Fourteen-man Wexford miss out on spot in knockouts
THAT OVER-USED adage about a week being a long time in politics could also be applied to the O’Byrne Cup Senior football campaign that ended with a second successive defeat for Wexford under the floodlights in Ashbourne on Saturday.
Laois topping Group B and advancing to a semi-final clash with Kildare appeared to be the most unlikely outcome of the lot when they were hammered in Hollymount seven days earlier.
However, they got back on track with a midweek win over Meath in Stradbally, and then built on that with a six-point success over Wicklow in Crettyard earlier on Saturday afternoon.
Those results meant that Wexford would advance on the head-to-head rule if they overcame the Royals, whereas the hosts couldn’t qualify regardless of the result, for the very same reason owing to that loss to Laois.
There might have been nothing for Meath to play for in terms of progress in the competition, but they weren’t going to take a half-hearted approach in front of their home supporters on a perfect evening for football given the time of year.
And while it was a very good test for Wexford against a team that will operate two divisions above them in the league, ultimately the handicap of playing with 14 men from midway through the third quarter proved too much to take.
They were trailing by 1-7 to 0-7 when captain Martin O’Connor collected a yellow card to add to the black he took for the team while conceding a first-half penalty.
And although a well-worked Ben Brosnan goal at the start of the last quarter reduced arrears to the minimum (1-10 to 1-9), Wexford were picked off repeatedly on the break by Meath thereafter, with impressive half-time substitute James Conlon finishing with a four-point haul from right corner-forward.
The starting team bore a closer resemblance to the Laois outing than the midweek loss to Wicklow, with twelve of that side starting while Gavin Sheehan, Martin O’Connor and Glen Malone came in at the back for Robbie Barron, Liam O’Connor and Naomhan Rossiter respectively.
O’Connor became the 32nd player to be used during a hectic seven days, and as team captain he participated in a poignant pre-game tribute to the late Ashling Murphy along with his Meath counterpart, Shane McEntee.
The hosts dominated from the off, and Wexford were very fortunate not to have conceded two goals before the net of Darragh Brooks was finally breached in the 17th minute.
The game was only 35 seconds old when wing-back James McEntee darted forward to shoot across the square and wide from the left after full-forward Shane Walsh caught a Matthew Costello line ball and initially fed the lively Jordan Morris.
Morris opened the scoring from a free before Wexford conceded a penalty in the ninth minute, with Martin O’Connor dragging down Sarán Ó Fionnagáin after a defence-splitting move featuring Pádraic Harnan and the influential Cillian O’Sullivan.
The centre-back duly departed for ten minutes on a black card, but there was a let-off for the visitors as the spot kick from Jordan Morris hit the right-side post and flew across the goalmouth before the ball was cleared.
Kevin O’Grady levelled from a free ideal for a left-footer before the playing numbers were evened up too, as Meath’s James McEntee was directed towards the sin-bin for deliberately pulling down Páraic Hughes in the middle third.
The pace and movement of the Meath attack had posed problems from the off, and they finally got their full reward in the 17th minute.
Jordan Morris was involved initially in the move along with midfielder Ethan Devine, and the former accepted a handpass from Eoin Harkin and sold a dummy before crashing the ball beyond Darragh Brooks for a 1-1 to 0-1 lead.
Ben Brosnan pulled back a point prior to the water break after a foul on Alan Tobin, with Martin O’Connor and then James McEntee returning as the teams shared four scores early in the second quarter.
A Shane Walsh free for Meath drew a response from Dean O’Toole, a high kick with his left peg from a Brosnan pass, before the latter latched on to a short free taken by Tom Byrne and split the posts from 40 metres (1-2 to 0-4).
Cillian O’Sullivan dodged two would-be challengers before registering for Meath, with Glen Malone finding the side-netting from a Martin O’Connor handpass on a day when the tributes flowed for his now-retired big brother, Brian.
Brosnan missed a free but earned another one from the resultant short Meath kick-out, although it was at the expense of a sore head as he clashed with Meath’s Eoin Harkin who was forced off as a result.
Glen Malone converted while Brosnan retired to be treated for a head wound, with Mark Rossiter coming in as a temporary replacement until half-time.
The score remained at 1-3 to 0-5 in Meath’s favour at that stage, due largely to a fine save by Harry Hogan that denied Eoghan Nolan a goal after good approach work from Rossiter and Darragh Lyons.
Brosnan resumed with a head bandage but it certainly didn’t affect his accuracy, as he kicked a fine point from play in the 38th minute in response to earlier efforts from the fist of Shane Walsh and the boot of Ethan Devine.
Substitute James Conlon went on to nail two points on the trot in just over 60 seconds, although Páraic Hughes ventured forward to keep Wexford in touch from a Kevin O’Grady handpass (1-7 to 0-7).
One of several Meath breakaways caused by the opposition’s poor use of the ball led indirectly to Martin O’Connor’s dismissal in the 43rd minute.
He rather needlessly got involved after a foul by Dylan Furlong that led to a yellow card initially for the Sarsfields man, before the referee turned his attention towards the captain.
He had been pulled away from the scene by a colleague who was obviously more aware of the potential damage that could arise, but it was too late and the booking for O’Connor meant Wexford were very much up against it with 14 men.
Shane Walsh also knocked over the free that followed (1-8 to 0-7), but there was misfortune for Shane Roche’s side when Tom Byrne struck the butt of the post on their next attack after good approach work from Eoghan Nolan and Dean O’Toole.
Ben Brosnan and Cillian O’Sullivan swapped points from frees before O’Toole added his second at the end of a good move that started with a strong Dylan Furlong run and also featured a clever flick by Eoghan Nolan to Tom Byrne, who supplied the final pass.
Another O’Sullivan free made it 1-10 to 0-9 at the water break, but Wexford were bolstered on the restart when Eoghan Nolan called for a mark but passed swiftly to O’Toole, and he in turn picked out Brosnan for a composed finish to the net. It was a blow for Meath, but their impressive wing-back Cathal Hickey claimed a mark from the kick-out and substitute Jack O’Connor went on to kick a fine point, before James Conlon supplied his third score.
A foul on substitute Robbie Brooks resulted in what proved to be the last Wexford point, from a Brosnan free, in the 59th minute (1-12 to 1-10).
There was plenty of time left, but the Division 4 side ran out of legs and Meath closed out the win with the last three points from Hickey, attacking defender Donal Keogan, and crowd-pleaser Conlon.
Incidentally, referee Stephen Johnson was very busy booking players for not having gumshields, with Darragh Brooks, Meath’s Ronan Ryan, Páraic Hughes and James Conlon all yellow-carded at different stages and ordered to the sideline to rectify the matter.
Wexford: Darragh Brooks (Castletown); Dylan Furlong (Sarsfields), Eoin Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Gavin Sheehan (Gusserane); Páraic Hughes (Kilanerin, 0-1), Martin O’Connor (HWH-Bunclody, capt.), Glen Malone (Shelmaliers, 0-1 free); Darragh Lyons (St. James’), Liam Coleman (Castletown); Alan Tobin (Starlights), Dean O’Toole (Kilanerin, 0-2), Tom Byrne (Kilmore); Ben Brosnan (Castletown, 1-5, 0-3 frees), Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers), Kevin O’Grady (St. James’, 0-1 free). Subs. – Mark Rossiter (Gusserane) for Brosnan, temp. (30-HT), Naomhan Rossiter (St. Mary’s, Rosslare) for O’Grady (53), Robbie Brooks (Castletown) for O’Toole, inj. (55), Niall Hughes (Kilanerin) for Lyons (58), Robbie Barron (St. James’) for Sheehan, inj. (61), Rossiter for Tobin (65), also Conor Swaine (Horeswood), Jim Rossiter (St. Fintan’s), Conor Carty (Castletown), Seán Ryan (Gusserane), John Tubritt (Fethard), Jason Bolger (Kilanerin). Sin-bin: Martin O’Connor (10).
Meath: Harry Hogan; Robin Clarke, Donal Keogan (0-1), Eoin Harkin; Cathal Hickey (0-1), Shane McEntee (capt.), James McEntee; Pádraic Harnan, Ethan Devine (0-1); Thomas O’Reilly, Cillian O’Sullivan (0-3, 2 frees), Matthew Costello; Jordan Morris (1-1, 0-1 free), Shane Walsh (0-3, 2 frees), Sarán Ó Fionnagáin. Subs. – Ronan Ryan for Harkin, inj. (30), James Conlon (0-4) for Morris (HT), Jack O’Connor (0-1) for Ó Fionnagáin (44), Jordan Muldoon for Clarke (52), David McEntee for O’Reilly (52), Keith Curtis for O’Sullivan (61), Danny Dixon for Costello (66), Niall Kane for J. McEntee (66). Sin-bin: James McEntee (14).
Referee: Stephen Johnson (Louth).