O'Brien joy as old warhorses guide Model past finishing post
Aidan O'Brien must have had a good feeling about this one. After all, his namesake made history just a couple of hours earlier when becoming the first racehorse trainer to win the Epsom Derby three years in a row.
Wexford 1-15 Longford 1-13
The equine legend is a Wexford man too, so the omens were good.
The likelihood, though, is that the football man's confidence would have derived more from his side's good record against Longford and the artillery at his disposal. For he did possess some real thoroughbreds, who were able to produce the goods once the whips were drawn inside the final furlong.
Ciarán Lyng has long been considered one of the game's top marksmen and, along with Ben Brosnan, really stood up to the plate when the game was in the melting pot after Francis McGee's 55th-minute goal for Longford.
Brosnan converted a 45-metre free from the deck to put his side back in front, but it was Lyng who delivered when scores from Seán McCormack (free) and then Enda Williams suddenly saw Wexford fall behind, having dominated the game.
First, Lyng held his nerve in the 65th minute to level from a free before taking a pass from substitute Michael O'Regan to loft over a wonderful point three minutes later.
O'Regan was only introduced in the 66th minute, but he had a big impact, following up his assist with a neat finish to give the Model County a two-point cushion.
Largely, though, with Brian Malone, Graeme Molloy, Daithí Waters and Paddy Byrne prominent, this was about experience and that extra bit of class.
"There are experienced guys that you hope will come up with the goods on days like this," said O'Brien.
"They have a lot of experience in addition to the qualities that they have. Especially when the tide had turned very much against us. We were very reliant on those fellas to get on the ball, do the right things and try to create a few opportunities.
"That's why those guys have established the reputation for themselves that they have over the last number of years.
"They're good players and they did produce the goods there towards the end."
Jack Sheedy was left to rue his side's profligacy in the first half in particular, when they shot nine wides.
Not being able to press home their advantage when momentum was on their side and they were a point up with time running out was the biggest blow, though.
"It's very disappointing that we couldn't finish it off" said Sheedy. "We didn't take the opportunities that presented themselves. It's extremely disappointing, but equally frustrating."
Longford had a strong wind at their backs in the opening half, but although McGee got them off to a good start in the first minute, they were on the back foot for the majority of the game, with Wexford's midfield duo Waters and Byrne causing havoc with their supporting runs from deep positions.
The teams were level on two points apiece when the lively Lyng found the back of the net in the 12th minute.
It was well crafted as Lyng snuck in behind the Longford cover to collect a perfectly judged kick-pass by Malone and his side-footed shot could only be diverted into the corner of the net by the advancing Damien Sheridan.
Sheridan fluffed his kickout to give Robert Dempsey an easy point, but made amends with a fantastic save from the championship debutant after Kevin O'Grady took out three Longford defenders in the corner.
McCormack and Michael Quinn reduced the deficit to a point, but Longford were unable to feed McCormack, Kavanagh and Paul Barden sufficiently.
Shane Doyle did have a goal chance, but could only divert a diagonal delivery into the arms of Shane Roche. Dempsey pointed from the very next attack and Adrian Flynn and Malone followed up to give Wexford a deserved 1-8 to 0-7 half-time lead.
With the elements at their back, Wexford only needed to keep the scoreboard ticking to advance to the last four, if they didn't concede a goal.
They looked comfortable despite the efforts of Barden, who made his Longford debut the last time they came out on top against Wexford in the championship 15 years ago.
When McGee slid a low shot to the net, the dynamic of the game changed completely, but Wexford had the men and composure to get the job done.
SCORERS – Wexford: C Lyng 1-5 (0-2fs), B Brosnan 0-3 (2fs), R Dempsey 0-2, B Malone, A Flynn, D Waters, PJ Banville, M O'Regan 0-1 each. Longford: S McCormack 0-5 (4fs), F McGee 1-1, P Barden 0-3, B Kavanagh 0-2, E Williams, M Quinn 0-1 each.
WEXFORD – S Roche 7; R Tierney 7, G Molloy 8, C Carty 7; M Furlong 7, B Malone 7, A Flynn 7; D Waters 9, P Byrne8; K O'Grady 7, PJ Banville 6; J Holmes 6; C Lyng 8, B Brosnan 7, R Dempsey 7. Subs: T Rossiter 6 for Tierney (58), J Tubritt 6 for Holmes (59), Cillian Kehoe 6 for Dempsey (64), M O'Regan 7 for Byrne (66).
LONGFORD – D Sheridan 7; D Brady 6, B Gilleran 6, F Battrim 6; CP Smyth 7, E Williams 7, S Mulligan 7; J Keegan 6, M Quinn 7; S Doyle 7, F McGee 7, N Mulligan 6; P Barden 7, B Kavanagh 6, S McCormack 6. Subs: P Foy 6 for N Mulligan (33), K Diffley 6 for Keegan (47), B O'Farrell 6 for Brady (48), M Hughes 7 for Doyle (52).
REF – D Gough (Meath).
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