Where there’s a Will, there’s a way, as Wexford triumph
Wexford 1-11, Laois 1-10
ICE-COOL GOALKEEPER Will Foley kicked a monster of a winning point from a 47-metre free to clinch a place in the Seamus Heaney Cup (Leinster Minor football shield) final for a gutsy Wexford side in a thrilling finish in MW Hire O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Wednesday.
It was far from an easy task for the Horeswood and Good Counsel netminder after a foul on Niall Furlong, with the ball moved forward for dissent and impressive Laois centre-back Tadhg Dineen shown a black card before the kick was taken.
Bearing in mind his tender age, Foley’s finish off the ground was outstanding, a Rory Beggan-like kick that secured a final clash with a highly-rated Meath side (4-13 to 1-5 winners over Westmeath) at the same venue this evening (Wednesday).
And whatever happens in that game, this result was a huge boost to a group of players and mentors who had to bear the brunt of a lot of criticism after two poor performances in the championship proper against Carlow and Wicklow respectively.
I didn’t spare them in my match reports at the time either, so let me state here with the utmost sincerity that they were an absolute credit to the purple and gold jersey that so many of us cherish in this fully-merited victory.
It can’t have been easy to put the heads down and prepare for this game given those two losses. And another setback was the fact that Laois had beaten Carlow in the quarter-final one week earlier, whereas Wexford had a bye into the last four of a competition open to every Leinster county bar Dublin, Kildare, Offaly and Wicklow – the four championship semi-finalists.
All except two of the players used in March and April were available to the mentors, and from the off it was clear that Wexford were well matched with the hosts in a very tight contest.
Young Michael Kavanagh – one of six squad members eligible again in 2023 along with Niall Furlong, Dara Kelly, Ryan Sinnott, Harry Murphy and Evan Dunne – was deployed as an extra body in the middle third as Patrick Berry and Dean Hillis performed in a two-man full-forward line, and the Castletown lad was probably on the ball more than anyone else in the opening half.
His workrate and intelligent use of possession set the tone for a performance full of fighting spirit and a relentless attitude that was amply rewarded.
One of the key aspects of the game was how Wexford made Laois battle so hard for scores, and they denied them countless others with their determined swarm tackling around the ‘D’ in particular.
Having said that, the early signs looked ominous as Corey Geoghegan (free) and Rory Lalor, their most dangerous forward, pushed Laois into a 0-2 to nil lead inside five minutes.
Joint-captain Rúairí Martin made a welcome return for Wexford after missing the Wicklow clash due to injury, and he got them off the mark from an eighth-minute free secured by midfielder Cillian Cullen.
Joe Doyle equalised with a fine solo effort, the first of three sweet points via his accurate left peg, but Laois midfielder Michael Gaffney restored their slim advantage at the end of the opening quarter (0-3 to 0-2).
However, it didn’t last long, because Wexford pounced for a superbly-worked goal in the 16th minute. Wing-back Oisín Byrne – an unused substitute in the championship proper – worked his socks off down the left flank throughout, and when he popped a pass to Dara Kelly, there was open road ahead of the Naomh Éanna defender.
He made ground and timed his pass to perfection, waiting for the last covering back to start his approach towards him before off-loading inside to Dean Hillis. The St. Joseph’s lad had scored Wexford’s sole goal thus far, in the defeat to Carlow, and he doubled his tally with a powerful blast from close range for a 1-2 to 0-3 lead.
Ryan Little replied with a Laois point, only for Cillian Cullen to take a Michael Kavanagh pass, turn on to his left under heavy pressure, and kick a fine score in the 19th minute.
And the lead was almost widened on the next Wexford attack, with Conor Cullen picking out Joe Doyle whose goalbound shot was kept out by the legs of Laois netminder Luke O’Reilly.
That stop spurred his team-mates on to greater efforts, because they hit the last two points of the half from Tadhg Dineen (’45) and Corey Geoghegan (free) to go in for the break deadlocked (0-6 to 1-3).
Joe Doyle restored the lead via the woodwork from a Jack Hennessy pass on the restart, but Rory Lalor brought Laois level for the third time from six occasions overall in the 39th minute.
The composed and accurate Lalor then made it 0-8 to 1-4, only for Rúairí Martin to kick an overhead point with his back to goal from a Patrick Berry pass.
He added another score from a free and, after Corey Geoghegan hit back for Laois, Martin supplied the pass for Joe Doyle to kick his third point and make it 1-7 to 0-9 in the 47th minute.
That marked the start of a very positive patch, as Martin slotted over another free before receiving a pass from Dean Hillis and giving a swift return to the number 15 who duly made it 1-9 to 0-9.
The winning line was coming into sight, but a potentially big blow was endured in the 55th minute when Laois substitute Cathal Casey located full-forward Ryan Little and he fired a low shot into the net for the equaliser.
With the excitement levels rising among the small crowd, Jack Hennessy delivered a fantastic pass into space in the right corner, and substitute Callum Farrell made a better angle for himself before restoring the lead with a pinpoint finish off his left (1-10 to 1-9).
Ryan Little drilled another effort on goal low and wide, while Daniel Bolger made a good interception to cut out another chance. However, extra-time was looking on the cards after Laois replacement Tom Bride finished off good work by Eoin Crawley and Adam Hunt in the 60th minute.
Will Foley had other ideas, though, and his winning point was right out of the top drawer and an admirable finish in every sense given the tension and pressure involved.
Laois did press hard for another leveller, but it was entirely fitting that the game ended with Wexford centre-back Páidí Power making the last of several interceptions brought off by the victors around their own ‘D’.
Wexford: Will Foley (Horeswood, 0-1 free); Darragh Hayes (St. Mary’s, Rosslare), Niall Furlong (Buffers Alley), Dara Kelly (Naomh Éanna); Conor Cullen (Sarsfields), Páidí Power (St. Anne’s, joint-capt.), Oisín Byrne (Kilanerin); Cillian Cullen (Bannow-Ballymitty, 0-1), Jack Hennessy (Oylegate-Glenbrien); Pádraig Jones (Kilanerin), Joe Doyle (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, 0-3), Rúairí Martin (Naomh Éanna, joint-capt., 0-4, 3 frees); Michael Kavanagh (Castletown), Patrick Berry (Glynn-Barntown), Dean Hillis (St. Joseph’s, 1-1). Subs. – Shane Doran (Oylegate-Glenbrien) for Conor Cullen, inj. (25), Callum Farrell (Sarsfields, 0-1) for Berry (41), Daniel Bolger (Kilanerin) for Jones (41), James Lawless (Duffry Rovers) for Cillian Cullen, inj. (47), also Ryan Sinnott (St. Martin’s), Shane Donovan (Glynn-Barntown), Bobby Reville (St. Anne’s), Harry Murphy (Bannow-Ballymitty), Evan Dunne (Monageer-Boolavogue), Jack Reck (HWH-Bunclody), Brendan Bolger (Kilanerin).
Laois: Luke O’Reilly; David Miller, Conor Raggett, Niall Lalor; Eoin Crawley, Tadhg Dineen (0-1 ’45), Jake Darcy (capt.); Hugo Emerson, Michael Gaffney (0-1); Eoin Johnston, Corey Geoghegan (0-3, 2 frees), Adam Hunt; Ben Byrne-Slattery, Ryan Little (1-1), Rory Lalor (0-3). Subs. – David Donoghue for Johnston (HT), Tom Bride (0-1) for Byrne-Slattery (40), Cathal Casey for Miller (48), Fionn Mullally for Lalor, inj. (53), Jack Behan for Emerson (53). Sin-bin: Tadhg Dineen (60+2).
Referee: Paddy McDermott (Kildare).