YOU could use any adjective imaginable in praise of Wexford’s massive accomplishment in edging out Meath in a thrilling finish to yesterday’s Leinster SFC quarter-final — and still it wouldn’t do them justice.
It’s easier to point out that they managed what didn’t appear possible at half-time when they trailed by 10 points after the Royals had thrived on a dominant midfield. And unless you witnessed what happened in the second half you would find it hard to believe that it happened.
Matty Forde, with a last-minute point from play (shortly after he had equalised from a free) was the Wexford hero, combining skill with the right temperament to fire over an angled shot from about 45 yards on the right wing. However, while he did play a key role in their quite remarkable comeback, it was the team dynamic — reflected in significant improvements all over the field — which inspired the recovery.
And crucial to that was the benefit gained from a series of substitutions — two on the resumption and a further two within seven minutes — and particularly the part played by Thomas Howlin in place of Rory Stafford at midfield. That was reflected in the way he broke the stranglehold of Mark Ward, who had been brilliant all through the opening 35 minutes. Ward was eventually dismissed for a second yellow card offence in the 63rd minute, at a stage when Meath were still three points clear which — allied to the loss of Alan Nestor with concussion — was another key factor in the outcome. Nor forgetting either the small matter of five suspended players.
It was all so different in the first half, when Wexford competed on fairly even terms for the first 15 minutes, during which time scores were level three times. But, within an eight-minute period, Meath had jumped into a seven-point lead and Wexford’s situation worsened.
Lucky that goalkeeper Anthony Masterson saved two certain goals in the opening five minutes (from Joe Sheridan and Stephen Bray), Wexford conceded two under increasing pressure in the 26th (through Bray) and 31st minutes (through the crafty Graham Geraghty). Indirectly, they came about through the monopoly of possession they enjoyed through Mark Ward’s brilliant fielding and directly through slick play and clinical finishing.
Wexford were conceding ground at both ends of the field and the net effect was that the Meath forwards had plenty of time and space in which to capitalise. At times it was so easy to score that it was almost embarrassing for Wexford, who went in trailing by 2-8 to 0-4 at the interval.
The early stages of the second half saw Wexford much more involved and gaining gradually in confidence. They actually doubled their score in a period of seven minutes but were relieved to see the referee disallow a goal scored by Sheridan when he appeared to force the ball out of Masterson’s hands.
Meath seemed to have reclaimed control with three good scores, but, the game turned on Redmond Barry’s 51st-minute goal, which gave Wexford real hope for the first time. Forde, at last performing and the skilful Ciaran Lyng added points before Sheridan got what proved to be Meath’s last score 12 minutes from the end of normal time.
After that, the cumulative effort of Wexford’s enhanced effort produced a massive yield, most notably a second goal — from PJ Banville in the 59th minute.
Interestingly, in the context of what would happen, Meath substitute Brian Farrell missed a simple free before they were overwhelmed by Wexford. Points from substitutes Shane Roche and Adrian Morrissey brought them to the stage where Matty Forde’s 40 yards free levelled the game. And then came a wonderful winning score from him to bring the curtain down on a fascinating clash.
Scorers for Wexford: R. Barry and P.J. Banville 1-1 each; M. Forde and C. Lyng (0-2 frees) 0-4 each; C. Morris, P. Colfer, S. Roche and A. Morrissey 0-1 each.
Meath: S. Bray 1-2; G. Geraghty 1-0; J. Sheridan and P. Byrne 0-3 each; C. Ward (0-2 frees) and A. Nestor 0-2 each; M. Ward 0-1.
WEXFORD: A. Masterson; B. Malone, P. Wallace, N. Murphy; N. O’Sullivan, D. Murphy, C. Morris (capt); R. Stafford, E. Bradley; PJ Banville, R. Barry, A. Flynn; C. Lyng, M. Forde, P. Colfer.
Subs: T. Howlin for Stafford and A. Morrissey for O’Sullivan (second half); D. Walsh for N. Murphy (40); S. Roche for Flynn (42); C. Byrne for Bradley (65).
MEATH: M. Ahern; C. McGill, D. Fay, C. O’Connor; E. Harrington, K. Reilly, C. King; B. Meade, M. Ward; A. Nestor, C. Ward, P. Byrne; S. Bray (capt.), J. Sheridan, G. Geraghty.
Subs: B. Farrell for Nestor (inj, 2nd half); A. Moyles for Meade (51); G. Reilly for C. Ward (62); D. Sheridan for J. Sheridan (68); S. O’Rourke for Farrell (71).
Referee: M. Deegan (Laois).
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