Minor hurlers know what they need to do
THE WEXFORD Minor hurlers now have a clear idea of the standard they need to attain in order to make an impact on the Electric Ireland Leinster championship after going down to Dublin by five points in this seasonal opener before a big Piercestown crowd on Sunday last.
While the home side got to within two points of their rivals eight minutes from the end, in truth they always played second fiddle to superior opponents and now have to negotiate a back door meeting with Meath in Navan on April 26 in order to make sure of a quarter-final clash against one of the stronger counties.
Technically and tactically superior, making better use of their physicality and a good deal more streetwise, the Dubs fully deserved their win which seemed to be all but guaranteed at the interval when they led by 0-7 to 0-3 after playing against the wind blowing towards the village end. Wexford failed to score from play in that half as their output came from an exquisite Cathal Dunbar line ball in the ninth minute plus two pointed frees in the second quarter from local lad Jake Firman.
However, to their credit they did make the second period a lot more interesting than many supporters expected at the break, leaving Larry Coleman and his fellow mentors Pat Fitzharris, Mick Laffan, Paudge Walsh and Joe Kelly with plenty of positives to work on before Saturday week.
Both sides crowded the middle third in the first-half but Dublin's spare man at the back, Jake Malone, was on the ball a good deal more than his Wexford counterpart, Joe O'Connor, who was often bypassed by the visitors' clever use of possession.
Chris Bennett gave them the ideal start with a point inside two minutes and Seán Grey added a second from distance, with an edgy Wexford chalking up three wides and also dropping a point attempt short to netminder Jonathan Treacy before midfielder Cathal Dunbar opened their account from a line ball on the right.
None of the home side's forwards could win 50-50 possession though as the Dublin defence mopped up everything that was thrown at them, whereas at the other end the wind was no impediment to their attacking threat as Donal Burke and Con O'Callaghan picked off points to make it 0-4 to 0-1 after 12 minutes.
Seán Grey added a brace of pointed frees, with Sam Kelly replacing Seamus Casey in the attack in between. It was looking grim for Wexford before a couple of pointed Jake Firman frees gave them hope after fouls on Joe O'Connor and team captain Darragh Pepper respectively (0-6 to 0-3).
Ciarán O'Connor was introduced in the 29th minute for midfielder Ross Donohoe before another pointed free from Grey left Dublin with an interval lead of 0-7 to 0-3 and in a commanding position with wind advantage to come.
That failure to score from play was rectified a mere 14 seconds into the new half when dual player Niall Hughes picked off a point from a Cathal Dunbar handpass, but Dublin hit back with the next three scores. Chris Bennett, Matthew Oliver and Rian McBride were all on the mark while Wexford shot four wides in that same period, with Jake Firman and Seán Grey going on to swap pointed frees before the Slaneysiders - with Joe O'Connor now at centre-forward - enjoyed their brightest spell.
The last two scores in that sequence highlighted the naive approach of Wexford in some aspects of the game as a defender weakly batted a puck-out down to an opponent before doing the exact same thing three minutes later with a similar result.
Firman earned a free and split the posts again in the 44th minute before Niall Hughes latched on to a rare poor Dublin clearance from a ground stroke and posted his second score (0-11 to 0-7).
Darragh Pepper then availed of a Kevin Poole pass to narrow the gap to three points and all of a sudden the large local support had something to cheer about.
A Seán Grey free helped Dublin to weather the storm, but they had to contend with another strong Wexford response as Sam Kelly and Firman (free) added points in the 51st and 52nd minutes to leave just two between them (0-12 to 0-10).
It was a test of the mettle of the leaders and they responded impressively as three points in a devastating 80-second burst made sure of success. Seán Grey (free), Chris Bennett and Con O'Callaghan were the marksmen before Jake Firman pulled back his sixth pointed free, while Dublin netminder Jonathan Treacy needed to be on his toes when another long line ball from Cathal Dunbar landed in his square in the last minute of normal time.
However, he was equal to the task and the last point fell to Dublin free-taker Seán Grey after the ball was touched on the ground by a defender in the aftermath of a good Billy Dunne save from a goal chance for substitute Gavin King.
Wexford are unlikely to learn as many lessons from the clash with Meath as they did from this, the first Leinster MHC game to take place in Piercestown since Offaly were beaten there by two points in 2005. They have a long way to go to reach the level they need to be at but that second-half recovery should be the spur they need to stay in the right frame of mind for the next tough challenge, hopefully in the quarter-final.
Both sides struck ten wides, five per half, while 14 of the 29 frees awarded by unobtrusive referee Peter Burke went to the home team.