IT took almost an hour for this to resemble anything like a championship match, before Wexford found some lime to throw on a fat Offaly lead and watch it dissolve.
Wexford have form here. They had already wiped out a big lead when the counties met in the league, overtaking Offaly with three goals in the last 10 minutes. They looked dead again last night, nine points down, but a goal from newcomer Jack Guiney from a 20m free after 58 minutes dramatically changed the complexion of the game.
After going nine up through their chief marksman Shane Dooley in the 52nd minute, Offaly failed to score again and this will be a troubling aspect of their performance as they prepare for a Leinster semi-final in two weeks, most likely against Galway. They survived but there were too many late scares around their goal and near the finish, Guiney had another 20m free which would have won it, as they had the deficit narrowed to two. Offaly stood firm on the line and cleared and the final whistle came as an enormous relief.
That engaging finale didn't camouflage the poverty of the hurling for much of the time that preceded it. The grey, damp evening and small crowd, just over 7,000, and a hopelessly one-sided curtain-raiser, did little to stoke up an atmosphere. The refereeing of John Sexton didn't help either, a demonstration of all that is wrong with hurling officiating at the moment. In his attempts to let the play run, various blatant fouls were let go and he lost control and authority.
Wexford began brightly enough and were 0-7 to 0-3 clear at one stage in the opening half. Corner-forward Paul Morris buzzed about and looked lively. He finished with three points. Rory Jacob would filch three of his own but Wexford's rawness was evident too. They hauled off two of their four debutants at half-time, the corner-back Willie Devereux and midfielder Shaun Murphy. Devereux had a tough assignment shadowing Dooley, bigger and stronger, and it showed near the interval when the Offalyman struck for a fine goal.
Dooley outfielded his young marker, made some yards and finished confidently. Offaly led 1-8 to 0-8 at the break.
Wexford hit eight first-half wides to Offaly's four and should have built up a bigger lead when in the ascendancy. Diarmuid Lyng was put through by Morris when they were four ahead with just James Dempsey to beat. But the keeper was able to divert it with his legs. That appeared to clear Offaly's haze and they began to hurl with greater purpose. Brian Carroll picked off two points from centre-forward and Dooley's free-taking hurt Wexford badly. He would close the night with 1-8; 0-7 came from placed balls.
A ground-stroke goal from Joe Bergin, after the Wexford goalkeeper Eanna Martin had been penalised for taking his puck-out outside the small square, strengthened Offaly's position. The lead climbed to nine but Wexford still had that late kick.
Scorers -- Offaly: S Dooley 1-8 (0-7 fs); B Carroll 0-2, J Bergin 1-1, B Murphy 0-1. Wexford: J Guiney 1-3 (1-3 fs); P Morris, R Jacob 0-3; D Lyng 0-2 (0-1 lineball); PJ Nolan, G Sinnott 0-1.
Offaly: J Dempsey; D Franks, D Kenny, D Morkan; J Rigney, R Hanniffy, K Brady; C Mahon, D Horan; C Egan, B Carroll, B Murphy; S Dooley, C Parlon, J Bergin. Subs: S Ryan for Parlon (55 mins); C Hernon for Mahon (65); D Molloy for Murphy (72).
Wexford: E Martin; M O'Hanlon, K Rossiter, W Devereaux; Stephen Murphy, C Kenny, Shaun Murphy; D Lyng, E Quigley; D Redmond, PJ Nolan, G Sinnott; P Morris, J Guiney, R Jacob. Subs: E Moore for Devereaux, D Stamp for Shaun Murphy (both half time); H Kehoe for Quigley (44 mins); R Kehoe for Stephen Murphy (50);
Referee: J Sexton (Cork).