Injury-hit Wexford glad of break

NHL Division 1 Group A: Limerick  2-20, Wexford  0-15

Limerick's Aaron Gillane in action against Wexford's Shane Reck during their Allianz HL Division 1 Group A clash at TUS Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Photo: Tyler Miller/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

The National Hurling League may have to be renamed the Narcolepsy League if we have many more snooze-fests such as this tepid affair at the TUS Gaelic Grounds.

Before you doze off, the salient facts: Limerick did as expected against an injury-ravaged Wexford, securing a semi-final berth against Tipperary with 11 points to spare.

One goal in either half – a swashbuckling Kyle Hayes effort with a glaring caveat about unpunished steps, and a bundled effort from Aaron Gillane – killed the contest with over half-an-hour still to play.

Beyond that it was a battle of the wides (honours shared at 14 apiece) and a race to avoid any more injuries in the countdown to championship lift-off in less than five weeks’ time.

And maybe that explains why, even in defeat, Darragh Egan sounded more upbeat than his Limerick counterpart John Kiely. Because, right now, Wexford are decimated and they cannot afford any more ill-timed knocks with their April 22 trip to Galway looming down the tracks.

​That lengthy break, Egan insisted, “is absolutely ideal for us because we took the field today without nine of the team that played [last year’s] quarter-final against Clare. We have 11 lads injured at present … some of them are in a massive race against time, so if we’d another knockout game next weekend we would be just trying to plug holes.”

Their casualty department includes the five who suffered injuries in Cork the previous week: Matthew O’Hanlon (“a very significant ankle injury”), Liam Óg McGovern (knee), Conor McDonald (calf strain), Damien Reck (hamstring) and Diarmuid O’Keeffe (“a bad dead leg”).

Of the others, Liam Ryan hasn’t played since severing a ligament at the top of his finger against Galway on February 4. “He’s definitely going to be under pressure to make the Galway game,” Egan admitted.

His opposite number was “very happy we came out of it without any further injuries” on top of the “minor” knocks that kept Seán Finn and Cian Lynch out of the match-day 26.

But Kiely added: “Listen, it was a very unsatisfactory game really from many respects. It failed to ignite, if you like. It was like a game that just never got going … I just think there was a lot of frees and stoppages, that’s why it failed to get any bit of rhythm or flow in it.

“It was what it was. I think we coped well with that in the second half in that we got a good firm hold on the game, and we were solid.”

To begin with, starting with ten of his All-Ireland team from last July, Limerick threatened to kill the contest in double-quick time. When Cathal O’Neill’s penetrating run and offload released Hayes, marauding far from his wing-back berth, the natives in a crowd of 8,341 came alive … they could almost visualise what came next.

Hayes duly delivered, although Egan said he didn’t need to see a replay to confirm his suspicion of extra steps. “I’m going back 13 years, you look at Lar Corbett’s goal in the 2010 All-Ireland – the forward does get that leeway when he’s powering through on goal. I felt Michael Kennedy did a fine job … the two goals weren’t the problem,” he accepted.

After this relatively prolific start, it all got a tad muddled from Limerick as well as Wexford.

The hosts led by 1-10 to 0-7 at the interval, and within four minutes a point attempt from O’Neill dropped short, ’keeper Mark Fanning failed to deal with it and Gillane claimed the all-important touch.

Fanning had already endured a difficult first half with his restarts. Arguably a bigger issue was Wexford’s men-behind-the-ball set-up. It led to lots of speculative attempts from distance, many trailing wide.

They had just four scorers sharing 0-5 from play, one half-chance of a first half goal (Nickie Quaid repelling Charlie McGuckin’s angled drive) along with ten converted Lee Chin frees. And yet the Wexford captain had another eight wides and one miscued free falling well short. Story of his and their day.

Egan suggested the final margin was “a small bit harsh”, argued that they got almost as many shots away as Limerick, but accepted they have shooting efficiency issues to work on.

He still declared himself “very proud” of how his understrength team performed. “We have lads there who were getting their first league start, they were going to be marking some of their marquee players, and that’s a great challenge for any player,” he concluded.

As for Limerick, Tipp loom next. “The form team of the league,” Kiely declared. “You’re not going to be ready for championship without games, so this is absolutely the best possible preparation. Any team knocked out this weekend is wondering where we’re going to get a game next weekend, whereas we know straight away. Our axe is going to be well sharpened.”

SCORERS – Limerick: A Gillane 1-5 (0-5f); D Byrnes 0-4 (2f); K Hayes 1-0; T Morrissey (1f), D Ó Dálaigh 0-2 each; R English, M Houlihan, G Hegarty, C O’Neill, M Casey, O O’Reilly, S Flanagan 0-1 each. Wexford: L Chin 0-11 (10f); I Carty 0-2, C Hearne, Jack O’Connor 0-1 each.

LIMERICK – N Quaid 7; M Casey 7, D Morrissey 6, R English 7; D Byrnes 7, D Hannon 6, K Hayes 8; B Murphy 6, D O’Donovan 6; M Houlihan 5, C O’Neill 7, G Hegarty 6; A Gillane 7, C Boylan 5, S Flanagan 6. Subs: T Morrissey 7 for Houlihan (54), D Ó Dálaigh 7 for Gillane (54), C Coughlan 6 for Byrnes (61), O O’Reilly 6 for Boylan (61), A O’Connor for Hegarty (68).

WEXFORD – M Fanning 5; C Foley 6, S Donohoe 7, S Reck 7; I Carty 7, K Foley 6, N Murphy 6; C Dunbar 7, R O’Connor 7; C Hearne 6, L Chin 7, C McGuckin 5; R Higgins 5, M Dwyer 5, Jack O’Connor 6. Subs: K Scallan 6 for K Foley (56), C Byrne Dunbar 6 for Hearne (62), C Clancy for Higgins (67), D Carley for Carty (67).

REF – M Kennedy (Tipperary).