'The Dubs have improved out of measure' - Davy Fitzgerald insists Wexford deserved late win
Wexford 0-22 Dublin 2-14
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, a famous son of Dublin whose love of the ancient game is open to some question: "To lose one championship match in injury-time may be regarded as a misfortune… to lose both looks like carelessness."
So it was at Innovate Wexford Park yesterday, seven days after the Dublin hurlers had been overtaken in the home straight by Kilkenny. This time Rory O'Connor took the mantle from Liam Blanchfield, landing a routine equalising free (his 11th of the day) before executing an inspirational winning point from open play.
That strike was delivered from well beyond his own '65' and was greeted with a fist-pump from the Wexford prodigy.
For Dublin, it represented a knockout blow, with the kidney punch addendum of Harry Kehoe's follow-up point after a rampaging run by Diarmuid O'Keeffe. Cork referee Colm Lyons immediately counted them out.
The one big difference here compared to Parnell Park a week earlier is that, on the ebb and flow of this Leinster SHC round robin fixture, the visitors probably didn't deserve the two points on offer.
Pat Gilroy tacitly admitted as much. "Look, we hadn't played well for long periods of that game," he reflected. "Until we got the second goal - we really upped it, started to get a decent bit of momentum and we'd a few chances to go two up. We missed them and we got punished."
Davy Fitzgerald was far more ebullient in his belief that anything but a home victory would have been a miscarriage of justice. "There's no doubt in my mind, Wexford were the better team," Fitzgerald proclaimed. "The Dubs have improved out of measure, but I just think we made it hard on ourselves. I honestly believe that we should have killed that game off, once or twice."
His Wexford charges are now up and running in their quest to emulate last year's run to the Leinster SHC final. This year's route promises to be far more frenetic and probably tougher too.
But at least Davy Fitz is in an happier place than Gilroy, who has a fortnight to regroup for their home date with fellow relegation candidates Offaly.
That game might not be quite do-or-die from a mathematical perspective but, with Dublin's last outing to come in Galway, it qualifies as must-win. Given how competitive they have been, it will only intensify debate about the merits of having direct relegation from Leinster in the likely event that Kerry don't win the McDonagh Cup. Still, it's difficult to dispute Fitzgerald's claims of Slaneyside superiority. They led by 0-5 to 0-2 before coughing up possession for Dublin's first goal in the 13th minute, as Danny Sutcliffe's run and offload to Paul Ryan led to a blocked shot and Rian McBride's first-time pull past Mark Fanning.
From there to the midpoint it was nip-and-tuck, Dublin briefly edging ahead from a brace from Jake Malone and Paddy Smyth, before two O'Connor frees gave Wexford a threadbare 0-10 to 1-6 cushion.
On the restart, Dublin landed two of the first three points to draw level. But then a necklace of five Wexford points (two O'Connor frees interspersed with scores from Aidan Nolan, O'Keeffe and a monster Paudie Foley free) put Dublin in dire straits.
Even though Cian Boland offered some lively resistance off the bench, Wexford were still five up before Ryan's 58th-minute free reignited the men in blue. Yet it was Ryan's 61st-minute goal that made the difference: his angled finish came after an incursion by Fionntán Mac Gib, but Fitzgerald's forensic eye focused on Wexford's failure to clear their lines.
"The two goals were two errors," he said. "The second one, we missed it twice. Liam (Ryan) missed rising it in total control, Damo (Reck) missed it the second time. So, you give away two momentum swings like that, it's very hard to turn it back.
"Normally the team that gets that momentum wins it. But, in fairnesss to the lads, they weren't giving up."
For a while, though, they were teetering on the ropes. The previously well-shackled Liam Rushe landed an equaliser created by Sutcliffe, who then edged the visitors in front.
There followed a hotly-disputed Wexford free, adjacent to the Dublin backroom team. On an unseasonably cool afternoon, touchline temperatures were now soaring and Gilroy appeared to be pushed by a Wexford player before more bodies piled in. Was he annoyed at being pushed? "Not at all," Gilroy deadpanned.
O'Connor nailed the high-pressure free only for Dublin sub David Treacy to put them back ahead - all too briefly. "It is not about making progress, it is about winning these two games. We didn't win them so we are very disappointed," Gilroy concluded.
SCORERS - Wexford: R O'Connor 0-12 (11f); L Chin, P Foley (1f) 0-2 each; P Morris, J O'Connor, A Nolan, D O'Keeffe, K Foley, H Kehoe 0-1 each. Dublin: P Ryan 1-7 (6f, 1 '65'); R McBride 1-1; J Malone, P Smyth, C Boland, L Rushe, D Sutcliffe, D Treacy 0-1 each.
WEXFORD - M Fanning 7; D Reck 7, L Ryan 7, S Donohoe 7; S Murphy 7; D O'Keeffe 8, P Foley 8, M O'Hanlon 7; K Foley 8, A Nolan 6; L Chin 7, R O'Connor 8, J O'Connor 7; P Morris 6, C McDonald 6. Subs: H Kehoe 7 for McDonald (55), C Dunbar 6 for Morris (62).
DUBLIN - A Nolan 8; P Smyth 7, C O'Callaghan 8, B O'Carroll 6; C Crummey 7, S Moran 7, E O'Donnell 7; J Malone 6, S Barrett 6; R McBride 7, F Mac Gib 6, D Sutcliffe 7; F Whitely 5, L Rushe 6, P Ryan 7. Subs: T Connolly 5 for Barrett (44), C Boland 7 for Whitely (44), D Treacy 7 for O'Carroll (52), R Hayes 6 for McBride (60), P Winters for Mac Gib (70).
REF - C Lyons (Cork)