Just what kind of preparation this was for Wexford ahead of a Leinster semi-final with Kilkenny remains to be seen, but Liam Dunne’s men ran out very easy winners at Cusack Park yesterday.
By the 70th minute they led by 13 points after they rolled out their Sunday best, but in the 12 minutes of injury-time that ensued Westmeath rattled in 1-5 to put a skewed view on the scoreboard.
A serious neck injury to Derek McNicholas in the 55th minute held up play for nine minutes; according to manager Michael Ryan, he complained of pins and needles in his legs and was brought to hospital, but that stoppage brought Wexford’s intensity to a halt.
Up until that point they had hurled with a crispness and determination. Driven by Lee Chin from the heart of their defence, they easily outfoxed Westmeath with their clever link play, while their front eight players all registered on the scoresheet.
But Dunne was not overjoyed with the win either and he scolded a few of his players for a lack of effort on a straightforward day.
“There were guys taken off today and we weren’t taking them off because we were giving them a rest,” said Dunne. “So some guys know they have to come up to the mantle.
“Look, no better man than a Kilkenny man or no better team than Kilkenny to come up against. A performance like that today, when we turned off, if we do that for five minutes against Kilkenny, they’ll kill you, end of story.”
Westmeath’s problems began when corner-back Gary Greville cried off injured in the build-up and joined the suspended duo of Robbie Greville and Niall O’Brien on the sidelines.
Then in the warm-up their other corner-back Shane Power had to pull out after he received a blow of a sliotar to the helmet. McNicholas’ neck injury put a cap on a bad day for Ryan and his side.
“Shane has an eye injury. It looks serious enough now so hopefully it isn’t too bad. He couldn’t see out of his eye. It bent the face guard of the helmet so it was a pretty hard belt of the ball.
“We were short six players there at one stage, but I wouldn’t be making excuses. Wexford were very good today and physically very strong.”
With Ian Byrne in good form on frees and David Redmond looking sharp at midfield, Wexford were well deserving of their 0-15 to 0-6 lead at the break.
Byrne crashed a goal past Shane McGovern three minutes into the second half to end the contest, but Westmeath will be lifted by the spirit they showed late on and Brendan Murtagh’s goal in the 70th minute underlined their hunger to fight on. But Wexford were a class apart and they will fancy a run out against Kilkenny in two weeks’ time at Nowlan Park.
“It’s massive. To be going to Nowlan Park to play the All-Ireland champions, you know . . . On that performance, Brian Cody will be well able to sleep tonight. But we’ll go there in two weeks’ time and we’ll see what we have in the tank,” said Ryan.
Scorers – Wexford: I Byrne 1-7 (6f, 1’65), P Morris 0-5 (1f), D Redmond, C McDonald 0-3, D Waters 0-2, A Shore, J Guiney, L Og McGovern, H Kehoe 0-1. Westmeath: B Murtagh 1-4 (1f), D McNicholas 0-5 (4f, 1’65), N Dowdall 0-2, J Clarke, A Clarke, K Murphy, A Devine, C Boyle 0-1.
Wexford – M Fanning 7; L Ryan 8, M O’Hanlon 7, E Moore 7; A Shore 8, L Chin 9, D O’Keeffe 7; D Redmond 9, H Kehoe 8; I Byrne 8, D Waters 7, J Guiney 5; P Morris 8, C McDonald 8, L Óg McGovern 7. Subs: K Foley 7 for Guiney (46), R Jacob 6 for McGovern (49), G Sinnott 6 for Kehoe (55), S Tomkins for McDonald (76), P Doran for Byrne (82).
Westmeath – S McGovern 7; L Varley 6, T Doyle 6, K Duncan 7; A Craig 6, A Clarke 6, A McGrath 6; E Price 5, C Boyle 7; A Devine 7, D McNicholas 7, J Clarke 7; N Dowdall 8, B Murtagh 7, D Clinton 5. Subs: E Corrigan 7 for Price (51), K Murphy 7 for McNicholas (65).
Ref – J Ryan (Tipperary)
Man of the match: Lee Chin (Wexford)
Chin was utterly dominant at centre-back. The image of him charging upfield with the ball balanced on the tip of his hurley was a frequent sight and he mopped up expertly in front of his full-back.
The Westmeath injury crisis will hardly be repeated again. To lose so many key players was an insurmountable setback.
Not many stand-out moments, but Andrew Shore's high fielding was a real highlight. Wexford look strong at half-back.
Johnny Ryan had a quiet day at the office. He was well assisted by his team of officials, who helped him out on a few late hits.
Kilkenny await for Wexford at Nowlan Park in a fortnight, while Westmeath get another chance through the qualifiers in a month's time.