Wexford football manager John Hegarty feeling frustrated after loss to Antrim

Páraic Hughes taking on Dermot McAleese before his early departure. Photographs: Noel Reddy.

Dave DevereuxWexford People

FRUSTRATION WAS the over-riding feeling for Wexford manager John Hegarty having watched his side fade badly after the interval to slump to a 2-15 to 0-14 Tailteann Cup defeat against Antrim in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Saturday.

Having battled to a creditable draw with Fermanagh in Enniskillen the previous weekend, the outlook was again promising for the Model county at half-time following an almost perfect opening 35 minutes.

However, two quickfire goals early in the second-half from the boot of Ruairí McCann put the Saffrons in control and they stifled the home challenge thereafter.

The hosts looked like they could do no wrong in the first-half, building up an 0-11 to 0-7 advantage by the 33rd minute with a flawless display of shooting, although two points before the interval did put a pep in the Antrim step as they retreated to the dressing-room.

“The first-half was a continuation of where we finished off in Fermanagh last week. It was a carbon copy of the second-half up there,” he said.

“If anything, we had a little bit more control. We were conscious that Antrim are a really hard running team, and we didn’t want it to become a game of basketball that would go up and down the field.

“We were deliberately trying to play with a little bit more control, and I think the lads did everything that was asked of them in the first-half.

“They looked like a more mature team than I’ve seen from Wexford in recent years. They were playing with a good level of control and taking scores.

“It was disappointing that there was a couple of frees and placed balls that were keeping them in it, and the couple of scores that they got before half-time. I thought a two-point lead at half-time flattered them considering how the game had gone,” he added.

The only real blot on the copybook during an impressive first-half wasn’t of Wexford’s own making - the enforced withdrawal of Páraic Hughes, who had helped himself to two fine early points, due to injury in the 13th minute.

“Paudie kicked two great scores and they had no answer to him running at them. Similar to Kevin O’Grady on the other side, and to lose Paudie after ten or 15 minutes was tough.

“It’s a recurrence of the same injury that he had to come off with against Laois and Fermanagh, so it hasn’t gone away. We all know he’s a good player, but he was on fire yesterday,” Hegarty said.

Richie Waters soloing away from Antrim pair Marc Jordan and Dermot McAleese.

Having gone through the entire first-half without kicking a single wide, Wexford hit three on the trot after the change of ends and their confidence was dented further when McCann pounced for two well-taken goals in quick succession. Hegarty said that, given how Antrim set up, that left the Slaneysiders with a real mountain to climb.

“We started the second-half well enough, but just couldn’t take our chances. We had the first couple of shots at goal, but the two goals were killers, in that they came so close together and the belief and momentum that Antrim got from that allowed them to bounce right back to all the things they are good at.

“Small things can sometimes change games drastically. It’s not just the two goals in themselves.

“The two goals only put them four points up, that shouldn’t have been a problem, but what it did as well was that it allowed them to do what they’re best at, and that is pull men back and then hit on the counter-attack, and we didn’t deal with that well enough.

“That’s the frustrating thing from our side of it; while we still had lots of possession, we didn’t look threatening enough with that possession. We were left playing the game that they wanted to play, which we had deliberately set out in the first-half not to get dragged into,” he said.

Hegarty was disappointed with how Wexford let the game drift away from them in the second-half, but believes his side will respond well to adversity and thinks the lessons learned with stand them in good stead as the building process continues.

“We’re frustrated with ourselves. Antrim are always going to do what they’re going to do, and you can’t legislate for decisions officials are going to make.

“We can only control what we do ourselves and there are some things that we would maybe have identified at half-time that we were frustrated with that we didn’t improve on in the second-half.

“What we can take away from the game is that they’re an established Division 3 team and we can match them, but we need to be better at adapting when the game goes away from us. That’s the learnings that we’ll take away from the game.

“We were right there in it, and I think anyone that was there would have to have been pleased with the first-half that they saw, but there’s work to be done from looking at the second-half,” he said.

Wexford will get a chance to put the lessons learned into practice the Sunday after next when they take on Leitrim in their final group game in Parnell Park, knowing that a victory against a team they have already beaten this year would see them progress.

“We’ve two weeks and then it’s Leitrim and a win there and we’re in the preliminary quarter-finals and the summer opens up for us a bit further,” Hegarty said.