Ahead of their 2013 semi-final, the Antrim boss publicly stated his belief that the northerners would be comfortably outclassed by the Leinster champions. Capitalising on the total complacency of their opponents, Antrim scored a famous two-point win and Ryan was almost repeating himself last week when claiming his team was in for a “massive hiding” and “don’t deserve to be in the competition”.
Long before the first ball was struck on Saturday afternoon, however, it was clear there would be no second ambush.
Despite the match programme carrying 24 names, Antrim travelled south with just 21 players. Left at home was Ulster final top-scorer Conor Johnston, Ryan citing the player’s non-commitment during a pre-match interview with TG4.
Neither did their defensive approach in which they played with two sweepers suggest an attitude of fiery defiance. Maoi Connolly and Michael Dudley were withdrawn from the Antrim forward unit to assist further back the field and while they succeeded in making life difficult for the Wexford forwards, Antrim’s sparsely populated attack exerted little influence – their problems captured by a miserly first-half tally of 0-3.
Winning manager JJ Doyle was relieved to have banished the ghosts of 2013.
“There was a couple of the lads here two-years ago, the others have certainly heard about it enough. There is always that fear among young lads when people are telling them they are going to give the other team a hiding. Moreso when the opposition manager is saying Wexford are going to give Antrim a hiding. It is very hard to listen to that and not be affected by it,” he said.
“It is a job done. It wasn’t a great spectacle. It wasn’t a brilliant performance or anything like that.
“It was probably the most negative game I have ever seen. We knew it would be defensive, we didn’t think it would be that defensive. But then, at times, our use of possession out of defence played into their hands. We were playing ball down the middle when we had spoken about not doing that.
“It was a tough game in the sense that it was a game where the lads had to work it out for themselves. They are young men, they will learn from it. They are not overly happy in there which is a great sign after winning an All-Ireland semi-final by 12-points.”
The winners replied to Antrim’s opening score with seven on the bounce, Conor McDonald (0-4), Tony French, Andrew Kenny and Cathal Dunbar finding the target to establish a 0-8 to 0-1 lead after 24 minutes.
Antrim centre-back Eoghan Campbell landed a fine long-range point to end their 17-minute drought, but the die had already been cast – Antrim management’s decision to persist with four bodies in attack making it nigh-on impossible to close the gap.
Pádraig Foley extended Wexford’s advantage upon the change of ends and the result was wrapped up when Conor Devitt, set-up by a superb reverse hand-pass from full-forward McDonald, drilled to the net on 34 minutes.
Four of the next five white flags went to Wexford – French, Dunbar, Kevin Foley and McDonald piling the misery on the opposition, with the scoreboard reading 1-13 to 0-4 after 41 minutes.
Christy McNaughton pounced for a late goal for the Ulster champions, but it counted for little.
Indeed, Ryan’s charges were lucky to be 12-points adrift at the finish. Wexford hit 19 wides - 13 in the first-half alone.
“Maybe the wides were to do with the fact that we weren’t as alert as we needed to be,” continued Doyle.
“I don’t think they were 100% switched on. Some of the angles they were shooting from... we had five wides against Kilkenny because we used the ball far more intelligently than we did today.
“We have a lot of things to work on which is a great way to be going into an All-Ireland final. ”
C McDonald (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ’65, 0-1 sc); C Devitt (1-2); T French (0-3, 0-1 free); A Kenny, C Dunbar, K Foley (0-2 each); P Foley, S Kenny (0-1 each).
McNaughton (1-2, 0-2 frees); E Campbell (0-2); R McCambridge, S McCaughan (0-1 free), D McMullan, M Connolly (0-1 each).
O O’Leary (Buffers Alley); S Donohoe (Shelmaliers), L Ryan (Rapparees), E Conroy (Naomh Éanna); J White (Oylegate-Glenbrien), P Foley (Crossabeg Ballymurn), J O’Connor (St Martin’s); C Devitt (Ballyfad), T French (Adamstown); A Kenny (Buffers Alley), K Foley (Rapparees), J Cash (Shelmaliers); C Dunbar (Ballygarret), C McDonald (Naomh Éanna), P Sutton (Oulart-The Ballagh).
S Murphy (St James’ Ramsgrange) for Cash (49 mins), J Firman (St Martin’s) for Sutton (49), S Kelly (Crossabeg Ballymurn) for Kenny (53), L McDonald (Shamrocks) for O’Connor (53), S Kenny (Bunclody) for Foley (59).
C Heyden (Ruairí Óg); T Ó Ciaráin (St Gall’s), T Burns (Glen Rovers), D O’Hara (Robert Emmet’s); G Walsh (O’Donovan Rossa), E Campbell (Ruairí Óg), R McCambridge (Ruairí Óg); M Dudley (Naomh Eoin), J Connolly (O’Donovan Rossa); D McMullan (Loughgiel Shamrocks), C McNaughton (Ruairí Óg), M Connolly (Loughgiel Shamrocks); P McBride (Carey Faughs), S McCaughan (Mac Uilín), J O’Connell (Clooney Gaels).
C Ross (St Enda’s) for Connolly (43 mins) D Traynor (Con Magees) for McBride (48), D Murphy (O’Donovan Rossa) for O’Connell (50).
S Cleere (Kilkenny).