Overworked Laois no match for rampant Wexford

Wexford 0-24 Laois 1-10

The reality, unfortunately, is that the gap was significantly wider.

And yet, for ten brief minutes, it seemed like Laois had arrived with enough ammunition to inflict a first championship defeat on Wexford in 20 years.

Paudie Butler’s men had done enough to engineer a 1-3 to 0-2 lead, but the alluring vision of a gripping encounter unfolding before our eyes was as false as it was shortlived.

By half-time the sparse crowd was faced with the familiar Leinster championship scenario of one team running on empty and the other on autopilot. How easy now to forget just how slick Laois looked in those opening jousts.

Their goal on eight minutes was testament to their skill, endeavour and sheer hunger. Damien Culleton gathering Tommy Fitzgerald’s cross field pass under the nose of Keith Rossiter before swivelling and firing beyond Damien Fitzhenry.

It was no less than their start had merited. The outsiders had barked and snapped at Wexford’s heels admirably from the off, never letting the Leinster champions into their stride.

All week, manager Seamus Murphy stressed the importance of his charges maintaining their shape in the all too likely event of Laois sprinting from the blocks. They stuck to that script to the letter. Bit by inevitable bit they reeled Laois in.

Laois were complicit in their own downfall though as, from about the 10th minute, they suddenly, inexplicably stopped hurling.

Minus the know-how and physicality of the three Cuddys, Paul, David and Cyril, the accepted wisdom was that Butler’s inexperienced bunch needed to reach the second quarter with their heads still above water.

As it was, James Young’s point after 17 minutes allowed them to reach that perceived sanctuary on level terms (0-7 to 1-4).

Even then, the most cursory of glances between the lines revealed a more realistic and worrying picture. Wexford had only just begun to find their wings before Young’s effort with five successive scores and the punishment was to continue unabated after that until half-time.

Eight more scores flew over Patrick Mullaney’s crossbar before John Sexton offered a merciful breather with the half-time whistle.

Wexford’s dominance was simply oppressive and Laois’ only foray of note came when Culleton had a second opportunity to make Fitzhenry’s net dance 23 minutes in. However, the corner-forward fluffed the half-chance wide.

It was all too typical of Laois’ efforts after their whirlwind start. Dual star Darren Rooney was one of their chief offenders, his attempts to juggle both games clearly leaving him rusty.

Even on the occasions Laois did manage to slog their way as far as Wexford’s danger area, they more often than not had to suffer to the demoralisation of seeing Darragh Ryan emerge from the massed ranks having plucked the sliotar from the sky.

Ryan wasn’t the only veteran defying the sands of time for Wexford, Adrian Fenlon gave a robust and efficient display in the middle while Declan Ruth augmented his sterling defensive work with four pinpoint long-range dead ball points.

Had it been Kilkenny that Laois were playing the slaughter would have merely increased in ferocity after the break but Wexford, understandably, stepped off the accelerator in that second period.

Laois took the opportunity to go about salvaging some respectability and for a spell Damien Fitzhenry’s goal was peppered with potshots, most notably from James Young frees.

Liam Tynan actually found a route beyond the Duffry Rovers man after 44 minutes but had the goal disallowed - rightly - for travelling.

Laois refocused their sights above the crossbar instead, Young being their chief outlet as he slipped over five frees.

With the heat released from the fray, Wexford took the opportunity to re-introduce men like Nigel Higgins and Darren Stamps to inter-county hurling after recent injuries and the former immediately showed signs of his excellent league form with an impressive pair of points.

Ultimately, all the game tells us about Wexford is that Murphy has them well-drilled and that they will undoubtedly provide Kilkenny with a more worthy examination in the provincial final. Beyond that, who knows?

WEXFORD: D Fitzhenry; D O’Connor, D Ryan, K Rossiter; D Ruth (0-4f), M Travers, D Lyng; R Barry (0-1), A Fenlon (0-1); R McCarthy (0-2), E Quigley (0-2), M Jacob; D Mythen (0-3), M Jordan (0-1), R Jacob (0-7, 5f). SUBS: N Higgins (0-2) for Jordan 48, P Carley (0-1) for Barry 64, M Mahon for McCarthy 67, D Stamp for Quigley 69, B Lambert for Mythen 71.

LAOIS: P Mullaney; B Campion, P Cuddy, M McEvoy; J Fitzpatrick, D Rooney, S Dwyer; J Young (0-7, 5f), J Walsh; J Phelan (0-1), E Meagher, C Healy (0-1); T Fitzgerald (0-1), L Tynan, D Culleton (1-0). SUBS: M Rooney for Meagher 43, R Jones for Phelan 48, C Coonan for Healy 62, C Brophy for Walsh 70.

Referee: J Sexton (Limerick).

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