Wexford Minors let win slip
THE WEXFORD Minor footballers looked to be on course for a first championship win of any value since defeating Wicklow five years ago with 17 minutes left in a damp and dreary Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Saturday last when Donal Shanley tapped over a free to extend his side's advantage to 0-9 to 0-4.
The visitors had kicked the first three scores of the second-half having led by two at the break, but it all went pear-shaped from then on as 1-6 was conceded without reply before Niall Hughes kicked a late consolation point after that killer goal from the midlanders.
Wexford will now travel to face Carlow in round one of the losers' section on Wednesday week and will be hoping for an improved showing on last year when they bowed out to the same opponents in Dr. Cullen Park after an initial draw in Horeswood.
This latest defeat was more frustrating than many over the past decade given that the team appeared to be in such a good position as we moved towards the three-quarters stage. However, Westmeath finally got a grip around the middle of the field, something they had struggled to achieve beforehand, and this coupled with the help offered by the wind saw them pile on the pressure.
Substitute Robert Hickey gave them hope with their first point of the second period in the 45th minute (0-9 to 0-5), and Luke Loughlin then converted a free before Wexford enjoyed a let-off when his dipping shot came back into play off the crossbar.
The real catalyst in the Westmeath revival came in the form of a powerful run from deep in his own half by wing-forward Jeremiah Scully with just over nine minutes left. His off-load found Theo Watts who set up Loughlin for a rousing point, and all of a sudden Wexford were under severe pressure and struggling to win any decent possession.
Scully then angled over a point with his left boot, and all of the momentum remained with the locals as they added two wides from an overall second-half tally of nine before a sloppy kick-out was won by Luke Loughlin who raced forward to plant the equaliser between the posts with three minutes left.
We were entering the final 60 seconds of normal time when the dangerous number 15 latched on to a glorious pass from centre-back Ryan Caffrey and swung over a beauty with his left. And while this score gave Westmeath the lead for the first time, Wexford unfortunately handed them victory in the seconds that followed.
Panic set in as another ill-advised short kick-out didn't work out, and substitute Kieran Shanley cut in from the right before planting the ball high into the roof of Dylan Cloke's net. While Niall Hughes did grab that point in added time, there was no way back for Wexford who certainly couldn't be faulted for effort but sadly lacked that little bit of composure when it was needed most.
The team had opened brightly and picked off the first three points in just over eight minutes, with Donal Shanley guiding the ball over the bar from a punt off the ground before converting a free after team captain Jamie Carty was fouled.
Three Westmeath wides on the trot followed before Cormac O'Rourke kicked a neat point at the other end, but Westmeath finally got off the mark in the ninth minute courtesy of the impressive Jeremiah Scully.
A Shanley free was caught and converted by Jamie Carty to restore the three-point advantage, but the home side came into the game strongly midway through the half as three scores from John Corbally (two, one free) and Luke Loughlin (free) brought them level by the 21st minute (0-4 each).
The game swung back in Wexford's favour though in the lead-up to half-time, but they were left to rue a series of six aimless wides in just over five minutes when they had a chance to hammer home their advantage.
Just one point was scored in that period, from a Donal Shanley free, and the team suffered a big blow in added time when Jamie Carty, who carried an injury into the game, was forced off. His replacement, Tom Byrne, did his best to lessen the gloom all the same as he fired over a point with his first touch to leave Wexford ahead at half-time by 0-6 to 0-4.
Paudie Barden, who had started at midfield, was back at full-forward for the beginning of the second-half as Byrne and Niall Hughes formed the pairing around the centre. And after wind-aided Westmeath hit three quick wides in as many minutes, Wexford went on to punish them with a trio of scores.
Donal Shanley kicked the first of just two second-half wides (from a total of ten) before an Eoin Roche pass picked out Barden to the right of goal, and he fired over coolly despite having little room to work with. Then Roche was unlucky to see a point attempt rebound off the crossbar after Barden palmed a Tom Byrne delivery into his path.
The good spell continued though as Jamie McDonnell and Ben Cowman combined down the right to set up half-time substitute Jack Bolger for a point. And it was still going according to plan when a push on Cormac O'Rourke led to Shanley's fourth score from a placed ball in the 43rd minute (0-9 to 0-4).
Wexford could have no complaints about what happened next. There was no hard luck story, nor poor refereeing to lament. Indeed, Offaly whistler Fergal Smyth conrolled proceedings well in the tricky underfoot conditions and the 40 frees he awarded were distributed evenly between both teams.
It was simply a matter of Westmeath moving up through the gears and availing of the gift that led to their goal as they booked a quarter-final spot, while Wexford must now focus on a straight knockout game in Carlow on Wednesday week.