Much to Baker’s relief, his custodian James Dempsey held his ground defiantly to stop Fanning’s strike, and when Joe Bergin gathered possession from the rebound and cleared his lines, it meant Offaly had secured their first victory in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League.
It certainly wasn’t pretty stuff in blustery O’Connor Park, Tullamore yesterday, with referee Shane Hourigan issuing eight yellow cards and blowing for almost 50 frees. But Baker didn’t care. “It was all about the result. I can’t fault the players for their honesty and work rate. They really had to grind it out. We played lovely hurling against Wexford in the league last year down in Wexford Park. We led by nine points with five minutes to go and lost. It would have been a long, long season if we had lost again. I’m delighted with the win. We’ve three games to go now and everything to play for.”
Having trailed for practically 60 minutes, Offaly spiritedly fought back to overtake the ‘Slaneysiders’ and Baker was very impressed with the contribution of his subs. “Tom Carroll, Odhran Kealey, Paul Cleary, and Seán Ryan all made a telling difference.”
Indeed, points by Kealey and Carroll edged Offaly in front after Bergin’s 60th minute equaliser made it 0-13 apiece. Wexford, aided by the strong wind, led by 0-10 to 0-4 at half time. Paul Morris accounted for seven of their points, with Rory Jacob, Richie Kehoe, and Ciaran O’Shaughnessy also on target. The visitors had the better of the play but they were dogged by inaccuracy and they tallied eight first-half wides.
Wexford still enjoyed a 0-13 to 0-10 advantage after 50 minutes, but from the 51st to 65th minutes the rejuvenated Offaly lads hit six unanswered points through Shane Dooley, Cathal Parlon, Bergin, Kealey, Carroll, and Derek Morkan to surge 0-16 to 0-13 clear.
Morris pulled a point back from a 67th minute free, and Offaly hearts were in their mouths on the call of full time as Fanning stood over the free, but his strike was cleared and with it went Wexford’s chance of stealing the win.
OFFALY: J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, D King; D Morkan 0-1, R Hanniffy, S Gardiner; K Brady, B Carroll; C Egan 0-1, J Bergin 0-2, C Parlon 0-1; S Dooley 0-7 frees, D Molloy 0-1, J Mulrooney 0-1.
Subs: P Cleary for Gardiner (29), S Ryan for King (35), O Kealey 0-1 for Mulrooney (50), T Carroll 0-1 for Molloy (59).
WEXFORD: M Fanning; E Doyle, A Shore, B Kenny; J Tonks, R Kehoe 0-1 free, A Kenny; D Redmond, H Kehoe; G Moore, S Murphy, C O’Shaugnessy 0-1; P Morris 0-10 (0-7 frees), G Sinnott, R Jacob 0-2.
Subs: L Chin for A Kenny (22), E Quigley for Moore (24), M O’Regan for Murphy (40).
Referee: S Hourigan, Limerick.