Defeats hurt. A nineteen point defeat to your near neighbours after a period of optimism and joy hurts even more…
Wexford never really raised a gallop as they watched Waterford storm their way into Saturday night’s Allianz League Division 1 final which finished on a scoreline of 5-20 to 0-16.
Hopes were high going into Sunday’s clash at Nowlan Park.
We thought that the five wins from five had banished the ghosts of the Walsh Cup final and that Darragh Egan had found a strategy to make his men defensively sound and tactically astute to allow Rory O’Connor to work his magic.
But time and time again, the Deise capitalised on mistakes and tore through a back-line that never landed a glove on their opposition.
The warning signs came early enough.
Dessie Hutchinson pointed with the first attack and could have had a goal inside the opening two minutes. Liam Óg McGovern’s move to midfield appeared to be an attempt to stem the influence of Austin Gleeson. That proved unsuccessful as the Mount Sion man ended with 2-3, even taking his early bath into account.
The movement of the Waterford forwards was frequent and frightening. Jack Prendergast and Mikey Kiely sought and often found acres of space that appeared between the full and half back lines. That kind of space was last seen haunting Croke Park in January.
Even when Wexford were close enough to their markers, their superior strength meant it was a mismatch. Kiely dumping his defender on the ground before stroking over summed up why he’s such a highly-rated youngster.
A poor first half was epitomised by the standout stat at half-time. Wexford won just 7 of their 20 puck outs in the first 35 minutes. The most crucial of which lead to Gleeson strolling in for the first of his 2 green flags. The lack of secure ball meant a battle for every possession and an attacking platform starting way back out the field. Potshots from miles out became common in the second half when the game was long out of reach.
The frustration was palpable and reached a boiling point with both teams finishing the game with 14 men. Gleeson’s straight red should mean that he misses the final as a result and he’ll be disappointed.
So too will Jack O’Connor; his petulant hurley throw in the dying moments of the game was out of character and out of a mindless attempt to retake some control.
It’s not something we should see in the top level of the game and hurts rather than helps the cause.
Questions do have to be asked about defensive systems and big scorelines against. Some teams burn brightly and accept that one slip up and it could all go horribly wrong. The problem is that we aren’t seeing the same kind of returns on the other end of the field to justify such recklessness. Wexford fans will start to ask if sacrificing the extra defender means welcoming another humbling experience when the chips are down.
While it may not feel like it, there are a few positives to take from the mauling. Seven of Wexford’s starting midfielders and forwards got themselves on the scoresheet. Darragh Egan will clearly ask for more from the lads inside but it shows that the team isn’t just waiting on O’Connor to work his heroics.
Charlie McGuckian in particular fired a monster point in the first half to show off a different side to his game. If he can chip in with more going forward it adds another string to his bow with his tireless work off the ball.
Lee Chin’s appearance from the bench wasn’t spectacular but does point to a positive contribution from a similar position in the championship. The debate will rage about whether he deserves to come straight into the side after such a long injury.
Wexford have suffered with a lack of a substitute strategy before, especially when games go down to the wire. Keeping a weapon like Chin in reserve might be the best opportunity to strengthen tired legs and minds. A determined and hurt Harriers man could spark a flame that can drag the side through, in boxing terms, the championship rounds.
Egan will rightly say that yesterday wasn’t the focus and the minds have always been set to the Galway game. That’s little comfort for fans who have been looking for silverware, but it has to be the reality of the situation.
Wexford have proven themselves to be a better team than Henry Shefflin’s team this season, and with Leinster still wide open, a week more on the training field isn’t the worst consolation.
The management picked up these players after a devastating defeat before and will need to do so again. Winning has a habit of causing mass amnesia, so victory on the 16th of April would be the perfect cure to stop the growing sickness of heavy beatings.
Featured Image: Noel Reddy
Featured Image: Noel Reddy
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