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Tuesday 16 July 2019

Sad day for Wexford football

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Round One Qualifier: Derry 4-16 Wexford 0-10

Martin O’Connor on the ball for Wexford as Benny Heron of Derry reduces his options
Martin O’Connor on the ball for Wexford as Benny Heron of Derry reduces his options

Alan Aherne in Innovate Wexford Park

The depths to which football in the county has plunged were starkly evident before a home crowd stunned into early silence in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.

Nothing of a positive nature could be gleaned from a truly shocking display in round one of the All-Ireland qualifiers, with National League Division 4 champions Derry sauntering through for four goals in the opening 28 minutes en route to a handy 18-point success.

Manager Paul McLoughlin did the honourable thing afterwards by resigning from the post after a two-year term featuring four straight championship losses, and there can be no denying that Wexford football is now at its lowest ebb of the modern era.

One particularly damning fact sums up the weakness of the resistance offered in this total mis-match.

Quite incredibly, not one of the starting six forwards got on the scoresheet from play, with the sole contribution from that sector being a converted Jonathan Bealin free in the 17th minute.

The other four first-half points arrived from midfielder Niall Hughes, plus defenders Brian Malone, Michael Furlong and Conor Devitt, with the latter starting at right half-back although he donned the number 12 jersey.

Wexford also registered five points in the second period, all from players introduced as Tom Byrne hit a brace, James Cash added one, and Donal Shanley slotted over two frees.

While I'm open to correction, I would be very surprised if the county ever went through an entire championship game without at least one of the six starting forwards on target from play.

Conor Carty and the Australia-bound Barry O'Connor were replaced from the loss to Louth by Alan Nolan and David Shannon respectively, with Wexford having first use of the wind after captain Michael Furlong won the toss.

However, the tactics were absolutely baffling, with Shannon left isolated at full-forward while his 14 colleagues all retreated and planted themselves behind the ball.

I can only speculate that the tactic was to force Derry into turnovers and then utilise the pace of the likes of Eoghan Nolan and Kevin O'Grady, but it simply never happened.

The Ulster side's skill-set was markedly superior, and they retained possession at their ease and were able to patiently work openings despite playing into the elements.

Wexford couldn't get the ball off them for the most part, with the situation not helped by some desperately poor attempts at tackling.

This, coupled with a large number of players who seemed to be strolling around unsure of their actual roles, made for a very dispiriting encounter.

It did start on a reasonably productive note, although overlapping full-back Eoin Porter kicked the first of his side's seven wides (Derry had twelve) early on before Michael Furlong and Ben Brosnan dropped efforts short.

Brian Malone got his side off the mark after a one-two with Eoghan Nolan in the sixth minute, and the lead was doubled when Furlong set up Conor Devitt to score from the 45-metre line.

Ciarán McFaul responded for Derry, and the beginning of the end for Wexford arrived when they conceded the first of those four goals in the ninth minute.

Playmaker Enda Lynn located McFaul in a large pocket of space, and the classy Shane McGuigan was also involved before Benny Heron hammered a rising shot to Matt Doyle's net (1-1 to 0-2).

Michael Furlong did pull back a point from a Glen Malone handpass, with Derry's Ryan Bell shooting two sloppy wides before Emmett Bradley won a throw-in after a technical foul on the Wexford kick-out and split the posts.

Heron turned provider in the 14th minute after the packed Wexford defence was split wide open once more, with his delivery across the square turned in by McGuigan with Niall Keenan offering back-up (2-2 to 0-3).

Jonathan Bealin pointed a free after Conor Devitt was fouled, but the floodgates remained ajar as Lynn, Bradley and McGuigan combined before Bell netted from the edge of the square in the 17th minute.

Niall Hughes pointed from distance before James Cash replaced Alan Nolan who had struggled to keep tabs on the rampant Shane McGuigan.

A mark from Brendan Rogers led to a point for his Slaughtneil clubmate McGuigan, and the scoreline stretched to an embarrassing 4-3 to 0-5 in the 28th minute when Conor McAtamney robbed his rival number 8, Daithí Waters, in the middle of the field.

This set in train a flowing move involving Benny Heron, Ciarán McFaul and Emmett Bradley before Enda Lynn applied the finishing touch, and already it was crystal clear that Derry were going to repeat their previous qualifier wins over Wexford in 2003, 2004 and 2015.

Kilmore's Tom Byrne came in at left half-forward in place of Eoghan Nolan before the northerners added two more points via McAtamney and Bell (free) to widen their interval lead to a whopping 4-5 to 0-5.

Considering that Derry had played against the wind, there could have been complete carnage if they had decided to go hell for leather in the second-half.

Thankfully, they were content to manage the game and also utilised all six substitutes, opting against going for the jugular when the hard work was already done.

All the same, they still outscored Wexford by 0-11 to 0-5, and it was clear that a number of the home team couldn't wait for the final whistle to arrive.

Shane McGuigan (two, one free) increased the margin to 14 points before a response from James Cash with his first-ever inter-county Senior point in the 41st minute.

More than twelve minutes elapsed before Donal Shanley (free) kicked the next Wexford score after a foul on the hard-working Tom Byrne, and in between Conor McAtamney, McGuigan and Enda Lynn had been on the mark for Derry.

Ryan Bell made it 4-11 to 0-7 after Eoin Porter was yellow-carded, joining Cash in the notebook.

Derry substitutes Christopher Bradley and Jack Doherty added their names to the scoresheet, while Wexford's frustration at the other end was reflected in two wides plus two attempts dropped short, all from substitute John Tubritt.

The last six points were shared, with Derry scores from Bell, Heron (a free after Daithí Waters was booked) and Heron again cancelled by Tom Byrne, Shanley (free) and Byrne once more.

The losing margin of 18 points matched the 3-23 to 1-11 defeat to Monaghan in Seamus McEnaney's last game in charge two years ago, but this performance was even more demoralising than the 3-14 to 1-18 exit to Waterford at the same stage twelve months ago.

Wexford football is in a dark place, and those still in denial on that score had their eyes opened wide in the main county ground last Saturday.

Wexford: Matt Doyle; Michael Furlong (capt., 0-1), Eoin Porter, Alan Nolan; Conor Devitt (0-1), Brian Malone (0-1), Martin O'Connor; Daithí Wtaers, Niall Hughes (0-1); Glen Malone, Ben Brosnan, Eoghan Nolan; Kevin O'Grady, David Shannon, Jonathan Bealin (0-1 free). Subs. - James Cash (0-1) for A. Nolan (23), Tom Byrne (0-2) for E. Nolan (28), Shane Doyle for Devitt (HT), Donal Shanley (0-2 frees) for Bealin (50), John Tubritt for Shannon (50).

Derry: Thomas Mallon; Brendan Rogers, Rúairí Mooney, Karl McKaigue; Jason Rocks, Niall Keenan, Christopher McKaigue (capt.); Conor McAtamney (0-2), Emmett Bradley (0-1); Ciarán McFaul (0-1), Benny Heron (1-2, 0-1 free), Pádraig Cassidy; Shane McGuigan (1-4, 0-1 free), Ryan Bell (1-3, 0-2 frees), Enda Lynn (1-1). Subs. - Christopher Bradley (0-1) for E. Bradley (44), Eoghan Concannon for K. McKaigue (46), Seán F. Quinn for Keenan (46), Jack Doherty (0-1) for McGuigan (54), Patrick Coney for Lynn (56), Conor Mulholland for Rogers (56).

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).

Gorey Guardian

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