Faithful made to pay the penalty by Wexford

IT’s one of the most basic truths in sport – you’ve got to take your chances.

At sun-splashed Wexford Park on Saturday, in this thoroughly-enjoyable Leinster SHC quarter-final, that truth was the difference between two very evenly matched sides.

Offaly had two penalties, both were poorly placed and poorly struck, and against a defence in which the brilliant Damien Fitzhenry was the keeper, both were easily saved and cleared.

Wexford got two goal half-chances, one in the 12th minute of the first half, the second with only a minute to go in the game and big Stephen Banville finished both.

“Those were two huge goals,” enthused Wexford captain Diarmuid Lyng. “He burst through for the last one with two or three lads hanging off him. It was fantastic to see. That’s what Stephen is capable of, if you get the ball into him, he pushes forward and can do damage. Offaly did a good job on him in Semple Stadium (Offaly beat Wexford in the NHL Division Two final). We were hoping they wouldn’t be able to keep him under wraps for a second time, and thank God they didn’t.”

From the first whistle Banville was causing problems for Offaly, a powerful presence on the edge of the square, who looked capable of winning this match on his own if he got enough ball. He has a good hand, is strong enough to hold off almost any defender while he grabs the ball from the sky, which allows the outfield players the luxury of just belting the ball in around the kitchen. Therein lay the rub, however; for all of the first-half, and though playing into the fresh breeze, the Offaly outfield players went toe-to-toe with Wexford, and more than held their own. Though Lyng did well for the hosts in midfield, supported by the roving Rory Jacob from wing-forward, it was Offaly duo Brendan Murphy and Kevin Brady who held sway in this sector in that opening half, and with the inside line of Shane Dooley, Daniel Currams and Joe Bergin all threatening. The game was tied at the break, 1-6 to 0-9, but Wexford were flattered by the Banville goal.

The third quarter, however, was when this game was decided. With Wexford stepping up their efforts considerably the scores began to flow. Six points without reply, three of those from pointed frees by Diarmuid Lyng, one each from Tomás Waters, Andrew Shore and David Redmond put daylight between the teams with 20 minutes remaining.

Offaly were thrown a lifeline in the 44th minute when Joe Bergin was hauled down for a penalty after a super catch of a Brendan Murphy centre. To score, you need to keep that ball away from Fitzhenry – Shane Dooley did that, but he didn’t get all of the ball and Mal Travers saved with ease. A few minutes later Shane made amends, a fine point, to kick-start Offaly’s challenge again, and they did come with something of a run, had the deficit back to a goal, 1-16 to 0-16, with still three minutes on the clock. Another point from Lyng, however, stopped the rot for Wexford, and Banville’s second goal, in the 69th minute, was double indemnity. That third quarter purple-and-gold patch, you see, was the real difference. “Probably was,” agreed Diarmuid Lyng; “We were there or thereabouts throughout the game, so it probably was the decisive quarter, we pulled away a little bit. I think we rested on our laurels then, let Offaly back into it, only three or four points in it again at one stage – a small thing would have turned it at that stage. We have to learn from that, make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

For Offaly manager Joe Dooley, however, it was the third-quarter blues: “Wexford got a run on us after half-time, they got three or four points from frees which took the life out of us. We came back strongly but they got the goal to finish us off. I’m disappointed, but still proud of the lads.”

Depending on the way the semi-final draw goes now, and with a toss of the coin having already decided home advantage, it could even be Kilkenny coming next to Wexford Park, a prospect that doesn’t intimidate Lyng

He said: “They’re flying at the moment, and obviously Wexford are coming from a much lower build-up but we have nothing to lose – if we get them down here we’ll throw the kitchen sink at them. The crowd will get behind us as they did today – 70 minutes, who knows what could happen?”

Scorers for Wexford: S. Banville 2-2; D. Lyng 0-7 (0-4 frees, 0-1 s/l); T. Waters 0-2; R. Jacob 0-2; S. Doyle 0-2; A. Shore, D. Redmond, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Offaly: S. Dooley 0-4; B. Carroll 0-3 (0-2 frees); J. Bergin 0-2; B. Murphy 0-2; K. Brady 0-2; R. Hanniffy, D. Horan, D. Currams, 0-1 each.

Subs for Wexford: P. Carley (Redmond 61); H. Kehoe (Doyle inj. 61); W. Doran (R. Jacob 70).

Subs for Offaly: C. Parlon (J. Brady 45); C. Mahon (Molloy 51); D. Horan (Currams 51). Blood sub: D. Horan (Oakley 6/7).

Referee: J. Ryan (Tipperary).

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