Offaly 1-13, Wexford 0-13: There won't be much summer hurling to look forward to if Wexford repeat the abysmal showing in Semple Stadium, Thurles, on Sunday last which consigned the county to Division 2 of the Allianz National League for another season.
A one-goal loss after a truly awful secondhalf denied Colm Bonnar's side a return to the top flight and, if truth be told, they don't deserve to be in the company of the sport's elite if this is the best they can come up with.
This game was touted by many as being more important than the championship clash to come on May 30, but there was nothing in the body language of several players to suggest that the stakes were so high.
The very essence of a league in any sport is that teams are promoted or relegated on the basis of performance, so it's time for the whinging to stop about Wexford's predicament being no good for them, or for hurling in general. Their results over the past two seasons have got them into this position, nothing else, and they were unable to take the chances presented to play in Division 1.
Most Wexford fans in the 17,087 attendance stayed on for the Kilkenny v. Tipperary game, and it was like watching two different sports. The intensity, physicality and admirable bravery of the combatants in that clash hasn't been matched by the Model county for a long, long time, and we are a lot further removed from that level than many are prepared to accept or believe.
Having said all that, the funny thing is that a victory in Wexford Park at the end of the month is quite possible, as Offaly are not a great deal better. They boast a durable defence, with David Franks and David Kenny the stand-out performers, while Wexford had nobody in the middle third of the field to match the ball-winning and hoovering capabilities of Brendan Murphy who worked himself to a standstill.
However, their forward line was as lacking in penetration as our own, apart from that bright first eleven minutes when they created the match-winning platform. The fact that a mere seven points were scored in the second-half (five by Wexford) is a poor indictment of both teams and, while the game was hanging there waiting for the losers to push on, they never seemed capable of edging in front.
Stephen Banville's early point from a Rory Jacob crossfield pass wasn't a sign of things to come as Offaly posted 1-5 without reply in a six-minute period. Neither Dermot Flynn nor Malachy Travers covered themselves in glory for the goal midway through the first quarter, allowing Daniel Currams to get the decisive touch on a long delivery from James Rigney.
Offaly looked particularly dangerous down the left flank, with winger Derek Molloy full of running, although Wexford did improve between the 15th and 20th minutes when they outscored their rivals by three points to one. The pick of those white flags was the first of two fine line balls struck sweetly by team captain Diarmuid Lyng, while he also set up Banville for his second but the full-forward was subsequently outplayed by David Kenny.
Two fine Derek Molloy points left Offaly in command, although a run of four without reply from Paul Carley ('65 and free), Rory Jacob and Andrew Shore brought Wexford to within a goal (1-8 to 0-8).
While the men in purple and gold didn't shoot a single first-half wide to Offaly's five, three late points from the midlanders courtesy of a hat-trick of Shane Dooley frees was a fairer reflection of the general run of play.
The gap had been lessened to 1-12 to 0-11 when the mentors made their first changes in the 42nd minute, with Stephen Doyle and Tomás Waters replacing the ineffective Pat Kenny and Paul Carley respectively.
Amazingly, just three more points were scored, but that tells its own story about the weaknesses in both forward lines. Offaly's Shane Dooley struck the side-netting before Malachy Travers lofted over a fine wind-aided point from inside his own half, and one expected Wexford to make a strong bid for victory when David Redmond narrowed the gap to two with ten minutes remaining (1-12 to 0-13).
And although Offaly let them off the hook to an extent with a series of terrible wides, including a couple from frees, the midlanders still managed the last point when Brian Carroll latched on to a pass into space by Cathal Parlon with five minutes of normal time left.
Antony O'Connell did well to close down Carroll and deny him a goal moments later, but the closest Wexford came to forcing extratime was at the death when Tomás Waters grabbed a Ciarán Kenny delivery and saw his head-high shot diverted over the end line by alert netminder Brian Mullins.
While some of the Wexford players mightn't like to hear it, they are inviting criticism on themselves with performances of this nature. After making a stand last year which led to a change in backroom team, the least followers expected, and demanded, was that the players would fight like tigers for everything on the field and play with passion and pride.
That's what they now need to do on May 30, because those qualities were nowhere to be seen on Sunday last.
Wexford: Dermot Flynn; Malachy Travers (0-1), Paul Roche, Antony O'Connell; Michael Jacob, Stephen Nolan, Richie Kehoe; David Redmond (0-1), Ciarán Kenny; Paul Carley (0-4, 3 frees, 1 '65), Andrew Shore (0-1), Diarmuid Lyng (capt., 0-2 line balls); Pat Kenny (0-1), Stephen Banville (0-2), Rory Jacob (0-1). Subs. - Stephen Doyle for P. Kenny, Tomás Waters for Carley, Darren Stamp for Nolan, Peter Atkinson for Banville.
Offaly: Brian Mullins; David Franks, David Kenny, Paul Cleary (0-1 free); James Rigney, Ger Oakley (capt.), Rory Hanniffy; Kevin Brady, Brendan Murphy; Brian Carroll (0-3), Joe Brady, Derek Molloy (0-3); Shane Dooley (0-5 frees), Joe Bergin, Daniel Currams (1-1). Subs. - Cathal Parlon for Currams, Conor Mahon for Murphy.
Referee: Ger Hoey (Clare).