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Thursday 20 September 2018

Keegan thwarted on return

Soccer, SSE Airtricity First Division Series 17: Wexford FC 0 Galway United 0

Aaron O’Connor of Wexford slides in to challenge Galway United’s Carlton Ubaezuonu
Aaron O’Connor of Wexford slides in to challenge Galway United’s Carlton Ubaezuonu

Alan Aherne in Ferrycarrig Park

The satisfaction of putting a serious dent in Galway United's play-off bid was arguably as rewarding as securing a second successive home draw in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday when Shane Keegan was frustrated by Wexford F.C. on his return as Galway United manager in a mind-numbingly poor SSE Airtricity First Division tie watched by a very small crowd.

The Laois native was a hero when he guided the old Youths to the top flight in a memorable 2015 season, but he turned to villain at the end of the following campaign by agreeing to move west on the eve of the 3-0 second leg promotion/relegation play-off defeat in Drogheda.

And with his side failing miserably to match the form shown when dismantling Wexford 4-1 at home earlier in the season, their sixth-place standing means they have it all to do to stay in the mix for a return to the top flight.

As for Wexford, even with ten games left it appears that finishing second-last above Athlone Town will be their lot for the second campaign on the trot.

A Cobh Ramblers win on Friday moved them twelve points clear of Damian Locke's side on the table, and it's difficult to see how that shortfall can be made up when the league resumes on June 29 after the mid-season break.

While the Wexford faithful had mixed feelings regarding the return of Keegan, given the circumstances behind his departure, there was universal disappointment that one of Ferrycarrig's favourite sons, Danny Furlong, was absent from the Galway squad due to injury.

While his eye for a goal might have led to a negative result for the home side on a night of limited chances, nobody did more to earn that all-too-brief spell in the Premier Division than the Rosslare Strand native. As a result, he will always be regarded with nothing but respect around these parts.

Both squads looked threadbare, with a mere five substitutes apiece named even though seven are permitted.

The one change in personnel from the loss in Cobh saw Aaron O'Connor come in for his first league start of the season in place of Liam McCartan on the right flank, with top scorer Aaron Dobbs absent through injury for the second game on the trot.

And the squad has been further depleted with the departure from the club of left-back Seán Hurley, along with Shane Barnes and Owen Wall who only joined at the start of this campaign. Barnes had scored Wexford F.C's first hat-trick in the 7-0 rout of Athlone Town, and the team looked at its most dangerous when he partnered Dobbs up front, while injuries hadn't helped Waterford youngster Wall in his efforts to break into the team.

On the plus side, Corey Chambers kept his first clean sheet in his second game since returning from overseas, while some defensive cover has been secured with the decision of Jonathan Savage to return for a second stint at Ferrycarrig Park.

In terms of a spectacle, there was little or nothing to recommend this game which was as poor as I can ever remember at the venue. Indeed, looking at the sub-standard fare on offer, it was easy to understand how and why both teams are struggling.

Nobody was expecting a contest resembling the Spain versus Portugal World Cup classic that kept the armchair viewers at home, but there was precious little to get excited about over the forgettable 90-plus minutes.

Galway were ahead 9-1 in the corner count and will be most annoyed at their lack of a cutting edge in the final third, as they rarely posed a serious threat despite dominating possession for long spells.

They did come close in the fourth minute, after Carlton Ubaezuonu chested the ball down, turned and saw his shot blocked by Seán Kelly for a flag kick on the right.

Ryan Connolly's delivery was headed out into the path of Stephen Kenny who swung the ball back towards the far post. Centre-half Stephen Walsh knocked it across the goalmouth, but Wexford left-back John Morgan was on hand to clear the danger.

Apart from that, the only real concern for Wexford before the break arrived in the 29th minute when Chambers had to be alert to turn a long-range shot by Kenny around his post for a fruitless corner, with the netminder cleanly catching Connolly's testing strike.

Wexford only threatened once when Dean Kelly picked out Thomas Croke in the 16th minute, but last year's top scorer and the captain for the night got zero power behind the ball and it scarcely even registered as a shot as it trickled left and wide.

Galway's Conor Barry stuck out a leg and almost got a touch on a left-wing cross in the 24th minute, but he missed the ball and Chambers was able to claim it with comfort.

Striker Danny Doyle collected a booking for a foul on Stephen Walsh early in the second quarter, but his refusal to give up a lost cause forced his side's sole corner in the 39th minute. John Morgan's delivery was poor though, failing to beat Galway's Marc Ludden at the near post.

Blackwater's Conor Sutton - one of the two Wexford natives in action along with Ryan Nolan of Ferns - did well to shield a Carlton Ubaezuonu cross from Conor Barry ten minutes after the re-start.

A bout of dissent earned Thomas Croke a booking before Dean Kelly wasted a Wexford free-kick, sending it into the grateful arms of Galway netminder Conor Gleeson.

However, the home side did have the ball in the net in the 64th minute when Danny Doyle slotted home from an Aaron O'Connor pass, only for linesman Brian Fenlon to correctly wave his flag for offside.

Doyle was caught in similar fashion shortly afterwards from a Dean George through ball, and the young man who plays his G.A.A. with Barrow Rangers in Kilkenny is certainly having no luck when it comes to hitting the net.

Indeed, his sole goal at this level, last year against Shelbourne, was later chalked off the official record as Wexford fielded an ineligible player in the 1-1 draw and had to forfeit the tie 3-0.

Galway's Eoin McCormack - not nearly as influential as in the sides' last meeting in Eamonn Deacy Park - had headed over from a Gary Shanahan cross in between those two Doyle offsides.

Conor Barry then fired a shot over in the 69th minute, while Alex Byrne did well to get the ball back to his goalkeeper when Dean George put him under pressure to deal with a long punt by Aaron O'Connor.

An accidental clash between Wexford centre-half Owen McCormack and Barry led to a long delay, with the bleeding defender forced to leave the fray while his rival returned nine minutes later sporting a heavily-bandaged head.

Three corners in succession - the first arriving when Seán Kelly blocked a Conor Layng shot - were defended by Wexford, and they almost nicked a precious winner in the 89th minute.

Substitute Mark Slater was just over 60 seconds on the field when his neat ball on the edge of the box on the right gave Liam McCartan room to deliver a cross.

Dean Kelly's shot was blocked at the far post, and the break fell for Dean George who turned it to the left and wide.

That was the one big opening for Wexford, but Galway had one too just before the announcement of ten extra minutes was made.

Eoin McCormack would normally finish the chance he created himself when he cut in menacingly from the left, but he blazed over the bar to adequately sum up his side's night to forget.

The crowd finally grew animated in added time when referee Andrew Mullally deemed that Galway netminder Conor Gleeson was more sinned against than sinning when he darted from his line and clashed with Slater who was chasing a long ball from Dean Kelly.

The free-kick to Galway didn't go down well with home supporters, especially when a yellow card was added to the mix.

Slater didn't get hold of a weak shot on the next attack, whereas there was venom in Galway captain Ryan Connolly's 95th-minute strike that proved the last decent attempt in a sub-standard game.

Wexford's Leinster Senior Cup clash away to St. Patrick's Athletic, down for decision last Tuesday, was postponed, and they have a break now until June 29 when the league resumes with a trip to basement dwellers Athlone Town.

Incidentally, as well as the recently-departed trio of Hurley, Barnes and Wall, Enniscorthy's Chris Kenny left some time ago after seven league appearances this season due to his work commitments with the army.

Defender A.J. Lehane is a long-term absentee after a knee operation, so it will be interesting to see if any new players will be recruited in the fortnight break.

Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Conor Sutton, Owen McCormack, Seán Kelly, John Morgan; Ryan Nolan; Aaron O'Connor, Dean Kelly, Thomas Croke (capt.), Dean George; Danny Doyle. Subs. - Liam McCartan for O'Connor (73), Mikey Byrne for McCormack, inj. (82), Mark Slater for Doyle (88), also Kealan Gaffney, Ross Kenny.

Galway United: Conor Gleeson; Gary Shanahan, Alex Byrne, Stephen Walsh, Marc Ludden; Stephen Kenny, Conor Melody, Ryan Connolly (capt.), Conor Barry; Carlton Ubaezuonu, Eoin McCormack. Subs. - Conor Layng for Melody (72), also Arek Mamala, Mikey Whelan, Christopher Horgan, Evan Coyne.

Referee: Andrew Mullally (Waterford).

Wexford People

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