There would have been many sleepless nights in Wexford had they lost this one, and yet in Louth the frustration of getting so close despite only playing at anything like the required level for the final 10 minutes will gnaw away at them until the qualifiers and beyond.
Indeed the Wee County men might have secured a replay but for three bad wides from Ronan Carroll, Mark Stanfield and Darren Clarke in the closing stages.
Additionally, in the game’s final act, Clarke was forced to take a short free from the 20 metre line in search of a goal with comical effect, as Mark Stanfield scuffed his first-time shot horribly wide.
There was no doubting the merit of Wexford’s victory however, as they provided most of the quality on view.
The vast majority of that arrived in the opening half at the end of which they had outscored their opponents by twelve scores to four, and by 10-3 from play.
That they only led by four points must have been a source of concern to Wexford. The manner in which they responded to John O’Brien’s splendid fourth minute goal for Louth was hugely impressive however, reeling off six points in eight minutes.
O’Brien’s was a magnificently crafted score, coming after some stout defensive work by Colin Goss.
Aaron Hoey collected Paddy Keenan’s well-placed pass before sending JP Rooney away. The Naomh Máirtín attacker delayed his offload perfectly to put O’Brien in the clear, and he coolly slid the ball under the advancing John Cooper to give the men in red a dream start.
Wexford were unperturbed and adopted a simple but highly effective tactic of playing first time ball into their fast-moving attackers. Thus, they embarked on a scoring spree that yielded points for Matty Forde, Ciarán Lyng (two each), Eric Bradley and Adrian Flynn.
Indeed, the spread of scores from the Model men was quite impressive. Whereas in the past, they have been over-reliant on Forde, in yesterday’s first half, four other players got on the scoresheet, with Flynn, Lyng and Bradley all weighing in with a brace apiece from play.
Forde finished with seven points, including four from play.
His opener 122 seconds in was a thing of beauty, as he won possession close to the right touchline about 21 metres out, turned and curled over a point. His teammates followed the example and even when Rooney slotted home the rebound after Mark Stanfield’s powerfully struck penalty in the 27th minute had struck both posts, they showed remarkable equanimity, responding with three more points.
Two of those came from Forde, while midfielder Eric Bradley notched up his second. Still, 0-12 to 2-2 at the break was the poorest reflection of a game’s trend as you are likely to see.
Wexford didn’t manage to reproduced their first half quality after the resumption, but they didn’t have to as Louth were dreadful.
With Flynn and Forde raising white flags, Wexford always looked to have enough in hand, but finally Louth did rouse themselves.
A brace of points from Clarke and two more from Stanfield and Lennon reduced the deficit to a goal with less than five minutes remaining. Redmond Barry sent over a crucial score almost immediately for Wexford but Louth had found their purpose.
They completely dominated the middle third in the closing 10 minutes, with substitute Carroll thundering into the game alongside Keenan.
The latter, whose three points had broken the Wicklow resistance in the second replay a fortnight ago, rampaged forward for a wonderful score and Clarke converted a free, seconds after seeing a shot saved at the near post by Cooper. In the end though, time ran out on Louth.
J Cooper; C Morris, P Wallace, B Malone; A Morrissey, D Murphy, N Murphy R Stafford, E Bradley 0-2; C Deely 0-1, R Barry 0-1, A Flynn 0-3; C Lyng 0-2, P Colfer, M Forde 0-7(3fs, 1 45).
Subs: G Sunderland for Morrissey inj. (26); P O’Dwyer for Wallace inj. (42); A Doyle for Murphy inj. (65); D Fogarty for Bradley inj. (70); L Murphy for Lyng (70+2).
S Reynolds; A Page, C Goss, J Carr; R Finnegan, P McGinnity, D Finnegan; P Keenan 0-2, M Farrelly; M Stanfield 0-1, M Brennan, J O’Brien 1-0; A Hoey, N McDonnell, JP Rooney 1-1(0-1f).
Subs: J Neary for Goss (35); D Clarke 0-3(2fs) for McDonnell (ht); S Lennon 0-1 for Rooney (ht); R Carroll for Farrelly (48); C Grimes for Brennan (66).
P Russell (Tipperary).