Dubs almost rue déjà vu

Dublin 0-19 Wexford 2-13

THINK back to June 9th, 2007, and the last minute of what had been a free-flowing Leinster senior hurling semi-final between two well-matched sides.

With the sides level Wexford were awarded a free from 75m. Barry Lambert was immune to the pressure and fired over the winner and heaped heartbreak on Dublin.

On Saturday, at the same stage of the competition, in the same Nowlan Park venue, in the last minute of another free-flowing sporting contest between two well-matched sides, Wexford are awarded a cruel but correctly called free.

Dublin captain Stephen Hiney, in a storming run upfield, skilfully flicked the ball over an advancing Wexford player’s head, expertly re-gathered, but Seamus Roche’s whistle sounded – it was Hiney’s third catch.

The free is from close to the same spot as last year but Wexford are playing in the other direction, so it’s just over 65m out, on the right. Diarmuid Lyng, a late appointee to take the Wexford frees in the absence of Stephen Nolan, is already on a perfect four from four from placed balls and Dublin manager Tommy Naughton can hardly bear to look. “Déjà vu,” he says, “If you had offered me a draw at that stage, I’d have taken it.”

Happily for Dublin, justice was done, they got that draw.

Lyng’s underhit shot was safely gathered, the final whistle sounded, and the travelling thousands of Dub supporters in the near 10,000 crowd roared out their relief. The Wexford fans too, who had travelled more in fear than in faith, rose to acclaim their team; a first half of almost total ineptitude had been turned around and respect restored.

Both Dublin and Wexford had every reason for that relief. It wasn’t just that defeat meant the losers would go on to face either Cork or the losers of Clare/Limerick in their next championship outing in a straight knockout match, this was about respect, about staying alive in Leinster.

Dublin hurling badly needs a breakthrough against a front-line team, confirmation at adult level of the progress made lately at underage. Wexford need affirmation that they are still among those front-line teams, that despite all the bad beatings suffered against Kilkenny in recent years, they still belong at hurling’s top table. It was an occasion fraught with nerves then, understandably so, and both teams suffered the jitters.

“We were nervous,” Wexford boss John Meyler conceded, “But all you guys are out there (criticising), that’s your job – my job is to manage this team. Everyone is saying Wexford are weak, Wexford are this, Wexford are that – we’re not. I’ve no doubt we’re under pressure, the Leinster championship is under pressure, but we’re trying to keep up our end. We’re working our arses off, that’s all we can do.”

The first-half especially Wexford were at odds with themselves. Two goals in two minutes against a jittery Dublin defence (from giant full-forward Stephen Banville and centre-forward Eoin Quigley, seventh and ninth minutes) gave them a 2-0 to 0-3 lead which should have settled them. But it didn’t. Over the next 25 minutes they hit nine wides and failed to score while Dublin were hitting one impressive point after another and forged into a well-deserved 0-11 to 2-0 lead. Finally, a minute into injury time, to ironic cheers from their despairing support, Lyng notched his first free from a placed ball, but as they headed for the dressing-room it wasn’t looking good for Wexford. Four points behind, it should have been more and would have been more had an almost equally profligate Dublin attack taken all the chances they had created. Inside forwards David ‘Dotsie’ O’Callaghan and Ross O’Carroll were outstanding but John Kelly and Declan O’Dwyer – both good ball-winners – led the wide-ball brigade.

“I said very little at half-time,” said Meyler, “I told them we just had to concentrate, start hurling, which I think we did. We showed heart, effort, commitment. People are saying Wexford are weak – I don’t buy that at all. All those guys in there are giving their hearts, they’re giving everything. Damien Fitzhenry led by example, he stood up in the dressing-room at half-time, said a few home truths and that’s the leadership that comes out of those senior players.”

The Wexford keeper was indeed inspirational. Through the first-half he had been a heroic figure, many times calling for the ball from under-pressure defenders, making huge clearances. On the restart Michael Jacob, Doc O’Connor and Darren Stamp stepped up their effort in the half-back line, Keith Rossiter was a terrier at full-back, David Redmond worked hard in midfield, Banville did a passable Tony Doran impression at full-forward, while captain Rory Jacob finally began to see some decent ball, managed a hat-trick of fine points and in the end, though it was Wexford with the final point, it was Dublin holding on. “We had a lot of opportunities,” said Dotsie. “That’s something we’ll have to work on, becoming more clinical. But fair play to Wexford, I’ve played against them many times, it’s always a battle to the end, they never lie down.”

For both, then, redemption and a second opportunity at Croke Park next Sunday.

For Wexford, a triple-header at headquarters. “The minor hurlers are there, the senior footballers are there, the senior hurlers are there,” said Meyler, “It will be a Wexford day out.”

Will it be Wexford’s day though?

Scorers for Dublin: D. O’Callaghan 0-9 (0-3f);

R. O’Carroll 0-4; J. McCaffrey 0-2 (0-1 s/l); S. Lambert, J. Burke, D. O’Dwyer, K. Flynn, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Wexford: D. Lyng 0-5 (0-4f); E. Quigley 1-2; S. Banville 1-0; R. Jacob 0-3; S. Doyle 0-2; D. Redmond 0-1.

DUBLIN: G. Maguire; N. Corcoran, S. Hiney (capt), T. Brady; M. Carton, R. Fallon, J. Boland; J. McCaffrey, S. Lambert; J. Burke, D. O’Dwyer, K. Flynn; R. O’Carroll, D. O’Callaghan, J. Kelly.

Subs: P. Ryan for Kelly (40); D. Curtin for Flynn (54); D. Qualter for Lambert (62); P. Kelly for Burke (69).

WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; M. Travers, K. Rossiter, P. Roche; M. Jacob, D. O’Connor, D. Stamp; B. O’Leary, C. Farrell; PJ Nolan, E. Quigley, D. Lyng; D. Redmond, S. Banville, R. Jacob (capt).

Subs: S. Doyle for Farrell (41); M. Doyle for O’Leary (49); J. Tonks for Roche (57); T. Dwyer for Lyng (71).

Referee: S. Roche (Tipperary).


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