Dublin had the minerals. Wexford simply didn’t. Not yet anyway.
In the cold light of it, the initial promise of the home team turned out to be early exuberance, as the provincial champions took a 27-minute lead and never went behind for the rest of the game.
Yet Wexford can take plenty from the performance. Strangely, they played better on this occasion than last year’s meeting in Wexford Park, when they saw the winning line before Dublin, only to need a last-gasp equaliser.
This time three second-half points from play was never going to be enough but that had as much to do with their own inexperience as Dublin’s success in neutering their attack, when Conor McDonald and Podge Doran were so dangerous before half-time.
Anthony Daly had seen the banana skin but sidestepped it with no shortage of intensity or composure from his players.
“You couldn’t turn on the radio this week without hearing someone predict that we were going to be beat. I had to turn it off going home on Thursday night,” he said.
“Look, we were under no illusions coming here because after last year, forewarned was forearmed. I think the bit of maturity stood to us, even though we’ve had endless problems, to be honest. We’re going to have to improve 20, 25% to have any hope of retaining the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.”
Liam Dunne’s men were left to rue eight first-half wides when they had bossed the possession stakes. More had to be made of such dominance and most of the 13,943 crowd knew it too.
Dublin, meanwhile, preyed mercilessly on Wexford. Using the momentum of scores, they added further points in quick succession. They had two tremendous purple patches in each half, sending over four points in less than four minutes without reply in the second quarter and repeating the dose leading up to the 50th minute.
Bursts like that are what made Kilkenny so majestic, although they always threw in a goal or two for good measure. If there is one drawback about Dublin’s display, it’s their continuing shyness in front of the opposing net.
Wexford remained close but not close enough and two beautiful Michael Carton scores from distance followed by a Paul Ryan effort inside 90 seconds put Dublin six ahead with seven minutes remaining.
Daly had taken his chances, mind. Ryan O’Dwyer, who left the pitch bloodied and battered early in the second half, was laid up in bed for the previous two nights with an eye infection. Liam Rushe had hardly trained. Conal Keaney, their out-and-out leader on the evening was, by Daly’s own admission, under-performing in training.
Keaney belied that form with five points from play while Alan McCrabbe posted three himself to add to six frees.
Dunne knew his players had expected to win but could take some positives. Had Dublin put in the same performance on Saturday against Wexford two or three years ago, he reckoned they would have been on the receiving end of “a fair drumming”.
“I’m happy with a lot of it. We did get a good start, and got a good start to the second half, too, but didn’t take our chances,” he said.
“And that came back at the end to cost us. I thought the interplay between the players in the first half was very good, but the execution in the end let us down.
“So it’s disappointing to lose the game. But sometimes when you’re beat by the better team on the night, it’s easier to take, even if it’s not easy to take a defeat. But I felt Dublin always had that little bit more. I mean they’re seasoned campaigners, are more experienced, and were more clinical than we were.”
Wexford, for all their goodness in general play, especially from McDonald who was given Peter Kelly a hard time of it, trailed by two at the break, 1-6 to 0-11.
They drew level in the 42nd minute via a Paul Morris free but the next six scores were Dublin’s. For a team that hadn’t played a competitive game in 11 weeks, there was little rustiness.
“I think we had one game last week, A against B,” said Daly. “I said to them afterwards — ‘that’s the best we’ve hurled since last August’.
“I just felt we were beginning to come into form. But when you run out there tonight, in front of a crowd like that in a stadium like this, you don’t know what’s going to happen when you cross the line, because some lads step up and some don’t.
“We relied on the depth of the squad and it came through tonight for us.”
Scorers for Wexford: P Morris (0-6, 4fs, 2 65s), P Doran (1-1), C McDonald, L Óg McGovern (0-2 each), J Guiney, D O’Keeffe, L Chin (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin: A McCrabbe (0-9, 6fs), C Keaney (0-5), P Ryan (0-3), M Carton (0-2), C Cronin, J Boland, D Treacy (0-1 each).
WEXFORD: M Fanning; L Ryan, M O’Hanlon, K Rossiter; L Chin, A Shore, C Kenny; D O’Keeffe, H Kehoe; P Morris, P Doran, L Óg McGovern; R Jacob, C McDonald, J Guiney.
Subs for Wexford: G Sinnott for J Guiney (45); D Redmond for D O’Keeffe (52); E Moore for H Kehoe (56); I Byrne for R Jacob (59).
DUBLIN: A Nolan; S Durkin, P Kelly, P Schutte; S Hiney, L Rushe, M Carton; J Boland, J McCaffrey; C Cronin, A McCrabbe, R O’Dwyer; C Keaney, D O’Callaghan, M Schutte.
Subs for Dublin: P Ryan for M Schutte (inj 5); N McMorrow for R O’Dwyer (in 43); C McCormack for J Boland (61); D Treacy for D O’Callaghan (66).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).