Super start to new season as clinical attack runs riot
THE START to a new campaign was as close to perfection as manager Shane Roche could have possibly wished for in Hollymount on Sunday.
The Wexford Senior footballers produced a devastating display of clinical attacking to crush Laois by 15 points in this one-sided O’Byrne Cup Group B opener, slotting home six well-worked goals in the process.
Such a pleasing outcome was a fitting early-season boost for the hard-working boss, and a nice early reward for his determined efforts behind the scenes to improve the county’s fortunes in every way.
Nonetheless, he will be the first to realise that a big win at the start of January will be quickly forgotten if the immediate target of promotion from Division 4 of the Allianz League isn’t attained.
What this success will do, however, is fill the newcomers with lots of confidence, because Laois are usually formidable opponents although they were ripped asunder at will on this occasion.
A total of seven debutants were involved by the finish, with Kilanerin’s Dean O’Toole – nephew of the great Matty Forde – the sole starter at centre-forward.
Of the six newcomers introduced in the second-half, the most notable was probably Naomh Eanna’s Rían Fitzpatrick given that he is still attending Gorey Community School and the star centre-back on the combined Wexford team awaiting a Leinster quarter-final versus Coláiste Choilm from Tullamore next Sunday.
It was particularly pleasing for Graham Staples to enjoy his first involvement on his home ground, with the Shelmaliers club hosting a competitive inter-county football fixture for the first time after being the venue for a couple of Walsh Cup hurling ties in recent years.
Another new face, Conor Kehoe of Sarsfields, fisted the tenth and last Wexford point with his first touch at this level in the 65th minute, while Jack O’Leary (St. Fintan’s), Andrew Boland (Adamstown) and Shane Kehoe (Cloughbawn) were also introduced in the latter stages.
The goal haul of six was the best from a Wexford Senior football team since the 7-17 to 1-7 win over Warwickshire in the National League Division 2 final on August 31, 1980, played in Coventry.
And the last time six green flags were raised in Ireland occurred in a 6-17 to 1-5 Division 2B South success over Kilkenny in Danesfort on December 10, 1978.
Three Wexford players netted on the double on Saturday – Eoghan Nolan, the evergreen Ben Brosnan, and Tom Byrne – and this feat was previously achieved in the same game in that aforementioned tie against Warwickshire by Mick Carty, Martin Quigley and Brian Furlong respectively.
Laois may have opened the scoring after 48 seconds from midfielder Brian Daly after he latched on to a short free, but they trailed all the way thereafter once Nolan pounced for the first Wexford goal in the fifth minute.
It was created by the speed of Kevin O’Grady, as he showed a clean pair of heels to Adam Campion down the middle before parting to his full-forward to add to his sole previous major for the county on his 58th outing.
Tom Byrne almost added a second, only to fire low and wide after good work by Kilanerin pair Páraic Hughes and Dean O’Toole.
And although James Finn joined his Laois midfield partner Daly on the list of marksmen, Niall Corbet was picking the ball out of his net once more in the ninth minute.
Liam O’Connor delivered an accurate long pass to Ben Brosnan, with the veteran opting against taking the mark and instead turning his marker and racing through to crash home for a 2-0 to 0-2 lead.
Wexford were full of invention, with excellent support runs and good option-taking by the man in possession invariably leading to a string of opportunities.
Eoghan Nolan kicked high into the clouds for their first point from an O’Grady pass, with the latter adding the last of just two first-half wides before Tom Byrne fed Brosnan to make it 2-2 to 0-2 after another swift turn and instinctive kick.
Determined tackling right in front of the home dug-out forced a turnover and a line ball in the 13th minute. And when Byrne fed Nolan, the latter was allowed to solo in from the right without anyone from Laois considering an approach to make a tackle before he calmly netted for the second time.
No doubt he has done the same hundreds of times over the years at club training on this pitch, but he must have been amazed that inter-county opponents were so accommodating in not closing him down.
It was 3-3 to 0-3 at the water break, after Brosnan and Seán Moore swapped points, with the latter blazing over from a clear opening for the goal Laois so badly needed in the 18th minute.
Mark Barry pulled another point back on the restart, but midfielder Darragh Lyons replied from a kick that might have been chalked down as a ‘Níl’ had Hawk-Eye been operating in Hollymount.
It seemed to veer away at the last second, although there was no denying the merits of a third Brosnan point – and his second from an area to the right of the posts that would have been more favoured to a left-footed marksman.
However, it was no trouble to him as he angled the shot beautifully towards the far post, bringing his tally to 1-3 from play in the process.
Remarkably, the first of just seven frees awarded to Wexford by Kildare referee Kieran Harris (Laois had 21) didn’t arrive until the 23rd minute, but they were so far ahead and playing so well that it didn’t really matter.
Dean O’Toole scored his first inter-county point at the end of a turnover and solid play from Darragh Lyons, Kevin O’Grady and Liam Coleman, with the latter captaining the side for the first time and producing a midfield display full of energy (3-6 to 0-4).
O’Grady then supplied Tom Byrne for a point, although Brosnan was shown a black card in the immediate seconds after that ball went over the bar.
Mark Barry converted a mark and also kicked the last point of the half for Laois from play, with O’Grady knocking over a free in between as Wexford led by 3-8 to 0-6 at the break.
Laois made nine changes at the interval, with none of their starting backs staying on after being collectively taken to the cleaners in that blistering opening half.
Wexford, in contrast, waited a while before the alterations started, although Glen Malone, Jim Rossiter, Robbie Brooks and Conor Carty had all entered the fray by the second water break when their lead had been stretched to 5-9 to 0-8.
Brosnan had returned to action just before Kevin O’Grady pointed from play off his right, and the former soon added his second goal and the team’s fourth.
Dylan Furlong – whose sole previous appearance was in the same competition against Offaly at the end of 2017 – started a move that also featured Alan Tobin and Páraic Hughes before Brosnan’s powerful shot was well saved by Niall Corbet, but he followed up to direct the rebound home (4-9 to 0-6). O’Grady slipped a low shot to the right for one of his side’s six second-half wides before Tom Byrne got in on the goalscoring act with his first for the county, calmly finishing a move created by DCU colleagues Páraic Hughes and Liam Coleman.
Gary Walsh (free) and Cathal Fennessy pulled back points for Laois before the water break, with the former adding another before the sixth Wexford goal arrived in the 58th minute.
Naomhan Rossiter popped a pass to Tom Byrne who feinted as if he was giving a pass to his left before retaining possession and surging through for his second of the afternoon (6-9 to 0-9).
Walsh sent over his third free for Laois and Seán Moore hit the woodwork before substitute Conor Kehoe closed the scoring for the victors. They lost Glen Malone to a black card in between two points from veteran Ross Munnelly, the second from a free, before Walsh closed the scoring in added time.
It was great to see Jim Rossiter returning to action for the first time since his injury against Sligo on the last day of February two years ago. And there was also a solid outing at centre-back by his unrelated namesake, Naomhan, whose last appearance was as a substitute against the same opponents in this competition at the end of 2018.
Robbie Barron, like Jim Rossiter, was halted in his inter-county development by a cruciate knee injury, but he did well too in his first outing since February 2020.
Wexford: Darragh Brooks (Castletown); Robbie Barron (St. James’), Eoin Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Liam O’Connor (St. Mary’s, Rosslare); Páraic Hughes (Kilanerin), Naomhan Rossiter (St. Mary’s, Rosslare), Dylan Furlong (Sarsfields); Liam Coleman (Castletown, capt.), Darragh Lyons (St. James’, 0-1); Tom Byrne (Kilmore, 2-1), Dean O’Toole (Kilanerin, 0-1), Alan Tobin (Starlights); Ben Brosnan (Castletown, 2-3), Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers, 2-1), Kevin O’Grady (St. James’, 0-2, 1 free). Subs. – Glen Malone (Shelmaliers) for Lyons (46), Jim Rossiter (St. Fintan’s) for Hughes (51), Robbie Brooks (Castletown) for Coleman (51), Conor Carty (Castletown) for Furlong (53), Graham Staples (Shelmaliers) for O’Connor (60), Rían Fitzpatrick (Naomh Eanna) for Byrne (60), Conor Kehoe (Sarsfields, 0-1) for Brosnan (63), Jack O’Leary (St. Fintan’s) for Nolan (63), Andrew Boland (Adamstown) for Barron (66), Shane Kehoe (Cloughbawn) for O’Grady (66), also Matt Doyle (Glynn-Barntown). Sin-bin: Ben Brosnan (25), Glen Malone (67).
Laois: Niall Corbet; Adam Campion, Trevor Collins, Conal Brennan; Seán O’Flynn, John O’Loughlin, Brian Byrne; James Finn (0-1), Brian Daly (0-1); Dylan Kavanagh, Dylan Doyle, Patrick O’Sullivan; Mark Barry (0-3, 1 mark), Evan O’Carroll, Seán Moore (0-1). Subs. – James Kelly for Campion (HT), Liam Senior for Collins (HT), Alex Mohan for Brennan (HT), Cathal Fennessy (0-1) for O’Flynn (HT), Collins Ugochucko for O’Loughlin (HT), Gareth Dillon for Byrne (HT), Podge Dunne for Finn (HT), Ross Munnelly (0-2, 1 free) for Barry (HT), Gary Walsh (0-4 frees) for O’Carroll (HT), Joey Shelley for Doyle (55).
Referee: Kieran Harris (Kildare).