Wicklow earn draw
THE gods did not shine upon the Wicklow League as they got their Oscar Traynor campaign off to a very encouraging start.
Torrential rain, two injuries, a missed penalty and a red card all combined to deny them victory at Shamrock Park on Thursday but it has set-them up nicely to seal qualification with a positive result against the AUL in November.
Abandoning the match was a viable option for referee Dave Jameson, such was the ferocity of the weather that poured down from the eighth minute. Wexford already had the lead by that stage thanks to Paul Murphy's explosive third minute opener.
The Garden County men lost captain Cathal McNicholas to injury on the 18 th minute but hit back five minutes later through Ashford's Danny Byrne.
Byrne then had a golden opportunity to fire his side ahead when Wexford's John Peare was harshly adjudged to have handled in the penalty area. Peare's blushes were spared though as the attacker's spot kick struck the post and was quickly hacked away from Pa Doyle's goal.
Six yellow cards were dealt out by Jameson to the visitors but the whistleblower also had to reach for his back pocket to dismiss Wicklow left-back Colin Jameson, who clumsily brought down Johnny Kavanagh as the substitute raced through on goal.
The contest appeared to be petering towards stalemate until three minutes from time when Wexford caught their hosts on the break but Paul Murphy's point-blank effort was fired straight at home goalkeeper Ciaran McGuirl.
This point is enough to send Wexford through to the knockout stages and it means that simply avoiding defeat against the AUL in November will also see Wicklow through, something which you would have confidence in based on the performance of Barry Mernagh and Gary Kelly's side on Thursday.
Things did not look so rosy in the third minute though. The Wicklow defence failed to deal with a simple ball as they all looked to each other to deal with it and Paul Murphy gobbled up the mistake; jinking into the penalty area before unleashing an absolutely unstoppable effort that McGuirl didn't even have time to blink at as it screeched into the roof of the net.
On the eighth minute, rain that hasn't been seen since Noah's day arrived and it immediately ruined the conditions, making it look like amateur hour at an ice rink.
One such slip almost created a second for the visitors as Wicklow Town defender Mattie Byrne ended up on his behind. Jason Murphy seized possession and took on the covering defender but his attempted curler to the top corner comfortably cleared the crossbar.
Despite the loss of captain McNicholas, midway through the first half Paul Murphy's strike was stricken off. A free kick was cleared out to Danny Byrne and he shipped it onto Matthew Kennedy. The midfielder found Dessie Waters on the right-hand passage and his cross sat up invitingly for left winger Aidan Small to try an acrobatic volley. It did not go according to plan for Small but his effort spun into the path of Byrne, who emphatically finished the move that he had initially started.
Wexford were still reeling from the goal when they conceded a penalty two minutes later. Waters sent in a cross from the right and Wicklow didn't have sufficient numbers in the penalty area to cause trouble but the ball caught Peare on the back of his hand. Jameson initially appeared to be dismissing Wicklow's claims but suddenly he pointed to the spot and Wicklow rejoiced.
Wexford were the ones celebrating moments later though when Byrne's scrappy 12-yarder struck the inside of the post and avoided the goal-line.
Ricky Fox set-up Jason Murphy for a possible second goal for Wexford with a very clever disguised pass but after allowing the ball to roll across his body, Murphy's left-footed effort flew over rather than under the crossbar.
Wexford's chances were given a boost on 65 minutes as Kavanagh was scampering through on goal only for Jameson to take him down with a professional foul. Jason Murphy's subsequent free kick failed to beat the wall though.
This meant a re-jig for the hosts, with Byrne asked to play up front alone but he too was forced off with injury as it appeared it just would not be Wicklow's side.
Murphy and co. were then appealing to Jameson once again when Rory O'Connor felt he was tugged to floor in the penalty area by Small but the referee wasn't interested in their pleas.
Wexford's Anthony Russell flirted with disaster when he misplaced a back-pass but there was not enough power on the pass and Pa Doyle recovered to prevent tragedy.
Wexford then could have stolen victory three minutes from the death. With Wicklow committing men forward for a free kick, Wexford were able to counter attack and they did so brilliantly. Jason Swords charged into the Wicklow half and shipped the ball out to the left flank to Jason Murphy. His clipped cross was measured perfectly for Paul Murphy but his side-foot volley zoomed straight into McGuirl's grateful palms.
Top Form: Danny Byrne (Wicklow League): The Ashford Rovers man bagged the goal and his work-rate was phenomenal.