O'Regan's sweet hit proves key
SWEETLY STRUCK goals by Michael O'Regan and Ben Brosnan in the fourth and 52nd minutes were of the utmost importance in Wexford Park on Sunday last as the Senior footballers put that nightmare finish in Limerick behind them to see off Sligo and leave their fate in their own hands ahead of a real relegation dogfight.
After the fifth round of games the situation couldn't be any clearer: unbeaten Roscommon and Cavan are both promoted already and will meet in the Division 3 final while Offaly, still without a win, are making an immediate return to the bottom flight.
However, the quest to see who will join them is nothing short of fascinating as all five of the remaining teams are locked together on four points with a scoring difference of 21 separating third-placed Fermanagh from Limerick who currently occupy seventh spot.
Wexford's next game is against the northerners in Brewster Park, Enniskillen, on Sunday week, and the issue is unlikely to be decided until the last day's action when Longford travel south to meet us on April 6.
In that context the win over Sligo was absolutely crucial, and it was achieved by a team playing in fits and starts but still doing enough to get over the line. Indeed, the most pleasing aspect of the game was that the harsh lessons from Limerick seem to have hit home as there was no slackening off in the closing stages with the visitors' threat never too far away.
An immense midfield display by the towering Daithí Waters made the world of difference to Wexford after the interval as they faced into the wind with a three-point lead which meant they had to work extremely hard to get the verdict. And although Sligo captain Adrian Marren gave his counterpart, Graeme Molloy, an absolutely torrid time and finished with five second-half points from play, that second Wexford goal from Ben Brosnan was the most important score as the locals put an end to their three-game losing streak. However, it was no less vital to the cause than an excellent penalty save by goalscorer turned stopper Shane Roche near the end of the first quarter.
The goal came midway through the second-half at a stage when Sligo had reduced arrears to the minimum (1-9 to 1-8) and seemed to be building momentum after landing three points on the trot. And it was very much an individual effort as Brosnan came out to the 40-metre line where he shook off Gareth Ryan, turned and headed for the posts at the Clonard end. With none of the other Sligo backs prepared to run the risk of closing him down and seeing a pass popped over their head, the Bannow-Ballymitty man simply kept going and drilled a superb low shot to the far corner of the net.
It gave the team and the home support a huge lift, and it got even better for Wexford as it was followed by points from substitute James Holmes and Ciarán Lyng to leave them ahead by 2-11 to 1-8 with twelve minutes left.
Banville was forced off with a hand injury which thankfully isn't as serious as it seemed initially, but Sligo, and Adrian Marren primarily, ensured that the leaders had an anxious enough finish to endure.
He landed three points on the trot from play after getting out in front of Graeme Molloy each time, although Wexford could have wrapped it up between the second and third scores in that sequence when three of the new faces combined. Michael O'Regan and James Breen created an opening for Banville's replacement, John Tubritt, but Sligo netminder Aidan Devaney made an excellent save and the '45 which resulted came to nothing.
Substitute Colm McGee kicked Sligo's eighth wide with the gap down to three before Breen provided the final pass for Kevin O'Grady to grab an important Wexford point in the last minute of normal time. The prolific Marren concluded the scoring from a free but ultimately that Brosnan goal - and Roche's penalty save - divided the sides at the finish.
Colm Kehoe came in to midfield for Paddy Byrne in the only personnel change from the Limerick game, and Wexford looked menacing early on with the wind in their favour.
Conor Carty grabbed the opening point before a surging Brian Malone run down the middle created an overlap in the fourth minute. He found P.J. Banville who in turn popped the ball to Michael O'Regan who was advancing at speed off his right shoulder, and the big Glynn-Barntown man rattled home his first inter-county Senior goal to give Wexford an ideal start.
Ciarán Lyng added a point from a free but after scoring 1-2 in less than seven minutes, Aidan O'Brien's charges added just four more points before half-time. Nine wides certainly didn't help their cause, and they seemed to retreat into their shell for a spell as Sligo worked their way into the game.
David Kelly opened the men in black's account in the eleventh minute but Daithí Waters responded with a high kick to make it 1-3 to 0-1. It was all of 19 minutes before Wexford scored again though, courtesy of their midfield driving force once more, and in between Sligo were by far the better team.
Just two frees, one per side, were awarded in a very open first 14 minutes, with Sligo's converted by Adrian Marren before he had a great chance to raise a green flag. Shane Roche maybe advanced too hastily and left himself with little option but to foul Marren after David Kelly won a 50-50 tussle with Michael Furlong.
However, the New Ross netminder redeemed himself in the best possible way as he dived low to his left to keep out the spot kick. After doing so well to deny Sligo a goal, the manner in which they did register one five minutes later was disappointing.
Big midfielder Pat Hughes surged straight down the middle and shook off a poor tackle by Tiarnan Rossiter to side-foot the ball high into the net even though he appeared to be losing control.
Marren added his second pointed free to equalise (1-3 each), with Conor Carty collecting a black card for his trip on Stephen Coen which resulted in Robert Tierney joining the action.
Thankfully Wexford did step it up considerably in the approach to half-time as Daithí Waters, Michael O'Regan and Ciarán Lyng kicked points to leave them with an interval advantage of three (1-6 to 1-3), while P.J. Banville could have done better with a goal chance set up by Kevin O'Grady.
Wexford opened brightly into the elements as O'Grady and Ben Brosnan (free) extended the gap to five, but Mark Breheny hit back with a brace, the second from play after a costly Colm Kehoe giveaway.
Brosnan then worked hard to set up Banville who made it 1-9 to 1-5, but three Adrian Marren points meant that Wexford's second goal couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time.
After that they were never headed but couldn't afford to relax either, and thankfully there was no repeat of the Gaelic Grounds finale from seven days earlier.
It was refreshing to see such a low number of frees awarded by Carlow referee John Hickey, 12 to Wexford and 18 to Sligo, while the home side had 14 of the 22 wides over the 70 minutes. As well as that black card for Conor Carty, yellows were issued to Shane Roche and Sligo's Eoin McHugh.