ONE OF the favourites for the forthcoming Sigerson Cup produced a strong second-half performance to erase a five-point interval deficit and inflict defeat on Wexford's new Senior football manager as his tenure got off to a low-key start before a small crowd in Kilanerin on Sunday last.
D.I.T. 1-15 WEXFORD 1-11
Aidan O'Brien's charges held a slight edge throughout the opening period and led by 1-7 to 0-5 at the break following a well-taken late goal by the excellent P.J. Banville. However, the greater cohesion and superior fitness levels of D.I.T. shone through on the re-start as they took charge of possession and won by four points despite playing with 14 men for the closing ten minutes.
In truth, this was no more than one would expect from a team which captured its second Ryan Cup Division 1 Senior league title in three years with a 116 to 1-15 extra-time victory over St. Mary's of Belfast in late November. Their strong side featured Mayo's All-Ireland final duo Aidan O'Shea and Jason Doherty, regular Meath defender Bryan Menton, and a host of All-Ireland Under-21 winners from Dublin including team captain Kevin O'Brien.
Wexford weren't as experimental as one might expect in a first round O'Byrne Cup tie, with the majority of the 19 players used boasting plenty of experience. However, debuts at this level were handed to goalkeeper Brendan Redmond from Clongeen, right half-back Jack Kelly (Starlights), centre-forward Craig Doyle (Glynn-Barntown) and second-half substitute Killian Kehoe (Gusserane).
One of the regulars, P.J. Banville, posed a constant threat in the left corner and opened the scoring from a Conor Carty handpass in the third minute before quickly doubling the home side's tally with a free taken from the hands after he was fouled.
D.I.T. responded through skilful full-forward Jason Doherty who showed his full repertoire of skills before being withdrawn near the end as his seven points included efforts off his left boot, then his right peg, one with the fist, and another from a line ball as well as some handy frees from close range.
Adrian Flynn swung over a point from the left corner in the 15th minute to make it 0-3 to 0-1, but the students were making better use of more limited chances and eased ahead by 0-5 to 0-4 as three efforts from Doherty were supplemented by a score from unmarked Cork dangerman Mark Collins. The sole response from Wexford in that period was a welltaken point by newcomer Jack Kelly who joined his attack and received a handpass from the experienced David Murphy before splitting the posts.
P.J. Banville earned another free which he converted to bring the sides level in the 23rd minute, and Wexford went on to lead by 1-7 to 0-5 at the break after making a strong finish to the half. Even though they brought their wides tally to nine compared to a mere one from the visitors, they also hit an unanswered 1-2 after regaining the advantage via Banville when Craig Doyle was impeded as he bustled his way through the rearguard (0-6 to 0-5).
The Horeswood ace's goal in the 34th minute was a real peach as he dummied the nearest defender before planting the ball well out of netminder Robert Lambert's reach, and Adrian Flynn added his second point from play in added time after being set up by Jack Kelly.
The Starlights youngster was one of three players withdrawn at the break along with David Murphy and Conor Carty, with their places taken by Robert Tierney, Rory Quinlivan and Seán Culleton. It took a mere 59 seconds for the lead to be extended courtesy of a Banville free after Kevin O'Grady's jersey was held, but another 22 minutes elapsed before Wexford added to their tally as they made no impression on a fast-improving D.I.T. side.
A run of six points in a mere five minutes brought them level as Ciarán Reddin, Jason Doherty (free), Mark Collins (free), overlapping full-back Bryan Menton, Doherty (line ball) and substitute Bernard Allen all hit the target.
Another free from the impressive Collins edged the students ahead by 0-12 to 1-8 in the 50th minute, with Doherty then fisting over his seventh score before Alan Nestor converted a '45 to stretch their advantage to three points.
That long barren spell was finally ended when P.J. Banville converted a free after Kevin O'Brien was booked for yet another foul on the dangerman, and it looked like Wexford might be set to take over again when D.I.T. were reduced to 14 men with ten minutes to go.
Team captain Colin Walshe had only been introduced in the 46th minute, and he received a straight red card from referee Brendan Cawley for crudely raking down the back of one of Joey Wadding's legs as he raced away from him in an incident which wasn't in keeping with the spirit of the game. Despite the sporting nature of proceedings though, the Kildare official still awarded 63 frees, 31 to Wexford.
With just two points between the sides and that numerical advantage, it was hoped that the locals might finish with a flourish. However, within one minute those hopes were dashed as Mark Collins sent in a lovely cross from the left which Bernard Allen got a hand to, leaving him clean through on goal. Aindreas Doyle fouled the Offaly man as he was about to pull the trigger, and Castlehaven ace Collins sent Brendan Redmond the wrong way from the resultant penalty for a 1-14 to 1-9 lead.
A pointed Adrian Flynn free, the fourth won by P.J. Banville which resulted in a score, reduced arrears but substitute Conor Walsh replied at the other end. Banville closed the scoring seconds into added time, leaving Wexford to turn their attentions to their next group game in Bunclody this Wednesday (7.30 p.m.) when the visiting Carlow I.T. side will include one of their own in All Star replacement Ben Brosnan. They will have to win in order to have something to play for in their last outing against Kildare in Newbridge on Sunday next at 2 p.m.