A WIN pulling up for Wexford then, but the 11-point margin owed more to Antrim’s spectacular collapse than anything the home team offered up in a Leinster quarter-final that seemed to hang in the balance at half-time.
Just two points separated them after what had been an engaging and entertaining opening period, but any suspense was lost long before the referee’s whistle put the visitors out of their misery.
To be fair to Wexford, they were impressive in patches but some of the elementary mistakes made yesterday will have been lapped up with relish by the Cats, who they face next on this same patch of ground.
With Darren Stamp a late inclusion but far from 100% fit, and a rookie championship full-back behind him in Matthew O’Hanlon, the home defence looked particularly edgy when Antrim played balls into their midst as opposed to over the top.
Antrim had embarked on the long journey down the east coast with real hope of building on their first ever Leinster Championship victory against Laois and not just because of that historic victory in Portlaoise earlier this month.
Their hosts appeared vulnerable.
Since their last senior provincial title in 2004, Wexford have operated in fire-fighting mode — in both the league and championship — as evidenced by their near miraculous escape from relegation to Division Two back in mid-April.
Yet the legacy of their last two league games — that win against Cork and draw with Tipperary in Thurles — was evident early on yesterday when the home side started confidently and put together a 1-6 to 1-1 lead after the first 15 minutes.
Dominant in midfield, Wexford enjoyed a spread of scorers up front with corner-forward Jim Berry claiming the goal from a ferocious free while Rory Jacob and Stephen Banville gave notice of their intentions for the full encounter.
Antrim were listing badly, despite Conor MacCanna’s opportunistic goal after a scramble in the Wexford defence after seven minutes. Midfield was of particular concern and not even goalkeeper Sean Hawes’ frequent short puck-outs could disguise those ills.
Cahill rectified that by moving Neil McManus from wing-forward to midfield. McManus scored nine points against Laois and his switch paid dividends as he popped over two frees and set up another point as Antrim reeled off five white flags.
The rest of the half was tit-for-tat but Wexford’s contribution was being stifled by a stream of wides and, with the wind against them after the restart, they had reason to worry.
But not for long. Antrim felt entitled to a penalty within seconds of the throw-in after O’Hanlon grappled with Darren Hammil but the referee looked on unmoved.
That was about as fraught as things got for Colm Bonnar’s side. Antrim scored just three points in that second half while Wexford tacked on 2-6 to coast home.
Any doubt that this was not to be the Ulster side’s day disappeared with Wexford’s second goal, claimed by Jacob after 49 minutes, when he tangled legs with Keith Molloy whose fall to the turf left the Wexford forward the easiest of finishes.
Incidents like that ripped the heart out of Antrim, whose dip in spirits was clear with every dropped ball and ill-placed pass and their misery was completed by David Redmond, who ended off a slick team move to claim Wexford’s third goal with three minutes to play.
So, it seems to be yet another case of one step forward and two back for Antrim who, in fairness, were without the likes of Liam Watson (knee), Karl McKeegan (rib) and Neil MacAuley (suspended).
For their part, Wexford will be keeping their fingers crossed that midfielder Eoin Quigley and defender Paul Roche are fit to face Kilkenny. On yesterday’s evidence, every man jack of them will be needed.
Scorers for Wexford: R Jacob (1-5); S Banville (0-4); D Redmond (1-2); J Berry (1-1f); L Prendergast (0-1); PJ Nolan (0-1); H Kehoe (0-1); E Martin (0-1).
Scorers for Antrim: N McManus (0-5, 0-1f); K Stewart (0-3); C MacCanna (1-0); P Shiels (0-2); D Hamill (0-1).
Subs for Wexford: N Kirwan for Martin (53); M Travers for Stamp (66); B Doyle for Jacob (69).
Subs for Antrim: M Armstrong for Herron (55); J Black for McFall (59); T McCann for McCloskey (64); C Farrell for Doran (64); M Donnelly for McCrory (69).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
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