A WEXFORD Senior football side down on its luck went to the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday last in search of a rub of the green as much as a vital victory after successive losses to Allianz League Division 3 table-toppers Roscommon and Cavan.
As so often happens in these situations though, they were on the receiving end of the exact opposite as a seven-point lead early in the second-half was squandered and home side Limerick pounced three minutes into added time for an absolute sickener of a winning goal.
In fairness, Wexford must have felt that the game was over as the signalled two extra minutes were well and truly concluded when Daithí Waters caught a free floated in by substitute Eoin Hanrahan under his own crossbar at the city end and booted the ball to the left and over the sideline.
However, fussy referee Shane Hehir allowed the kick to be taken and it went short to Seamus O'Carroll whose head-high hit and hope punt across goal was touched at the far post by Ian Ryan. The ball hit the underside of the crossbar and was pushed out, but not before it had crossed the line as far as the umpires were concerned even though the Wexford players nearest the scene argued the toss bitterly.
Their annoyance was understandable, particularly as there seemed to be no reason why the two additional minutes should have been exceeded. In the end nearly four minutes were played before the full-time whistle sounded to heap relegation worries on Wexford and kill off any outside chance they may have harboured of pushing for promotion.
In the cold light of day though, players and mentors will have to reflect on how a lead of 1-10 to 0-6 less than five minutes into the second-half was allowed to slip away. There seemed to be a collective lapse in focus and significant drop in workrate as Limerick got on the ball more and more and were encouraged to have a go by the less than convincing response from a disappointing Wexford side.
Even at that it seemed as though the visitors would hold on when Brian Malone pointed from a tight angle off his left boot in the 67th minute following a Ben Brosnan pass to make it 1-13 to 0-13.
Wexford appeared to be counting down the clock as three more substitutes were brought in separately, but Limerick concentrated on seeking the win and top scorer Ian Ryan pulled back a pointed free with 20 seconds of normal time left.
There were shades of the championship in Portlaoise three years ago then when the Shannonsiders struck late for another one-point win in a game that Wexford definitely should have won, but they failed to close it out and surrendered the initiative far too lightly.
Limerick looked lively early on when Ger Collins and free-taker Ian Ryan (two) picked off the opening three points inside seven minutes after Shane Roche had to make an early save from Micheál Brosnan, but thereafter the first-half was dominated by Aidan O'Brien's side.
Ben Brosnan got them off the mark from a free before a fine goal in the eleventh minute when a Graeme Molloy delivery found the dangerous P.J. Banville who shook off Mark O'Riordan before planting the ball under Donal O'Sullivan's legs and into the net for the lead.
There should have been a second Wexford green flag seconds later when Banville punished a defensive error and picked out Ciarán Lyng all alone, but his powerful drive was well saved by the netminder.
Left-footed efforts from Kevin O'Grady and Daithí Waters made it 1-3 to 0-3 while Ian Ryan responded from a free, with three chances missed before Banville and Adrian Flynn combined to set up Ben Brosnan who restored that one-goal gap.
Ian Ryan and Flynn then swapped points from play before Iain Corbett played a one-two with Stephen Lucey and reduced arrears to 1-5 to 0-6 in the 25th minute. A scoreable free was missed by Kevin O'Grady but Wexford finished the half in encouraging fashion with three points on the trot.
Ciarán Lyng got the first after being on the ball several times himself in the move before Paddy Byrne set up Ben Brosnan for another, and a solo score from Conor Carty made it 1-8 to 0-6 at the break. The Castletown utility player actually lined out at full-back for the throw-in with Graeme Molloy picking up Ian Ryan in the corner, but he drifted outfield immediately after Limerick's Micheál Brosnan.
With 1-7 scored from play, and seven different players on target, it was a good 35 minutes overall from the visitors, and it continued in the same vein on the re-start as Kevin O'Grady and Ben Brosnan stretched the advantage from frees.
With 14 minutes left it still seemed as if Wexford would win as the score stood at 1-12 to 0-10 and Limerick hadn't made any appreciable inroads. Free-taker Ryan did pull back a brace of points initially before Ben Brosnan punished a foul on Brian Malone at the other end, but Ryan tapped over two more as indiscipline continued to hurt the leaders.
Malone set up P.J. Banville to leave that five-point gap early in the last quarter, but it was down to three with eight minutes left after Seamus O'Carroll and Eoin Hanrahan (free) split the posts for Limerick.
Only an over-carrying offence denied O'Carroll a possible goal as the pressure started to mount, with Ian Ryan landing yet another free to leave Wexford holding a precarious lead all of a sudden.
That Brian Malone point then left three between them, but what followed was hard to take as victory was snatched right from under the noses of a team struggling to shake off this recent run of bad results.
It makes a home win over Sligo in Sunday's Wexford Park double-header an absolute must, but on the basis of current form it will be a tough task.
When Wexford are in control of a game like they were in the early stages of the second-half on Sunday last, they simply must learn to ease their way to the victory that was there for the taking.
They learned a very hard and costly lesson on an afternoon when referee Shane Hehir awarded 23 frees to the visitors and 29 to Limerick. Yellow cards were dished out to P.J. Banville after Limerick quartet Seánie Buckley, Ger Collins, John Galvin and Johnny McCarthy, while Wexford had six of the eleven wides recorded.
New Ross Standard