Wexford hit with reality check
Allianz Hurling League Div 1
As a metaphor for Wexford's beleaguered hurlers, the skies above Pearse Stadium accurately portrayed their experience yesterday.
It was dry and pleasant just before throw-in, the sun's attempts to sneak through tiny fissures in the clouds perhaps a reflection of Wexford's invigoration at their return to Division 1 hurling. They entertained hope.
But by the end the bright rays had long since disappeared, replaced instead by downpours of heavy rain from dark menacing clouds.
Wexford had been humiliated in their first top-flight league hurling match in just short of three years, a 21-point hammering that was every bit as bad -- and possibly worse --than the scoreline suggests. Galway were crisp, clinical and enthusiastic in everything they did. Wexford fitted none of those descriptions.
The county looks to have a real hurling crisis brewing even before their campaign gets proper wind in its sails. They have some players on the sidelines with medium and long-term injuries but realistically none that would make the seismic difference required to bridge the yawning gap that appeared here.
Wexford manager Colm Bonnar has been vocal in his advocacy of a bigger Division 1 league to keep what are reputedly the best teams together.
His argument has merit but the paucity of his team's display here doesn't help the cause. They looked every inch a product of the environment they have inhabited over the last two spring seasons. Their touch was dreadful, their movement laboured, their basic application of skills just so far off Galway that they have no right to be considered a team worthy of top-flight status just because of the tradition the county has.
Worst of all was their dearth of competitiveness. It was difficult to recall an occasion where their inside-forward line won a breaking ball in the opening half. A makeshift Galway full-back line mopped up everything, with John Lee bringing height and physicality to an area where they have needed it.
Those battles were lost everywhere by Wexford and at no point was there even a hint that they could mount any significant resistance.
For Bonnar, the acknowledgement of how bad it was doesn't make it any easier.
"Disappointing is not the word," he said. "We came up, we thought that we had done everything right. We trained well, we worked very hard, players had been hugely committed.
"That result really threw us back. We were not expecting that but that is Division 1 hurling and they are the Division 1 champions. We are the Division 2 champions and it is a gap that we have to try and close. We have to do it very quickly because there are another six league games to play."
Waterford at home next weekend may not be a starting point to seek to address some of the imbalances and Bonnar hinted strongly at surgery in attack -- if there are any organ donors.
"We did have serious problems in the forward line and it is something that we will have to address," he admitted. "It has been the Achilles heel, not getting enough scores on the board and it's something we found hard even in Division 2 and it will be even harder in Division 1. It is back to the drawing board and we have to treat every game from here as a championship game."
For Galway there was plenty to be enthusiastic about, given the players they were missing. Ger Farragher showed much of the same accuracy that convinced manager John McIntyre to stick with him as free taker for so long last season -- even when Joe Canning returned -- as he put his name on seven frees and three '65s' in addition to a point from play.
The three '65s' came after a trio of saves from Wexford goalkeeper Niall Breen, who denied Aongus Callanan first and then substitute Niall Healy twice, later in the first half. Perish the thought had Breen not been so vigilant, with himself and Ciaran Kenny the only Wexford players to emerge with credit.
Galway moved as they pleased and Callanan looked particularly sharp in one corner of the attack. Eanna Ryan and Healy, when introduced for Joseph Cooney who retired with a suspected broken thumb, also piled it on with their pace and guile.
With Donal Barry registering three points from midfield that's an experiment that looks likely to be stuck with for now while David Burke could also reflect on an energetic performance.
Curtailing Wexford to just two points from play was testament to Galway's defensive strength as much as the visitors' weakness and Tony Og Regan scarcely put a foot wrong.
The hosts led by 0-13 to 0-4 at the break and lifted the tempo again on the restart with 1-3 inside 12 minutes -- the goal scored by Callanan, who pushed past Matthew O'Hanlon onto Barry's delivery and picked his spot with absolute precision.
They would add a further eight points in the closing 25 minutes before referee James McGrath put Wexford out of their misery. There wasn't much McIntyre could say afterwards.
"We want to make an honourable defence of our title," he stated. "Galway have never managed a successful defence of it so from that perspective it won't have done our scoring difference any harm either. But none of us are going to lose the run of ourselves either."
On a separate note, the crowd of approximately 600 was exceptionally low for a first-round league game involving the Division 1 champions. There were other attractions on TV but it doesn't bode well for the coming months.
Scorers -- Galway: G Farragher 0-11 (7f, 3 '65s'), A Callanan 1-2, N Healy (2f), D Barry 0-3 each, E Ryan 0-2, A Cullinane, J Coen, A Smith 0-1 each. Wexford: J Berry 0-3 (2f, 1 s/l), S Banville, P J Nolan, N Breen (pen) 0-1 each.
Galway -- C Callanan; D Collins, J Lee, G O'Halloran; A Cullinane, T Og Regan, G Mahon; D Barry, D Burke; E Ryan, C Donnellan, G Farragher; A Callanan, J Cooney, J Coen. Subs: A Smith for Donnellan (7, blood), N Healy for Cooney (19), D Hayes for Mahon (57), C O'Donovan for O'Halloran (57), B Murphy for Farragher (62), K Kilkenny for (63).
Wexford -- N Breen; P Roche, M O'Hanlon, B Hobbs; R Kehoe, D Stamp, C Kenny; C Farrell, B Doyle; P J Nolan, T Waters, S Banville; P Atkinson, K Burke, J Berry. Subs: H Kehoe for Burke (h-t), K Rossiter for R Kehoe (45), D Redmond for Nolan (53), G Sinnott for (48), E Furlong for Farrell (66).
Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath)