Monday 18 December 2017

U-21 hurlers find strength in adversity

THE WEXFORD U-21 hurlers found strength in adversity in Dr. Cullen Park, Carlow, on Wednesday last when they launched a very strong finish despite being reduced to 14 men to see off the persistent locals and advance to a provincial final meeting at home to Kilkenny on July 10.

The team looked lethargic and generally unimpressive for three-quarters of a dour contest devoid of any real quality, and the pressure mounted when substitute Conor Goff was dismissed after just five minutes on the field. The Oulart-The Ballagh lad went to full-back following his introduction for Jack Hobbs in the 41st minute at a time when Wexford were clinging to an 0-8 to 0-7 lead, and this was stretched when man of the match Ian Byrne pointed a free from inside his own half after a foul on Colm Heffernan.

Goff and Carlow's Marty Kavanagh got entangled in a wrestling match on the edge of the square which only ended when Paul Coady fired a wide in the 44th minute, and both men were booked along with the home side's best player, number eight Seán Murphy.

Two and a half minutes later Daryl Roberts sent a handpass to Kavanagh who was tackled from behind by Goff and ended up on the ground, leading to a second yellow and a pointed free which left the minimum between them for the ninth time in an up to then tight contest.

One feared for Wexford's chances given the fact that Carlow had kept fighting to the end to shock Dublin in the quarter-final in Parnell Park, but the game was transformed in the 48th minute when Ian Byrne latched on to a breaking ball on the '45 and raced into the open space between there and the posts before firing a low shot past Brian Treacy for the game's key score (1-9 to 0-8). Byrne had moved to midfield in a swap with Conor O'Leary in the 27th minute and turned in a most effective display.

Carlow did respond with a point from Seán Murphy who had gone from midfield to right half-forward and caught a Paul Coady clearance over Colm Heffernan's head. However, that was their last contribution to the scoreboard and the concluding ten minutes saw a far more economical Wexford side make better use of their chances with less possession.

It might have been different if Murphy had arrived seconds earlier to catch a Marty Kavanagh cross from the left corner which he just missed with eight minutes left. However, Carlow followed up by taking the wrong options as two shots were sent tamely short to a grateful Brian Murphy while substitute Peter Shaw fired the tenth of their eleven wides.

That precious four-point gap was re-opened when Gary Moore controlled a clearance by Carlow netminder Brian Treacy and fired a beauty over the bar off his left side from the right wing. Less than 40 seconds later he turned provider to set up lively substitute Niall Murphy for another score, although three wides followed from Murphy, Moore and Jack Guiney with his first free of the night from long range before the final point was registered in added time.

Fittingly it came from the impressive Ian Byrne from a crossfield Niall Murphy pass, with the latter doing his prospects of starting in the final no harm at all with a productive cameo of nine minutes plus added time. While Gary Moore finished well, it was interesting to note that the most impressive performers from midfield forward were two non-Seniors in Byrne and Barry Carton whose use of possession was excellent.

Lee Chin struggled to get into the game at centre-forward where he met a stellar opponent in Johnny Corcoran, with his best work done in that final flourish when he was at midfield and got in some telling deliveries. It was unusual to see Jack Guiney held scoreless and very strange to note that he wasn't the team's designated free-taker given his exploits with the Seniors in that department.

Indeed, the tactics in the first quarter were puzzling to say the least as Rhys Clarke twice went for goals from placed balls without success after fouls on Lee Chin and Barry Carton, presumably acting on instructions from the sideline. If the intention was to try to put Carlow away early, surely Guiney was the man to be testing the mettle of their defenders and goalkeeper, but it made Wexford's task that bit harder when two handy point-scoring chances were squandered.

Clarke had taken just 16 seconds to get Wexford off the mark with a neat point from the left corner, but they were destined to add just one more from play before the break as Carlow's half-back line came out on top in most of the exchanges in that sector.

Both sides hit six first-half wides, with Marty Kavanagh bringing Carlow level from a free in the sixth minute after Garret Foley was booked for a foul on John Michael Nolan. Ian Byrne replied in similar fashion at the other end after Barry Carton was impeded by Johnny Corcoran, but wides were posted by Rhys Clarke and Gary Moore (line ball) before Seán Murphy sent in a dangerous delivery which Brian Murphy touched over the bar in the eleventh minute (0-2 each).

Lee Chin latched on to the break from the subsequent puck-out but fired his shot to the right and wide, while Gary Moore also missed the target before he stepped up to a line ball 55 metres out and sent it sweetly between the posts - a feat that he would repeat after the interval.

Moore was involved in the first positional switch, a straight swap with Jack Guiney in the 20th minute, and Ian Byrne doubled the lead after an attempt by Jack Hobbs was blocked before Carlow responded.

They ended eleven barren minutes from a Marty Kavanagh free before Dermot O'Leary's delivery found Barry Carton who handpassed to Jack Guiney, but his shot was saved by netminder Brian Treacy and cleared by corner-back David Galway.

Marty Kavanagh wasn't awarded a free at the other end when he appeared to be hauled down shortly after his move to full-forward, but James Doyle prospered from his new posting on the left wing as he equalised in the 26th minute (0-4 each).

A mighty free from distance by Ian Byrne restored Wexford's advantage, but Gary Moore struck the side-netting from a Barry Carton handpass before two late frees converted by Marty Kavanagh left the home side with an interval lead of 0-6 to 0-5.

Less than a minute into the new half Moore sent another line ball between the posts, and Carton made it 0-7 to 0-6 when he gathered an Ian Byrne free before Carlow defender Diarmuid Byrne followed Moore's good example to bring the sides level for the fifth time.

A Rhys Clarke free restored the advantage after Moore was fouled, but the subsequent sending-off led to a small spell of anxiety before Byrne grabbed that all-important goal and Wexford closed out the game with that improved finish.

New Ross Standard

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