A harsh lesson
Wexford 6-36 Wicklow 1-12
Wexford taught Wicklow a harsh hurling lesson on Sunday, schooling them in the art of play necessary to reach a Leinster final and the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Full-forward Conor McDonald was in exceptional form, treating Michael Verney to an awful afternoon before he was called ashore by Davy Fitzgerald in the second half. Two of his four points from play could have been goals, only the despairing dives of defenders deflected the ball over rather than under the bar. He also had a hand in another 1-03 scored by teammates.
If the ball came in high, he won it. It came in low, he won it. If the defender got possession, he won it back. He caused consternation in the Wicklow backline and forced them to put Enda Donohoe back as a sweeper, a move that robbed Peter to pay Paul.
It left Shaun Murphy free at the other end to cut out the supply to Andy O'Brien and the Wexford half back line and midfield had lots of space and time to pick out their pass of choice, if indeed they did not take a shot themselves. Garry Molloy and Diarmuid O'Keeffe chose the latter, knocking over three points each. Wicklow were always clearing the ball under pressure, hitting it anywhere whereas Wexford always had a spare man available to take a short pass before surveying his options for a pass.
There was a huge gulf in skill level and ability between the two teams, Wexford's passing was crisp and their first touch was sharp. They would put up a hand amidst a forest of swinging hurls and come down with the ball.
However, perhaps the biggest difference between the counties was on the side line. There were probably more Wexford supporters there than Wicklow supporters. Every Wexford youngster seemed to have a hurl with them. At half time they went in on the field and the evolution of a Wexford hurler was on show.
At one end were the smallest children with hurls that were nearly bigger than them. Then came the ten-year-olds hitting the ball over and back. Then came the teenagers leathering the sliotar at each other. Then came the Wexford subs, the only difference between them and the children was their physical size and the fact they were further away from each other.
How could there be anything other than a gulf in hurling ability between Wexford and Wicklow?
Wexford almost got a perfect start to the match. The Wicklow defence parted like the Red Sea from the throw in and Conal Flood raced through before a Wicklow defender intercepted his pass towards McDonald on the edge of the square. Their next two attacks yielded two points however, McDonald and Jack Guiney opening their accounts.
Andy O'Brien responded with a goal and Wicklow led for a brief moment. Every full-back in the county knows what he can do when he gathers possession around the square and Wexford's Darren Byrne was given a nice introduction to O'Brien's talents in the third minute.
Byrne wasn't in for a bad afternoon though as the supply of ball into O'Brien became almost non-existent, he barely touched the ball for the rest of the half. By the time Wicklow scored again, a Seanie Germaine point, Wexford had seven on the scoreboard.
Any time Wicklow scored Wexford replied with two or three points, never giving the home side a chance to gain a foothold in the match and offer any sense of resistance.
They also added two goals late in the half, corner-forwards Liam Rochford and Jake Firman hitting the back of the net. It was 2-21 to 1-06 at half-time and hard for any enthusiasm to seep into the crowd or the players, other than a few Wexford subs looking to impress Davy Fitzgerald.
Three of them, Jack O'Connor, Damien Reck and Aidan Nolan, tagged on goals in the last ten minutes to add a little flourish to the score line.
Most of the Wicklow team will now have a couple of weeks off before they launch an attack on the National League and attempt to go one step further than last year when they lost in the final to Meath.
Scorers - Wexford: Jack Guiney (7f) 0-11; Jake Firman 2-03; Conor McDonald (2f) 0-06; Liam Rochford 1-04; Jack O'Connor 1-01; Damien Reck, Aidan Nolan 1-00 each; Garry Molloy, Diarmuid O'Keeffe 0-03 each; Paudie Foley, Conal Flood 0-02 each; Cathal Dunbar 0-01. Wicklow: Andy O'Brien (5f) 1-06; Garry Byrne, Warren Kavanagh, Ronan Keddy, Seanie Germaine, Anto Byrne, Garry Hughes 0-01 each.
Wexford: Conor O'Leary; Darren Byrne, Eoin Molloy, Shaun Murphy; Garry Molloy, Paudie Foley, Eanna Martin; Aaron Maddock, Diarmuid O'Keeffe; Michael O'Regan, Conor McDonald, Conal Flood; Liam Rochford, Jack Guiney, Jake Firman. Subs: Lee Chin for Diarmuid O'Keeffe (Blood 17-24 mins); Cathal Dunbar for Conor McDonald, Jack O'Connor for Diarmuid O'Keeffe (both 43 mins); Damien Reck for Paudie Foley (55 mins, inj.); Aidan Nolan for Conal Flood (57 mins).
Wicklow: Robert Fitzgerald; Emmet Byrne, Michael Verney, Martin O'Brien; G Byrne, W Kavanagh, E Donohoe; Ronan Keddy, Christy Moorehouse Jnr; Seanie Germaine, Anto Byrne, Jamie Byrne; Padraig Doyle, Andy O'Brien, Garry Hughes. Subs: Eoin Keddy for Garry Hughes (55 mins, inj.); Jonathan Tallon for Enda Donohoe (58 mins); Cian Staunton for Robert Fitzgerald (60 mins); James O'Brien for Padraig Doyle (61 mins).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)