Wexford waste capital chance
IT seems as if there's no limit to how much frustration Dublin generate for Wexford.
They did it again yesterday, teasing Wexford into thinking they were about to record their first championship win over Dublin for 56 years before ruthlessly squashing the idea as if it were utterly repugnant to their constitution.
It left Wexford with yet another chapter for their 'What If' saga, much of which has been scripted during their clashes with Dublin. As happened against Dublin over the last two seasons, Wexford manoeuvred themselves into a position where their fate appeared to be in their own hands, only to grow increasingly clumsy as the pressure points increased in the second half.
Dublin's carefully-mapped ascent to the summit last year has provided them with an extra layer of self-belief, which they harnessed impressively as they outscored Wexford by 1-6 to 0-2 over the final half hour.
They did so with 14 men after an outbreak of indiscipline from Diarmuid Connolly earned him a straight red card after an off-the-ball clash with Brian Malone in the 40th minute. And, on a day when Bernard Brogan scored only one point (free) before being replaced after 62 minutes, everything seemed in place for Wexford to avail of the glorious opportunity which presented itself.
Once again, they scuffed it and while Dublin played a significant part in the process, Wexford left Croke Park with so many regrets that it's difficult to put them in order.
There is, however, no doubt about what tops the list. Their second-half shooting was deplorable, both from open play and placed balls, with the wides tally eventually reaching 11, bringing their overall total to 14.
Ben Brosnan accounted for nine of them, many from frees he would normally point as a matter of routine. His radar completely malfunctioned in the second half, which was in inexplicable contrast to an excellent first half during which he kicked four points from open play.
All except one point of Wexford's 1-8 first-half total (Redmond Barry scored their goal in the 10th minute) came from open play but it was so different in the second, when they added only 0-2, one from Adrian Flynn, the other from Shane Roche.
They led by three points when Connolly was sent off, leaving them in such a promising position that the prospect of a qualifier voyage was growing ever-larger for Dublin. In fairness to the champions, it brought a spirited response.
"We were staring defeat in the face but as so often happens when a team goes down to 14 men , they find another gear. Up to then, we had struggled to get a consistent flow to our game but things improved from there on," said Dublin captain Bryan Cullen.
He played a major role in the stabilisation process, as did Kevin McManamon, whose star continues to rise, Paul Flynn, James McCarthy, Kevin Nolan and sub Michael Darragh Macauley.
The numerical advantage did nothing positive for Wexford whereas the new scenario had a visible impact on Dublin.
The upshot was a much more coherent Dublin who had Wexford's interval lead (1-8 to 1-5) wiped out by the 45th minute. And while Wexford kicked two points (their only second-half scores) shortly afterwards, the momentum swung back Dublin's way when Bernard Brogan played McManamon through for their second goal in the 52nd minute.
Wexford had plenty chances over the final quarter but squandered them all while Dublin's added a further three points.
Jason Ryan couldn't exert any influence on his wayward finishers but was asking himself afterwards if he made best use of the extra man.
"We decided to play him in or around their front three -- in hindsight maybe we should have played him further up the field," he said.
How to deploy the extra man has long puzzled coaching minds so it may not have made any difference wherever Wexford used him but it was still an added frustration for Ryan.
"I don't know how this 14-man thing works at all. If a team (who has lost a man) plays off-the-cuff, it's very hard to react. You just don't know what's going to happen. The shape of totally changes. It makes life a hell of a lot less predictable," he said.
Dublin varied their play intelligently in the second half and with Wexford's error rate increasing with alarming pace, the extra man looked more of a burden than a boost.
"We managed to put them under pressure. The team showed great character after we went a man down because we hadn't been going all that well before it. The lads really upped the tempo when defeat seemed a distinct possibility," said Pat Gilroy.
That was most encouraging for Dublin but Gilroy won't be happy that his St Vincent's clubman, Connolly, got himself sent off for another bout of petulance. In the end, it didn't cost Dublin but, on another day, it might well have been the difference between winning and losing.
Curiously, Wexford might have been as well-off if Dublin had retained their full complement as up to the time of Connolly's departure, the challengers were motoring sweetly.
They weren't nearly as efficient from there on, making a whole series of mistakes which, when coupled with Dublin's measured approach to working their way through their problems, dramatically altered the dynamic of the game.
It left Dublin heading for yet another Leinster final and Wexford battling against the side-effects of frustration. Still it should dissipate quite quickly for while they know they should have done better in the second half, they will also realise that they put themselves in a position to beat the All-Ireland champions. It's a good starting point for the next phase of the season.
Scorers -- Dublin: K McManamon 1-3, D Connolly 1-1, B Cullen, K Nolan 0-2 each, A Brogan, S Cluxton (f), B Brogan (f) 0-1 each. Wexford: B Brosnan 0-4, R Barry 1-1, A Flynn, S Roche (2f) 0-2 each, PJ Banville 0-1.
Dublin: S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 6, R O'Carroll 7, M Fitzsimons 6; J McCarthy 8, G Brennan 5, K Nolan 8; E Fennell 5, D Bastick 6; P Flynn 8, A Brogan 6, B Cullen 8; D Connolly 5, K McManamon 9, B Brogan 6. Subs: C O'Sullivan 6 for Brennan (31), MD Macauley 7 for Fennell (h-t), E O'Gara 6 for B Brogan (62), C Kilkenny for McManamon (68), R McConnell for Bastick (69).
Wexford: A Masterson 8; G Molloy 7, L Chin 7, B Malone 6; D Murphy 6, A Flynn 7, A Doyle 6; D Waters 6, E Bradley 6; PJ Banville 6, C Lyng 7, C Morris 6; B Brosnan 7, S Roche 6, R Barry 7. Subs: P Byrne 5 for Lyng (51), J Leacy 5 for Morris (59), N Murphy 5 for Doyle (64), J Wadding for Molloy (70), J Holmes for Malone (70).
Ref -- R Hickey (Clare)