggled to get a break since McLoughlin's appointment.

He handed Senior inter-county debuts to three players, with Kilanerin's Conor Devitt rewarded for a very strong club campaign with the number 10 jersey after previously making six appearances with the hurlers in 2014 and 2015.

He was joined in the half-forward line by Jonathan Bealin from Castletown, son of ex-Wexford manager and Dublin midfielder Paul, who made an immediate impact and showed his free-taking prowesss by registering three points.

The third newcomer was Adamstown defender Seán Barden who made a very late appearance off the bench, while in the case of full-back Gavin Sheehan from Gusserane, it was his first start after one previous appearance as a substitute in this competition against Offaly on the second-last day of 2017.

Although he didn't figure on this occasion, the final new face on the panel of 26 listed on the programme was another Gusserane youngster, John Roche, son of the former ball-winning centre-forward of the same name and an established midfielder on the club scene.

One huge plus for Wexford was the return to the jersey of St. James' speed merchant Kevin O'Grady who played with New York in the Connacht championship last May.

He will add a lot of zip to the forward line and, given that he is such a good foot-passer, the restriction of three consecutive handpasses won't pose a problem to him as was evident on Saturday.

There was only three occasions when frees were called for infractions of this rule, with Wexford the offenders twice.

And the first time produced a big talking point in the seventh minute as Paul Curtis palmed the ball to the net from close range, with referee David O'Connor appearing to be initially happy that it was a legitimate score.

However, with shouts of 'four handpasses' coming from the Louth bench, he consulted with a linesman before going into the umpires and instructing them to cross the flags to indicate a free out.

As for the other rules, just one sideline ball wasn't played forward, with a crossfield kick by Louth substitute Anthony Williams early in the second-half penalised by a throw-in.

Louth's Ryan Burns was the first player to take an attacking mark in the 29th minute and duly kicked a point, but he dropped shots short after claiming another two.

The first for Wexford went to Kevin O'Grady from a Jonathan Bealin delivery in the 56th minute, and it led to a point, while Cathal Devereux made an immediate impact when he came off the bench as he claimed one from Barry O'Connor's accurate long pass and made it 0-13 to 1-6.

Just one player was sin-binned for a black card, with Louth captain Tommy Durnin taking a ten-minute break for a trip in first-half added time, and resuming play in the 44th minute.

Finally, the kick-out from the 20-metre line didn't have a major impact, with Wexford opting to go short for the most part, although two poor re-starts by Louth's Alan McGauley resulted in two gift points for Paul Curtis in the first-half.

Louth won the toss and opted to use the wind first, and they eased into a 0-2 to nil lead inside four minutes courtesy of half-forwards Conor Brannigan and Cian Callan, with the latter firing over when a goal looked on the cards.

Jonathan Bealin had kicked the first of ten Wexford wides (Louth had six) from a free before Kevin O'Grady announced his return with a fine solo point from a Niall Hughes pass.

And when McGauley fluffed the kick-out that followed, Curtis made the most of the error to bring the sides level in the fifth minute.

His disallowed goal followed, before Tadhg McEneaney restored Louth's advantage after earning a dubious free after a Conor Carty challenge.

An O'Grady kick and Curtis handpass created the opening for Donal Shanley to make it 0-3 each, while Glen Malone's mark when play resumed was the catalyst for Barry O'Connor to put his side in front for the first time in the 13th minute.

Conor Carty then joined the attack to curl over a fine left-footed point after a driving run by Martin O'Connor and subsequent Paul Curtis lay-off, but Tadhg McEneaney made it a one-point game again from another free.

Donal Shanley kicked a free wide before Jonathan Bealin enjoyed better luck from a placed ball in the 25th minute, establishing a 0-6 to 0-4 advantage in the process.

Once again, Curtis was alive to the weak kick-out and bore down on goal before firing over the bar, while O'Grady stretched the gap to double scores from a Glen Malone assist.

Bealin then earned and converted a free to make it 9-4, with the last score before half-time arriving from the game's first advanced mark by Ryan Burns in the 29th minute.

However, Wexford did go close to adding a goal to their tally when a hopeful kick from distance by Niall Hughes was fumbled by netminder McGauley.

Louth struggled to clear and Curtis squared the ball to Shanley, but the goalkeeper redeemed himself by getting down low to smother the full-forward's shot.

Bealin kicked the third and final Wexford wide of the half from the free that arose after the sin-binning of Tommy Durnin, and they went on to recover very well from the concession of a soft goal on the re-start.

Conor Swaine took his eye off the ball when a colleague sent a free into his path and, after it went under his legs, Louth substitute Sam Mulroy availed of the error to tap it into an empty net (0-9 to 1-5).

It could have been a turning point but in fact it wasn't, because Wexford went on to control the remainder of the action and outscored the home team - under the guidance of new boss Wayne Kierans - by 0-7 to 0-1 in the process.

Conor Carty kicked his second point from a Paul Curtis pass before Jonathan Bealin won a free before splitting the posts to create an 0-11 to 1-5 lead in the 45th minute.

Curtis then popped a handpass to Martin O'Connor who forced Alan McGauley into a good save at his near post, but the pressure was maintained as O'Grady's point from his team's first advanced mark in the 56th minute made it 0-12 to 1-5.

A Niall Conlon free proved to be Louth's last score, but Wexford were far from finished and lively substitute Cathal Devereux was particularly keen to make an impact, registering three of their closing four points.

His first came seconds after replacing the hard-working Paul Curtis, from an advanced mark after a long punt by Barry O'Connor.

He went on to convert a left-footed free after a foul on Niall Hughes, while fellow substitute Ben Brosnan curled over a fine kick before Devereux played a one-two with Glen Malone and left Wexford with a healthy winning margin of seven points with 40 seconds of normal time to go.

Next up for the winners is a meeting with Laois in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Saturday (2 p.m.), with the visitors looking to bounce back from a heavy loss to Meath in Portlaoise in the opening round.

The Royals will also visit Wexford for round three on January 5.

Wexford: Conor Swaine (Horeswood); Michael Furlong (Adamstown, capt.), Gavin Sheehan (Gusserane), Conor Carty (Castletown, 0-2); Glen Malone (Shelmaliers), Shane Doyle (Ballyhogue), Martin O'Connor (HWH-Bunclody); Barry O'Connor (St. Martin's, 0-1), Niall Hughes (Kilanerin); Kevin O'Grady (St. James', 0-3, 1 mark), Jonathan Bealin (Castletown, 0-3 frees), Conor Devitt (Kilanerin); Paul Curtis (Clongeen, 0-2), Donal Shanley (St. Fintan's, 0-1), Michael O'Regan (Glynn-Barntown). Subs. - Robert Frayne (Duffry Rovers) for O'Regan (53), Ben Brosnan (Castletown, 0-1) for Shanley (57), Cathal Devereux (Our Lady's Island, 0-3, 1 mark, 1 free) for Curtis (60), David Shannon (Volunteers) for Devitt (61), Seán Barden (Adamstown) for M. O'Connor (68), also Matt Doyle (Glynn-Barntown), Darragh Pepper (Starlights), John Roche (Gusserane), Mark O'Neill (Gusserane), Naomhan Rossiter (St. Mary's, Rosslare), Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers).

Louth: Alan McGauley; Philip Englishby, Dan Corcoran, Hugh Osbourne; Leonard Grey, Darren Marks, John Clutterbuck; Tommy Durnin (capt.), Conor Early; Conor Brannigan (0-1), Cian Callan (0-1), Conaill McKeever; Tadhg McEneaney (0-2 frees), Jim McEneaney, Ryan Burns (0-1 mark). Subs. - Anthony Williams for Clutterbuck (HT), Sam Mulroy (1-0) for T. McEneaney (HT), Eoghan Callaghan for Grey (HT), Rúairí Moore for McKeever (50), Niall Conlon (0-1 free) for Burns (58), Bevan Duffy for Marks (58).

Referee: David O'Connor (Dublin).

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