O'Grady brace gets Wexford off to flier
Wexford 2-13 Laois 0-11
THERE was no sign of the predicted black card apocalypse in New Ross, where the weather was so bad for this O'Byrne Cup opener that you wouldn't have blamed players for secretly hoping for one.
As it happened, there was just the one dished out and it was shown to one of the best forwards on the park, with Ciaran Lyng getting a close-up of the ref's notebook 19 minutes into the second half for an off-the-ball incident.
Wexford manager Aidan O'Brien wasn't too sure what it was for, but, given how well his team had played, he wasn't complaining.
"The ref said it was for crossing over or something, he interpreted it as deliberate blocking, but I think the players on both sides were sensible and didn't give the referee much cause to flash black cards," he noted. "There was a worry that it could become a bit of a farce."
O'Brien cautioned that it was too early yet to judge the new disciplinary rule. "It's one thing adopting that attitude in an O'Byrne Cup match, whereas in a championship game fellas might be willing to sacrifice themselves in a potential goal situation, so we'll have to wait and see," he said.
What was noticeable was the free-flowing nature of the game, despite the atrocious conditions and this, perhaps, was the most significant and encouraging portent of things to come.
Wicklow ref Anthony Nolan certainly looked willing to give players the benefit of the doubt and used the new advantage rule on several occasions. He only produced his 'black' after being summoned by, and consulting with, his umpires.
The hundred or so fans who braved the stormy conditions spent most of the game discussing the new card system, but Nolan was decisive throughout and was particularly strict on back-chat, repeatedly bringing frees forward.
Even the losing boss -- Tomas ó Flatharta, on his competitive debut as Laois manager -- gave him credit for "doing a sensible job" and said he had made "the right call on 50/50 decisions."
The locals were understandably pleased to see six of Wexford's starting forwards scoring from play, with only one of their 2-13 tally coming from a free.
Shane Roche is usually among their forwards, so his siting between the posts looked an interesting experiment before O'Brien revealed that he had won soccer international schools caps as a goalkeeper.
What most pleased him was his team's ability to recover quickly when the tide of the game looked to have turned against them in the second half.
Wexford, who opened with a big wind advantage, had built up a four-point lead by half-time (1-7 to 0-6), but it should have been a lot more. Lyng forced a good save from Graham Brody after just nine minutes, but Kevin O'Grady goaled with the follow-up to give them a strong platform.
But they had missed two other decent goal chances and recorded seven wides by the time the sides changed ends.
By pulling men deep and leaving just two or three forward and hitting them with good, early ball, they created a lot of space up front to repeatedly stretch a Laois defence led by wing-backs Adam Ryan and Peter O'Leary. But the visitors held tough up to half-time and when they turned with the wind at the their backs, made the expected fightback. Within eight minutes of the restart, they had reduced the gap to one thanks to Donie Kingston's three excellent frees in a row.
Wexford responded brilliantly by immediately rattling over 1-5 without reply to put the result well beyond doubt, before Lyng saw 'black', with O'Grady grabbing a brilliant second goal. Daithi Waters and Paddy Byrne helped them dominate midfield and while Lyng, O'Grady and Ben Brosnan were to the fore up front, newcomer Colm Kehoe also impressed with 0-3.
Laois were understrength (Ross Munnelly, Colm Boyle and Colm Begley are among their injuries) and Billy Sheehan lined out at centre-back. Young goalkeeper Brody was the only Portlaoise player involved and, like John O'Loughlin, David Conway and Evan O'Carroll, worked his socks off.
But their corner-backs struggled, even if they could could argue that the men further up the field could have done more to delay the smart, early ball raining down on them.
But Laois stuck to orthodox one-to-15 positions, which indicates ó Flatharta will play a more attacking game than his predecessor and many will regard that as a good start. They play Offaly on Wednesday, while Wexford face UCD.
Scorers -- Wexford: K O'Grady 2-1, C Kehoe, B Brosnan 0-3 (1f) each, M Furlong, C Lyng 0-2 each, P Byrne, J Holmes 0-1 each. Laois: C Meredith 0-3, D Kingston 0-3fs) each, D Conway 0-2, A Ryan, D O'Connor, E O'Carroll 0-1 each.
Wexford -- S Roche; J Breen, G Molloy, S Gaul; P Kelly, B Malone, C Carty; D Waters, P Byrne; B Brosnan, M Furlong, C Kehoe; C Lyng, J Holmes, K O'Grady. Subs: R Dempsey for Lyng (54, BC), C Kehoe for Kelly (62), T Rossiter for Breen (67), K Day for Carty (70).
Laois -- G Brody; P Begley, M Timmons, S Attride; A Ryan, B Sheehan, P O'Leary; J O'Loughlin, J Finn; D O'Connor, D Kingston, N Donoher; E O'Carroll, C Meredith, D Conway. Subs: E Lowry for O'Connor (48), G Walsh for Finn (48), K Lillis for Donoher (58), R Kehoe for Begley (67).
REF -- A Nolan (Wicklow).