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Doyle delivers for Wexford

Wexford 0-09 Offaly 0-08
NINE points to eight, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, on one of the best hurling surfaces in the country?

There can be no excuse for that. Don’t let anyone offer the strong wind as even partial explanation; it was disruptive, yes, but blowing as it was, straight down the pitch, any intercounty forward worth his salt should have been able to adapt.

Picture this: after 15 minutes of the most excruciating endeavour, the scoreline stood at 0-2 to 0-0, Wexford defying the wind. On 27 minutes it was 0-2 apiece, a massive comeback by Offaly. Mind you, the first of those

Offaly points was worth coming to see; a massive free from just outside his own 20-metre line by full back Paul Cleary was deflected over the bar at the other end by Wexford keeper Damien Fitzhenry.

Those scores really inspired the Faithful and off they went on a run; another two points, by heavens, one each from midfielder Dylan Hayden and wing forward Michael Cordial, prompting a reply from Rory Jacob; 0-4 to 0-3 after 32 minutes. Two more strikes for Offaly, from Brian Carroll this time and another from Wexford minor from Rory Jacob, and we got to half time, 0-6 to 0-4, with Offaly just two points ahead.

They were well ahead on the wides front, however, 11 to 2, five of their six forwards guilty of missing the target (only young full forward Joe Bergin exonerated). This was dire stuff.

Leinster senior hurling semi-final? Don’t think so. Given that Wexford should even have been in front, Stephen Doyle (the one outstanding forward on view) denied a goal by a brilliant Brian Mullins save ("off my forehead," he explained later, offering a bruise between his eyes as proof), things looked decidedly gloomy for Offaly turning around into that big wind.

If Offaly are to gain any consolation from this loss, it will be in their second-half performance. They bent, they shook, but they never cracked. Just five points conceded in over 35 minutes, only one free conceded within scoring range, not a single chance in front of goal; true, an accusing finger can be pointed at the Wexford attack, but this was heroic stuff by an Offaly rearguard in which the half row of Kevin Brady, Rory Hanniffy and Ger Oakley were superb.

Midfielders Gary Hanniffy and Dylan Hayden also played their part, as did full backs Paul Cleary and David Franks, and Wexford were made to work every inch of the way for their one-point win. Four points yielded in the first 15 minutes of the half, just one thereafter, albeit the vital one.

"Ultimately the result was about hard work," said Wexford manager Seamus Murphy.

That final point came in injury time, the teams having been deadlocked for nearly 13 minutes of ineptitude from both sets of forwards; Richie Kehoe grabbed a poor Offaly clearance, passed to Doyle, who speared the winner from about 40 metres.

What of the Offaly attack in that second half? Two points in 35 minutes, from five shots on goal, ‘nuff said. Credit the Wexford defence, who were very good. Good news also on the performance of matchwinner Stephen Doyle in his Championship debut.

"Absolutely fabulous," said Murphy, "A very good hurler, great brain for hurling; he was hurler-of-the-year in Wexford last year, man-of-the-match in the county final. He came up trumps today when maybe some of our better-known forwards didn’t have a good day."

On this evidence, Kilkenny will go into the Leinster final as raging hot favourites but no-one should be fooled by what we saw yesterday.

Wexford will be a lot better in three weeks, in the Leinster final; the same goes for Offaly when they face Clare in the qualifiers.

Surely, neither can be as bad again; surely, there is a backlash in both.

Scorers for Wexford: S. Doyle 0-3; R. Jacob 0-3; D. Ruth 0-2 (free, 65); PJ Nolan 0-1.

Scorers for Offaly: B. Carroll 0-3 (0-1 free); D. Hayden, J. Bergin, A. Egan, P. Cleary (free), M. Cordial, 0-1 each.

WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; M. Travers, K. Rossiter (c), D. O’Connor; R. Kehoe, D. Ruth, D. Lyng; E. Quigley, D. Stamp; M. Jacob, T. Mahon, R. McCarthy; S. Doyle, M. Jordan, R. Jacob.

Subs: D. Mythen (Jordan 31); P. Codd (Mahon 44); PJ Nolan (Mythen 48); S. Nolan (McCarthy 61); MJ Furlong (M. Jacob 67).

OFFALY: B. Mullins; B. Teehan, P. Cleary, D. Franks; K. Brady, R. Hanniffy, G. Oakley; G. Hanniffy, D. Hayden; M. Cordial, M. O’Hara, B. Murphy (c); B. Carroll, J. Bergin, A. Hanrahan.

Subs: A. Egan (O’Hara 24); E. Bevans (Cordial 47); J. Brady (Hanrahan 52); S. Browne (Egan 59).

Referee: P. O’Connor (Limerick).