Monday 23 April 2018

Dermot Crowe: Wexford can continue to thrive on the oxygen of success

Conor McDonald: Wexford’s danger man. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor McDonald: Wexford’s danger man. Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Wexford's final two points against Galway a week ago came from Conor McDonald, probably their most readily identifiable and dangerous forward. The game's only goal was also McDonald's, when he reacted instinctively to finish a rebound before half-time. Wexford finished with 1-23 but he was their only forward to score more than once from play.

They won without a prolific attack. To compensate they relied on scoring versatility out the field. Of their 1-23, eight points were claimed by their wing backs, with five for Paudie Foley, including two from play, one of which arrived after he strayed way up the field, looking for the final pass, taking a chance. The ball was threaded through to him in a space normally inhabited by corner-forwards and he shot hard for goal; the ball flew over the bar.

Three more points came from the wing-back live-wire Diarmuid O'Keeffe, another player who epitomises Wexford's game of perpetual motion and abstract arrangements. For one of his points he arrived on the end of a smart move up the field, the ball exchanging hands three or four times, classic off-the-shoulder play. It resembled a rugby move with players fanning out, joining the line, but it led to one of the scores of the day.

With less physical preparation behind them, Galway's defence was stretched, unable to spot or handle all these raiders coming from deep.

O'Keeffe, like Foley, can hit them long too and in capturing the spirit of the day, Liam Ryan made light of the number 3 on his back to send over a huge score from inside his own half after the interval. He gained possession, noticed he had room, allowed his hand slide full grip and let fly.

On the day there were a litany of big Wexford scores, many of them were crowd-pleasers, shots from distance, shots from standing positions, shots from anywhere. Kevin Foley, from midfield, scored two more and Rory O'Connor, just 19, roamed around the middle of the field and hit six points, four of them frees. For Wexford's goal it was his shot that James Skehill could only manage to parry before McDonald's finish. Although Wexford set up with a sweeper and pull a player out of their attack, of their total, 0-17 came from non-forwards.

Galway found Wexford in one of those audacious moods. They didn't do too badly. It can be argued that the majority of Wexford players had decidedly good ratings, while the majority of Galway players were closer to average. And yet the game was there for the taking going into injury-time, Galway only a point behind after playing with 14 men since the 53rd minute. And having played in the heart of Wexford where the two will meet again in the championship in June.

All of this matters and none of it does. The win meant more, it feels safe to assume, to the team which claimed it. To Wexford, winning by any means, making progress, drawing the oxygen they do from their home support and strengthening that special connection, is all positive. Competing and beating a team they were a clear second best to in the Leinster final last year also counts.

They went to Nowlan Park three weeks ago and lost their first competitive match to Kilkenny under Davy Fitzgerald since losing in the Walsh Cup semi-final last year by a point. In the Walsh Cup final in January, Wexford won in Nowlan Park in a highly competitive game, while they had an even more notable win there in the National League quarter-finals last year, following up with a famous win in Wexford Park in the championship.

After losing their opening two league games, Kilkenny have reeled off wins over Waterford, Tipp and Wexford. Their supporters are no fools. But they would probably count themselves content that as a work-in-progress they are ahead of schedule.

There appears to be a subtle change in tactics in how they work the ball out of defence at times, more measured and less hoofed, but the essentials are firmly in place, the trademark spirit and in-your-face attitude, whether the dice is with them or against. Younger players are gaining invaluable experience in a tough league. Today offers more of the same. Wexford, chasing a first league final appearance in 25 years, might have a little more momentum and that home crowd factor to see them through.

Wexford v Kilkenny

Innovate Wexford Park 2.0, C Lyons (Cork), TG4

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