Wexford Gold 4-13 Laois 0-12
Wexford Gold picked a fine time to register their first Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge Under-17 hurling win, progressing past Laois and into the Division 4 Jerome O'Leary Cup semi-finals at Fenagh on Saturday.
It was the introduction of Niall Murphy that proved to be a huge momentum changer in this game. The fact that it was serendipitous, after an unfortunate injury to Seamus Doyle saw him struggle off, won't worry management or the players in the slightest.
Things didn't look good with 19 minutes gone and Wexford just 0-5 to 0-4 ahead with a gale at their backs. Yet, the Ferns St. Aidan's man was on the field only seconds when he notched his first goal. Two minutes later, he rattled the net again. By full-time Murphy had a match-winning 3-2 salvo.
Wexford Gold needed someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck and push the team over the line. It's tough when confidence is low, as things seem to go wrong easier, and the ball always bounces the other way.
In truth, Doyle's shoulder injury was another one of those bad breaks but Wexford turned it into a positive. Up to then the Slaneysiders had just three Jake Nobbs points, plus scores from Jack Fortune and Ben O'Connor, to show for their keen efforts.
Laois were plucky, up-for-it and had a decent corner-forward in Ciarán Byrne. However, like their opponents they were win-less coming into the contest and it showed after the opening Wexford Gold goal. Heads quickly dropped.
A speculative Fortune ball into the goalmouth, that Jason Alley didn't deal with, created the major. O'Connor kept the ball alive inside, feeding a free Niall Murphy and he rattled low to the net.
Ninety seconds later and Wexford netted for a second time. Again O'Connor was involved, feeding over a ball that Tadhg Kelly, maybe influenced by the rounders Féile taking place on the other playing fields, swiped at mid-air and missed.
Murphy was quick to react though. He picked up the ball, was initially blocked down but sent his second strike arrowing into the far top corner. 2-5 to 0-4 up, Wexford started to look more confident in everything they did.
John and Anthony Murphy both added points before the break, as did O'Connor and Kelly, but it was Ethan Freeman's persistence, forcing home a goal off the deck from close range, that gave his side a comfortable interval lead (3-10 to 0-5).
Laois amped up the pressure after the break, with the breeze at their backs, but in truth, Art Sinnott was comfortable in the Wexford Gold goal. The Monageer-Boolavogue stopper has looked solid through this difficult campaign and he was unduly troubled whenever Laois did create a sniff of goal.
After Niall Murphy pointed in the 34th minute, Wexford went 24 minutes without a score. Their opponents managed seven points in that time but six of them were dead-balls by Darren Bowe and that says a lot about how tightly the Slaneysiders defended.
Still eight clear (3-11 to 0-12) with two minutes of normal time left, Wexford ended the game with a bang. After minors from Fortune and Murphy, the latter completed his hat-trick when he blocked down Alley in the Laois goal and forced the ball over the line in the ensuing scramble.
Despite the fact that the referee managed to have the score wrong at half-time, changed it, and then got it wrong at full-time too, Wexford will still be happy enough with him after his lenient approach to Jake Nobbs after a flash-point right at the end of the game saw the Blackwater clubman only yellow-carded.
Wexford now have a semi-final to look forward to this week, with details to be announced in the coming days. Should they win that, the final is scheduled to take place on June 24 in Carlow.
Wexford Gold: Art Sinnott; Aaron Doyle, Niall Parker, Nathan Byrne (capt.); Evan O'Dwyer, Seamus Doyle, Jake Clancy; Jake Nobbs (0-3, 1 free, 1 '65), Conor Morris; Tadhg Kelly (0-1), Anthony Murphy (0-1), Jack Fortune (0-2); Ben O'Connor (0-2), John Murphy (0-1), Ethan Freeman (1-1). Subs. - Niall Murphy (3-2) for Seamus Doyle (19), Robert McGuinness for Clancy (31), Jamie Doyle for Freeman (40), Cameron O'Leary for Morris (51), Alex Sludds for Fortune (54), also Philip Redmond, Paudie Bailey, Aaron Byrne, David Mernagh, Kevin Cosgrave, Seán O'Neill, Glen Carton, Tomás Cosgrave.
Laois: Jason Alley; Patrick Wright, Ben Delaney, Gareth O'Brien (capt.); Dylan Doyle, Pádraic Dunne (0-1), Enda Parlon; Shane Bowe, Oisín Campion; Robbie Delaney, Adam Loughman, Aodhán Doheny; Ciarán Byrne (0-2), Darren Bowe (0-9, 7 frees, 1 '65), Mark Hennessy. Subs. - Páuric Cahill for Wright (40), Michael Dowling for S. Bowe (60), David Madden for Hennessy (60), Bowe for Byrne, inj. (60+7).
Referee: Frankie Fitzpatrick (Carlow).