Brosnan holds nerve to steer Wexford home
Wexford 2-13, Louth 1-15
IN the cool of the tunnel, Wexford manager Aidan O'Brien reflected on what had just happened.
His side had held on for their first competitive win since plundering the points at the same venue in Drogheda in the league on March 10, but since then, there have been several near misses in which Wexford have failed to see out a game.
This time round they took a five-point lead in at the break (1-10 to 1-5) thanks to a superb Ciaran Lyng goal and some excellent dead-ball work from Ben Brosnan, but the Slaneysiders grew nervous as the game wore on, perhaps a product of their relegation to Division 3 in the spring.
Some of their better players were withdrawn. Lee Chin was pulled off as his exertions with the county's hurlers took their toll, while Daithi Waters, who was brilliant at centre field, also made way.
However, Brosnan kept his nerve with a difficult late free, as Wexford did just enough to get home against a resurgent Louth outfit.
"We have been operating in a division where there were games we could have won 10 minutes out, but failed to see it home," O'Brien said afterwards.
"In fairness to the lads they kept going. It got tight at the end, but we nicked a few scores consistently though the second half and that was the vital factor."
Louth started and finished strongly. Shane Lennon's first-half goal against the wind seemed to set them up nicely, before Lyng's strike put a gap between the sides at the break that flattered the visitors.
The final quarter saw Brian White and Paddy Keenan come to the fore for the hosts, but while it was gutsy, it was too little too late.
In the end, a large slice of luck decided this game. Shane Roche was sprung from the bench and his first involvement was to hit the post with a point attempt. The rebound fell into the waiting arms of PJ Banville, who finished to the net to open up a seven-point lead that would prove insurmountable.
Still, Louth pushed hard and had that goal wiped out within five minutes, thanks to three points on the spin. Keenan's second point of the day brought them back to within a goal again.
Wexford sub Paddy Byrne stopped the rot, but with their big guns now firing, Louth, through the promptings of White and Andy McDonnell, got back to within a point with a minute to go.
Hosting its first Leinster championship game since 1998, Drogheda heaved as Louth piled on the pressure. John O'Brien's dismissal for an off-the-ball incident probably came too late to have any real bearing on the game, but it cranked up the atmosphere for a thrilling finale.
Having missed nine in last year's Croke Park clash with Dublin, Brosnan, who was flawless from placed balls all day, curled over a difficult free to put daylight between the sides once more.
White replied to cut the gap to one again, but Wexford, through some clever Adrian Flynn play, ensured the clock ran out on Louth, who only showed sparks of the form that saw them dismiss Laois so comprehensively.
However, manager Aidan O'Rourke lauded his players character having fallen seven points down after Wexford's "freak" second goal.
"They were five down at half-time, fought their way back into the game. The second goal was a freak, you know. It was a carbon copy of a freak goal they got here in the league as well. You can't legislate for that. We pegged them back again after that," O'Rourke said.
"Three or four times we were out of the game and we dug in and got ourselves back in a position to win it but probably lacked a bit of composure in the last 10 minutes. We had a lot of scoring opportunities, we panicked, probably took the wrong option. If we had taken our opportunities in that period I thought we would have won the game comfortably, because I thought Wexford were on their knees."
O'Rourke's biggest challenge is ensuring the county keep their squad together ahead of the qualifiers, but he hinted he could lose some of his number to the US for the summer.
"The economic situation is what it is and if fellas have work, that's it. At the end of the day, I would feel that if the fellas feel like we're making progress and want to kick on, then they'd want to be here," O'Rourke added. "We're hopeful that will be the case with the majority of the players. It may not be the case entirely, but we'll have to wait and see about that."
O'Brien's side can now prepare to meet the winners of Saturday's quarter-final clash between Wicklow and Meath in the Leinster semi-finals. Wexford are the only Division 2 side left in the 'front door' and on the evidence of the past few seasons, can look forward to the rest of the Leinster championship with confidence.
O'Brien was keen to play down his side's chances of a provincial breakthrough. "Look at both promoted teams from Division 2, Westmeath got wiped by Dublin and Derry got comfortably beaten by Down, who had been relegated from Division 1," said O'Brien.
"That would suggest there is a big gap there. There is no point denying it, but at least if you know what is in front of you, you can go about tackling it."
SCORERS – Wexford: C Lyng 1-3 (1f), B Brosnan 0-5 (4fs, 1 '45'), P Banville 1-0, J Holmes, A Doyle, R Barry, A Flynn, P Byrne 0-1 each. Louth: S Lennon 1-5 (3fs), B White 0-6 (3fs), P Keenan 0-2, D Maguire, A McDonnell 0-1 each.
Wexford – A Masterson 6; M Furlong 6, G Molloy 6, L Chin 7; B Malone 6, D Murphy 6, A Flynn 8; D Waters 8, R Quinlivan 8; J Holmes 8, C Lyng 8, A Doyle 6; R Barry 7, B Brosnan 7, PJ Banville 6. Subs: S Roche 6 for Barry (47), P Byrne 6 for Doyle (56), C Carty for Holmes (61), R Tierney for Chin (63), K Gore for Waters (67).
Louth – N Gallagher 7; P Rath 7, D Finnegan 7, J Bingham 6; D Crilly 6, S O'Brien 7, A Reid 6; P Keenan 7, B Donnelly 6; A McDonnell 7, B White 7, C Rafferty 6; C Byrne 6, S Lennon 8, D Maguire 7. Subs: C Judge 6 for Byrne (42), P Smith 6 for Donnelly (47), R Carroll 6 for Rafferty (52), J McEneaney for Judge (66).
Ref – F Kelly (Longford)