Hurley hits an early winner
Cabinteely 0 Wexford FC 1
Getting three points on the road represents the best start possible to any campaign, and Wexford F.C. are in that happy position after gaining a fully-merited one-goal win against Cabinteely in their SSE Airtricity First Division season opener in chilly Stradbrook on Friday.
The all-important strike came at an early stage, with Seán Hurley racing in from the left flank to finish a flowing move in the eighth minute.
It was all made possible by an inch-perfect through ball by Dean Kelly to the right side of the penalty area.
Striker Aaron Dobbs latched on to the pass and, given his prolific scoring form of late, nobody would have been surprised to see him having a go himself.
However, he had the presence of mind to realise that Hurley was in a better position, and he took goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness out of the equation by driving the ball low across the box for the Wicklow man to slam home his first goal for the club from close range.
Hurley was one of eight players in the starting eleven who were active in last year's campaign and, given how the 2017 season never took off, this win will do wonders for the confidence of the players.
And it was achieved in tougher circumstances than planned also, since captain Ross Kenny had to cry off with an injury after making more appearances than anyone else last term.
It meant that his namesake, the unrelated Chris 'Hopper' Kenny, was forced into defensive duties on his first outing after returning from Sligo Rovers where he spent the previous season in the Premier Division.
The experienced Enniscorthy man filled the central role in a back three, flanked by Kilkenny youngster Owen McCormack on the right and newcomer Seán Kelly on the left.
The latter can be best described in terms of physique as a solid block, with the Mayo native having also featured with Sligo Rovers in the past. A relatively recent arrival in Wexford, he played local league soccer with Fastnet Rovers last year and also lined out in the forward line for the St. Anne's Senior Gaelic football team and the county Juniors.
The other new face in the first eleven, Shane Barnes, proved a useful partner up front for Aaron Dobbs before succumbing to injury in the 36th minute, with his place taken by fellow debutant John Morgan.
Recent acquisition from Waterford, Owen Wall, also made his first appearance as a late substitute for Dean Kelly, and his pace and trickery looks like it will pose plenty of problems for rival defences as the campaign unfolds.
Wexford started on the front foot, with an Aaron Dobbs shot blocked on the edge of the box before Dean Kelly played a one-two with Shane Barnes and forced Cabinteely into the concession of a corner as he made inroads from the left.
That bright opening was richly rewarded with Seán Hurley's eighth-minute goal, and Dobbs then tested the reflexes of netminder Stephen McGuinness whose diving save led to the visitors' second corner.
Seán Hurley's delivery from the right met the head of last year's leading scorer Thomas Croke, who wore the captain's armband in Ross Kenny's absence, but his effort was too high and didn't trouble Cabinteely.
The home side's first attempt arrived in the 20th minute from a free-kick, but netminder Danny Bolger didn't have any work to do as Conor Earley ballooned it into the night air.
The south Dubliners did force a corner on their next attack, but defensive midfielder Mikey Byrne was alert to the danger and cleared it at his near post.
Shane Barnes sustained the knock that ultimately forced him out of the game in the 23rd minute, and attacking partner Aaron Dobbs looked to find the rampaging Seán Hurley again but his cross was driven out by a defender for a throw.
Conor Earley couldn't make the most of another free-kick, this time in a better central location close to the penalty area, with his shot hitting the wall before Thomas Croke completed the clearance.
The first real opening for Cabo arrived in the 33rd minute, with Keith Dalton beating Seán Kelly for pace down the left flank before cutting in and firing a low shot across Danny Bolger's goal and wide.
After trying to battle on for twelve minutes, Shane Barnes had to succumb to his injury and was replaced by I.T. Carlow colleague John Morgan.
There was no further threat to Wexford's lead before half-time, although Thomas Croke did collect the game's first yellow card for a foul on Dean Casey in the 41st minute.
The third of the visitors' four corners was won by Croke early in the second period, but Seán Hurley's delivery was headed clear.
A weak shot by Dean Kelly was deflected before goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness claimed it in the 52nd minute, while Mikey Byrne again averted the danger when Cabinteely forced a corner.
A good cross from the left by Dean Casey presented an opening for Keith Dalton, but Seán Hurley's challenge was enough to put him off and the ball went wide.
Cabinteely had introduced Joe Doyle, a player who has posed problems for Wexford in the past, and their attacking threat certainly improved as the half wore on.
Another familiar face with a forward's instinct entered the fray in the last quarter, as Kaleem Simon has featured with both Longford and Bohemians in the past against the south-east side.
The pressure mounted as another Casey cross broke off a defender into the path of captain and dangerman Kieran Marty Waters who fired a first-time shot narrowly wide.
A header by Casey was deflected for a corner, but while Kevin Knight rose highest he didn't get enough power behind his effort to worry Danny Bolger.
The Carlow netminder's feet did come to the rescue in the 65th minute, although Joe Doyle didn't get hold of his shot properly on a pitch that was in generally decent condition given that it has been used for rugby throughout the winter.
Referee Paula Brady took a tumble in an accidental collision with Cabinteely's Aaron Robinson, but happily she wasn't injured and the action continued without delay.
She was called upon to issue Karl Byrne with a yellow card nearly seven minutes later, with Wexford enjoying a let-off on the home side's next attack when Jack Watson fired over from inside the penalty area.
Aaron Dobbs tried his luck from a long-range shot in the 76th minute, but it veered left and wide.
A Seán Hurley free-kick was headed clear after Kevin Knight was booked for a challenge on new arrival Owen Wall down the right flank.
Joe Doyle hung a high cross into the box at the other end and, when Danny Bolger was unable to grab it, Owen McCormack drove it to safety when the ball bounced.
The lively Dobbs robbed Conor Earley of possession in the 84th minute, but the Cabo man recovered to take the sting out of his shot and Stephen McGuinness made a handy save.
There was further pressure on the Wexford defence before the end, with Thomas Croke forced out of the action after an injury following a foul by Aaron Robinson that led to the game's last booking.
Mikey Byrne cleared another corner, with the next one in the immediate aftermath eventually arriving at the feet of Keith Dalton who missed the target from long range.
With four extra minutes announced, John Morgan managed to win a corner from a Mark Slater pass which was just what the doctor ordered, as he killed some of that precious time with Aaron Dobbs offering assistance.
Eventually Cabinteely did clear their lines, and a push by Owen McCormack on the left endline gave them one last chance.
The free-kick from Kieran Marty Waters found Conor Keeley at the far post, but his shot was blocked for a corner.
John Morgan cleared and, when the ball was returned into the danger zone it was fisted to safety by Danny Bolger.
That was the last throw of the dice from the home side, with the final whistle proving sweet music to the ears of the Wexford players who will now look to build on that win when they entertain U.C.D. in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday at 8 p.m.
Wexford F.C.: Danny Bolger; Owen McCormack, Chris Kenny, Seán Kelly; Mark Slater, Thomas Croke (capt.), Mikey Byrne, Dean Kelly, Seán Hurley; Shane Barnes, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - John Morgan for Barnes, inj. (36), Owen Wall for D. Kelly (76), A.J. Lehane for Croke, inj. (86), also Liam McCartan, Danny Doyle, Kealan Gaffney, Dean George.
Cabinteely: Stephen McGuinness; Karl Byrne, Conor Keeley, Kevin Knight, Conor Earley; Keith Dalton, Eoghan Morgan, Jack Watson, Dean Casey; Zak O'Neill, Kieran Marty Waters (capt.). Subs. - Joe Doyle for Morgan (53), Aaron Robinson for O'Neill (58), Kaleem Simon for Casey (75), also Paul Fox, Stephen Ball, Finn McGowan, Seán Bregazzi.
Referee: Paula Brady (Dublin).
New Ross Standard