Wexford knocked out by neighbours
Soccer: Wexford league 1 Waterford league 3
Wexford's fine run in the FAI New Balance Youths Inter-League competition came to a disappointing end on Saturday when they succumbed to a strong Waterford outfit at Ferrycarrig Park.
Small margins can be the difference between the winning and losing of big games, and that was certainly the case in this tie.
Two goals in the space of as many first-half minutes from Isaac Johnson and Billy O'Connor put the visitors on the road to victory, and although Cian Hanley pulled one back after the interval, having earlier rattled the woodwork, a late breakaway goal from Stephen Imiren sealed the deal for the boys in blue.
The sides were evenly matched for the opening quarter, with Wexford twice having a sniff of goal, as Harry Kehoe and Ciarán Carthy both glanced efforts wide from Niall Connolly deliveries.
However, the hosts were then rocked right back on their heels as Waterford hit them with a double sucker-punch midway through the half.
With 24 minutes on the clock, a stinging long-range effort from Michael Brennan was too hot to handle for Wexford goalkeeper Anto Larkin, and Isaac Johnson bundled the ball over the line, while the celebrations had barely died down when Waterford had added a second.
Conor Butler did well on the left wing, before teeing up Billy O'Connor, and the number ten didn't need a second invitation as he confidently finished to the corner of the net.
The visitors really had the bit between their teeth as Wexford were rattled, and they threatened to put the game out of sight as Liam Barber headed a Brennan delivery over the top just a minute later.
At the other end Niall Connolly warmed the goalkeeper's gloves with a free-kick, but Waterford came close to ending the first-half on a high when Liam Barber stooped to get his head to a Niall McSweeney free-kick, but Larkin did well to gather.
Pádraig Whitty's side would have been eyeing a positive start to the second-half to give them a chance of pulling the game out of the fire, and they nearly got just that as they were a whisker away from halving the deficit just three minutes in.
Ciarán Carthy played in Cian Hanley, but he was desperately unlucky to see his sweetly-struck effort come back off the underside of the crossbar.
The lively Hanley was posing plenty of questions for the Waterford rearguard and in the 57th minute he fed Niall Connolly, whose first-time effort flew off target.
The Waterford threat never subsided though and the powerful Stephen Imiren sent Isaac Johnson through on goal just before the hour mark, but his shot was well dealt with by Larkin.
However, Wexford were right back in the game in the 63rd minute when Ciarán Carthy picked out Hanley, who showed great composure to round the goalkeeper and finish from an acute angle.
Wexford pushed forward in search of a priceless equaliser that would force extra-time, with Niall Connolly striking a difficult chance wide and netminder Kyle Gahan comfortably dealing with a Hanley effort.
Gahan then gathered a shot from substitute Lee Jordan at the second attempt in the 86th minute as the hosts threw caution to the wind with time running out.
However, it was game, set and match in the 88th minute.
With Wexford pushing everyone forward for a free-kick, Stephen Imiren ran on to the clearance and broke with pace and purpose.
The midfielder still had plenty to do, but he raced clear and showed admirable nerve to finish with aplomb to seal Waterford's place in the final, where they will face Limerick who beat Inishowen on penalties on Sunday.
Wexford Football League: Anto Larkin, Jake Kearney, Harry Kehoe, Eanna Doyle, Shane Pettit, Rory O'Connor, Michael Delaney, Adam Sinnott, Niall Connolly, Ciarán Carthy, Cian Hanley. Subs. - Lee Jordan for Kearney (HT), Matthew Foley for Kehoe (65), Cian Carty for O'Connor (80), Craig Peare for Delaney (90+4), also Gary Hall-Roche, Adam Feery, Kyle Martin.
Waterford Football League: Kyle Gahan, Niall McSweeney, Liam Barber, Anthony Brown, Michael Brennan, Conor Butler, Peter O'Connor-Yacuic, Stephen Imiren, John Kavanagh, Billy O'Connor, Isaac Johnson. Subs. - Callum Stringer for Kavanagh (83), also John Tamen, Shane O'Neill, Raveli Kilonda, Cian O'Neill, Toby Taylor, Ben Costello.
Referee: Lee Kill (Kilkenny).