TEENAGER Gary Moore made his mark in fine style as Wexford produced a strong second-half performance to steal the spoils from Offaly in an entertaining game at Blackwater.
Moore, a 19-year-old student at Waterford IT, contributed 12 points for the second successive week as Liam Dunne's side earned a morale-boosting win to set up a semi-final clash against old rivals Kilkenny next weekend.
Nine of Moore's points came from frees, but though he missed a couple of chances, he remained unruffled and kept the scoreboard ticking over for the hosts, particularly in the second half.
He wasn't shouting the odds afterwards. "The boys were working hard out there winning the frees, and all I was trying to do was put the ball between the posts. It was a good win and hopefully we can keep it up and drive on again," Moore said.
Moore still has two years left at U-21 level. He played for the senior side in the league last year but a spate of injuries disrupted his season, so this campaign represents a new start for the talented forward.
The match was played in windy conditions with only the occasional shower to dampen the enthusiasm of spectators. Offaly, with sharpshooter Shane Dooley in good form, had the better of the first half, but only turned with a three-point lead, 1-10 to 0-10.
The goal came in the 13th minute – unlucky for Wexford, as the sliotar deflected off a defender into the path of full-forward Derek Molloy, who lashed it into the net.
Wexford responded with a late spurt of scores in the last six minutes of the first half, as Offaly had led by double scores at 1-9 to 0-6 with 10 minutes left to play in the opening period.
From then to the interval, Wexford tacked on points by Odhran Kealey, Richie Kehoe and two from frees by Moore compared with just one by a Dooley free. They trailed by 1-10 to 0-10 at the turnaround.
Lee Chin, who had looked impressive for Wexford in the first half, aggravated an ankle injury and was replaced at half-time by David Redmond.
Whatever Dunne said to his troops during the break certainly had an effect. Captain Kehoe led by example and there was a new determination from Wexford in the second half. All over the pitch they tightened up the marking, made better use of ball from defence to forwards, and above all, they took most of the chances presented to them.
By contrast, Offaly found themselves on the back foot. The turning point came after 48 minutes when Wexford drew level at 0-15 to 1-12. Two minutes later, Kehoe fired over a point from a '65' to edge Wexford ahead and in the last 20 minutes, there was only one team in it.
A 62nd-minute penalty award, gained when Padge Doran was fouled in the Offaly area, offered a great chance to kill off Offaly.
It was an opportunity Wexford took, with goalie Mark Fanning running the length of the pitch before smashing the ball home for a seven-point lead at 1-21 to 1-14. Paul Morris and Moore (0-2) rounded off the scoring, while Offaly's Dermot Mooney struck for his side's final point of the day.
Dunne was pleased with the win. "It was a good second-half performance and, in fairness, we're happy with the effort the fellas put in," he said.
"We're trying out a lot of players and we've a young team. We had to make three changes before the game and we lost Ciaran Kenny in the first half, but that gives other fellas opportunities."
Offaly's Dooley articulated the disappointment felt within their camp. "It's still early in the year. We still have a few things to get right. We're very disappointed with our second-half performance. You'd think it was two completely different teams the way we played in the first half and the second half," he said.
Scorers – Wexford: G Moore 0-12 (9f), H Kehoe 0-3, M Fanning 1-0 (pen), P Morris, R Kehoe (1 '65'), D Redmond 0-2 each, E Doyle, PJ Nolan, P Doran 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 0-9 (6f), D Molloy 1-0, B Carroll, J Bergin, T Carroll, C Parlon, D Morkham, D Mooney 0-1 each.
Wexford – M Fanning; B Kenny, C Kenny, E Moore; R Kehoe, A Shore, J Tonks; L Chin, E Doyle; H Kehoe, P Morris, G Moore; PJ Nolan, M O'Regan, P Doran. Subs: A Kenny for C Kenny (29), D Redmond for L Chin (h-t), S Murphy for H Kehoe (67), K Gore for E Doyle (69).
Offaly – J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, D King; D Mooney, K Brady, D Morkham; R Hanniffy, C Parlon; B Carroll, S Dooley, T Carroll; O'Kealey, D Molloy, J Bergin. Subs: S Ryan for O'Kealey (53), M Cleary for J Bergin (65), P Cleary for C McDonald (65).
Ref – A Stapleton (Laois).