Wexford out after second-half collapse
Allianz Hurling League quarter-final: Galway 3-21 Wexford 3-11
It was not the second-half showing the small band of Model county supporters expected, as a horror show after the break eventually condemned Wexford a ten-point defeat as Galway stormed all over them in this Allianz Hurling League quarter-final at a windswept Pearse Stadium in Salthill on Saturday.
One cannot disguise the fact that neither side had the ideal preparation as, following torrential rain over the previous 15 hours, a pitch inspection was called for 8 a.m.
A decision was then taken for a further inspection at 10 a.m., before the game was eventually given the go-ahead. There may have been a storm of rain but the pitch was in excellent condition, making one wonder why there was a delay in confirming the game would be played.
Such was the fine condition of the surface that both the hurling and the Galway versus Roscommon football game took place, with players having no difficulty with the surface.
Given Wexford's first-half performance, which saw them carry a one-point lead into the break, having played into the strong wind and showers, one felt they let a glorious chance of victory slip away.
But once the second-half got under way it was evident that Wexford were facing a transformed Galway outfit, who by the 43rd minute had turned that deficit into a seven-point lead (2-16 to 3-5), having hit the visitors for 2-3 in a blistering spell of hurling.
Whatever the reason for the agonies of that second-half, Cork referee Cathal McAllister did not endear himself to the Wexford crowd.
In truth, he had a nightmare game for the full 70 minutes, in contrast to Wexford's second-half collapse. During the opening 35 minutes the free count was 14-4 in favour of Galway.
Galway had struggled in that first-half and, but for the supreme accuracy of Joe Canning who contributed twelve of their 13 points, eleven from placed balls, they would have been further behind.
As Wexford chased and tackled, while also contributing some excellent passages of hurling, many of the controversial refereeing decisions against the visitors came back to haunt them, as the free-taking alone of Caning kept the westerners in contention.
Some of the Wexford tackling may have been sloppy but some of the refereeing decisions bordered on the bizarre, particularly given the challenges and tackling of Galway that went unpunished.
It was a nightmare refereeing performance from McAllister, particularly from a Wexford viewpoint through the opening 35 minutes.
Wexford kept their shape through an intense first-half despite the passionate support behind the home side.
After Conor McDonald had pointed Wexford in front inside the opening minute, a Canning free brought the sides level, but Wexford were responding to each challenge as Lee Chin swung over a fine point.
Three Canning pointed frees had Galway in front but Wexford who struck for the game's opening goal after ten minutes.
McDonald linked up with the advancing Matthew O'Hanlon and took the return pass before sending a ground shot to the net.
When Diarmuid O'Keeffe followed almost immediately with a point, Wexford led by 1-3 to 0-4 despite playing into the elements.
The flawless Canning kept chipping away at Wexford, hitting over a succession of pointed frees from a variety of angles, along with a superb point from play when, having out-fielded Matthew O'Hanlon under a puck-out, he made ground down the sideline before sending over a beautiful point off the wing, edging his side into a 0-9 to 1-3 lead after 17 minutes.
Wexford were showing a real passion during this opening spell with Chin pointing, and then the second goal arrived after 25 minutes.
After a Galway attack had broken down, Matthew O'Hanlon picked up a crossfield ball and sent in a great delivery that was superbly fielded by McDonald who found the net with a blistering shot, leaving Wexford leading by 2-4 to 0-8.
Galway had edged back in front by 0-11 to 2-4 when Cathal Dunbar swept through the defence on a fine run, but his shot was saved by 'keeper Fergal Flannery.
The ball was cleared to one side but Dunbar succeeded in getting it back across the centre to Lee Chin who crashed home an excellent goal, giving Wexford a 3-4 to 0-11 lead.
Minutes later Aidan Nolan got himself into a goalscoring position but delayed his shot and was crowded out. Cathal Mannon and Canning responded with points, but Wexford still led 3-5 to 0-13 at the interval.
While the Galway defence looked all over the place, manager Micheál Donoghue responded with the introduction of Johnny Coen and the switching of Gearóid McInerney to full-back.
This had a major influence on the second-half as Wexford could only manage six more points, with two from play coming in the closing minutes from defender Matthew O'Hanlon and midfielder Aidan Nolan, as Galway succeeded in closing out the visitors' attack.
Galway took control on the resumption. Mannion stormed into the match around midfield, while Canning was hurling superbly all over the pitch.
Inside forwards Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon were also causing huge problems for the Wexford defence, which was not helped by the retiral of Liam Ryan with a groin injury just three minutes into the second period.
His replacement, Darren Byrne, was also forced out through a hamstring injury. To compound matters, when the game had already gone away from them, Lee Chin was forced to retire with an ankle injury, having been clearly stepped on twice without even a free being awarded.
Just 30 seconds before Ryan left the field, Cathal Mannion found the net after the Wexford defence were punished for a series of mistakes on their own 45-metre line, having failed on several occasions to clear the ball.
The goal gave Galway a huge lift as they now led by 1-14 to 3-5, with Canning having pointed an earlier free. Niall Burke and Brian Concannon added points before a Paul Morris 40th-minute pointed free opened Wexford's second-half account.
But three minutes later Galway had their second goal. Brian Concannon picked out Davy Glennon inside the Wexford defence and his ball across the face of the goal was finished to the net by Niall Burke, after 'keeper Fanning had excellently saved the initial shot, giving the home side a 2-16 to 3-6 lead.
The two goals, apart from Canning's supreme free-taking (he missed just one during the course of the game), were telling factors, as Galway totally dominated the second-half, with Wexford unable to find a way to assert themselves.
Galway were leading by 2-21 to 3-9 when Canning swept through the Wexford defence, and forced a great save out of Fanning, but substitute Tadhg Haran, not long in the game, managed to tap the breaking ball to the net.
Wexford's solitary second-half scores from play arrived in additional time through O'Hanlon and Nolan, but there was no denying which county was the superior outfit.
Wexford must now re-group following the rounds of club championship games before meeting Dublin on May 19, while having to revisit Salthill on May 26 in the Leinster championship, having received a forewarning of what is to come, particularly with Galway expected to have many of their key players back.
For Wexford it was a setback, and not even the absent Rory O'Connor (hamstring) could have turned matters around.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Simon Donohoe; Pádraig Foley, Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt., 0-1), Shaun Murphy; Jack O'Connor, Kevin Foley; Aidan Nolan (0-1), Lee Chin (joint capt., 1-2), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Cathal Dunbar, Conor McDonald (2-2, 0-1 free), Paul Morris (0-4, 3 frees, 1 '65). Subs. - Darren Byrne for Ryan, inj. (39), Liam Og McGovern for O'Connor (46), Shane Reck for Byrne, inj. (52), Ian Byrne for Chin, inj. (58), Harry Kehoe for Morris (69).
Galway: Fergal Flannery; Jack Grealish, Paul Killeen, Aidan Harte; Darren Morrissey, Pádraic Mannion, Gearóid McInerney; Cathal Mannon (1-2), Seán Loftus, Niall Burke (1-1), Joe Canning (0-15, 13 frees, 1 '65), Seán Bleahane; Conor Whelan (0-1), Brian Concannon (0-2), Thomas Monaghan. Subs. - Kevin Hussey for P. Mannion, inj. (22), Davy Glennon for Monaghan, inj. (34), Johnny Coen for Morrissey (HT), Seán Kilduff for Harte (63), Tadhg Haran (1-0) for Bleahane (68).
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).