Wexford manager Jason Ryan couldn’t be accused of hyperbole in saying that the ball was like “a bar of soap” because the conditions were horrendous. The temptation would have been to describe this first meeting between the counties as a comedy of errors because there were so many errors over 90 minutes of play, but that would be grossly insulting to the efforts of 42 players who put in such a marathon effort.
The irony was that it began with a perfectly executed goal from Ciaran Lyng 15 seconds after the throw-in and that the St Martin’s dual player only managed two pointed frees from a succession of scoring opportunities. Likewise, on the opposing side, ex-minor Donal Shine had something of an off-day with his free-taking.
But, after their 20-point drubbing from Mayo, manager Fergal O’Donnell was delighted by a massive show of character from a team which featured five of the All-Ireland winning minor team he managed two years ago.
He said: “When the goal went in I said, ‘here we go again,’ but the lads fought really hard. It’s all right to talk about restoring pride, but if we had lost today after conceding the goal we would have been very disappointed.”
While it may have taken Roscommon 16 minutes to get their first score, they threatened more in the second quarter, with Michael Finneran prominent at midfield, captain Gary Cox doing well in the right corner and Senan Kilbride (son of former Mayo star Sean) effective at full-forward. The only downside was a difficulty in getting the ball over the bar often enough, but Wexford found it even harder, even with a better supply. David Murphy was a key influence at centre-back and Shane Roche at full-forward added to the threat posed on a continuing basis by Lyng.
Leading 1-3 to 0-4 at the break, Wexford lost that advantage within seven minutes of the resumption. And, Roscommon’s ploy in deploying corner-forward Cathal Clegg in a sweeper role was proving highly successful, especially when so much Wexford ball was kicked aimlessly forward.
Almost as quickly as they had restored a two-point lead by the 55th minute, Wexford found themselves on level terms after an excellent score from Kilbride and a well-kicked Shine free.
Then, out of the blue, Finneran almost conjured up a magical winning goal.
“I think he lost control and he came on to it soccer-style,” recalled the Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson. “I just had to guess, because he was only 7/8 yards out and I dived to my right and got a hand to it. With the wet conditions it could have gone anywhere, but, luckily enough it went onto the crossbar.”
Following that, they went back in front with a Shane Cullen free and the game went to extra time after Roscommon substitute Kevin Higgins pointed in the last minute (with Masterson complaining that he palmed the ball over the bar). It left the score at 1-6 to 0-9.
Roscommon created more chances over both periods of extra time but trailed by a point after 10 minutes. Kilbride brought the teams level for the last time seven minutes from the end and despite some heroic efforts, neither side could produce a winning score in remaining time.
Jason Ryan knows that his team can improve, saying: “We try to play an expansive game, but the conditions limited us. Unfortunately the ball was going so slowly that people were afraid to take risks.” O’Donnell recognises the need to be more consistent and won’t be taking anything for granted, saying: “You could see our players were happier with the result than Wexford. We have to be careful that they don’t come out and blow us off the park next week.”
Scorers for Wexford: C. Lyng 1-2 (0-2 frees); S. Cullen 0-3 frees; E. Bradley 0-2; S. Roche 0-1.
Scorers for Roscommon: S. Kilbride 0-5 (0-2 frees); D. Shine 0-3 frees; K. Higgins 0-2; M. Finneran 0-1.
Subs for Wexford: E. Bradley for Doyle (42); A. Morrissey for Kennedy (47); P. Naughter for Banville and A. Doyle for Morris (58); P. Wallace for N. Murphy (62); T. Howlin for Roche (76); D. Carter for Malone (86).
Subs for Roscommon: R. Brady for Gleeson (11); K. Higgins for Connellan (47); C. Devaney for F. Cregg (59); J. Dunning for Shine (82); J. McKeague for Purcell (91).
Referee: A Mangan (Kerry)