Goals at crucial stages in games can ultimately decide the outcome and vital goals, one in first half injury time by PJ Banville and another from Redmond Barry in the closing stages, saw Wexford snatch a rather fortunate one point win over Longford in an entertaining National Football League Division 2 opener in Wexford Park on Sunday last.
After experimenting in the O’Byrne Cup this was the first crucial test for new Wexford manager Aidan O’Brien and it was a stern examination his side got from old rivals from last year Longford, who were badly hit by the absence of the Barden brothers Paul and David with injuries also ruling out other regulars Declan Reilly, Colm P Smyth and Niall Mulligan.
Brian Kavanagh, currently in New York, was also missing and will be a big loss this season as Longford team manager Glenn Ryan introduced new faces Fergal Battrim, Michael Brady, Shane Doyle and Robbie Smyth to the first fifteen for the difficult task away to Wexford.
But after producing a fine first half performance it was looking good for Longford who led by 1-7 to 0-2 as the game entered first half injury time. However, Banville’s goal proved to be a real tonic for Wexford going in at the break and the never say die attitude clearly is still in this Wexford football team as they wore down Longford with the wind in their backs in the second half.
Longford got a flying start to the game as they pointed from a free within twenty five seconds of the throw-in as Sean McCormack curled over a placed ball. While Wexford had a period of dominance for the next few minutes the strong wind stopped some point efforts from going over.
Michael Quinn drove forward unmarked from centre-half-back and set up Robbie Smyth for the Longford goal in the 11th minute before Ben Brosnan curled over a superbly struck free for Wexford into a strong wind after fourteen minutes.
Longford dominated as they capitalised on Wexford mistakes when possession was coughed up, and won most of the fifty-fifty balls. Francis McGee was the quickest to react when a free came down off the post and he pointed, before Sean McCormack fisted the ball over the bar.
Another Wexford defensive error set up a ‘45 that was chipped over well by Michael Quinn and Francis McGee benefited from slow Wexford reactions once again to hit Longford’s fifth point of the game.
Shane Mulligan grabbed their sixth point of the half before Wexford defender David Murphy was guilty of touching the ball on the ground and this led to Sean McCormack (who missed some frees during the course of the contest) giving Longford their biggest lead of the game, 1-7 to 0-1, three minutes before the break.
Wexford were beginning to turn the screw however as Graeme Molloy steadied the ship in defence and Daithi Waters was towering over most in midfield for the last ten minutes of the half, and it was Waters who was fouled to set up another free for Ben Brosnan to point.
A sublime move before the interval saw Paddy Byrne send Ben Brosnan free towards goal and Brosnan did the wise thing in slipping a pass into PJ Banville inside and he coolly slotted the ball under on rushing Longford keeper Damien Sheridan to leave the half-time score 1-7 to 1-2 in favour of the visitors.
Wexford began the second half well with a point from a Shane Roche free on the right hand side and then Ben Brosnan fired over another free as Redmond Barry was fouled on the edge of the square to cut the deficit to three points. Sean McCormack again struck a free off the post and again the fastest reaction came from Longford’s Francis McGee for his third point of the game.
Ben Brosnan’s trusty boot was in devastating form as he fired over a ‘45 and when Michael Quinn touched the ball on the ground Brosnan brought Wexford within a point from another free.
The game entered the last seven minutes on a knife edge but a fine free converted by Sean McCormack seemed to have tipped the scales in favour of the midlanders.
Ben Brosnan closed the gap to one point again with his sixth placed ball score of the game. It needed something special to decide the game and it was to be a flowing Wexford move that saw Paddy Byrne supply the pass into PJ Banville who unselfishly laid off to Redmond Barry who palmed the ball to the net from the edge of the six yard box with opposing keeper Damien Sheridan stranded on his near post.
Despite the Wexford goal Longford didn’t give up and Kevin Diffley pointed in injury time to narrow the gap to the minimum of margins. A draw looked possible when Michael Quinn stood over a 45 metre free, after Adrian Flynn had made a awesome block, but Quinn’s effort sailed just wide and from the kick out, referee Conor Lane from Cork blew the final whistle.
Longford now face a must win game against Westmeath at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday next.
WEXFORD: Anthony Masterson; Brian Malone, Graeme Molloy, Robert Tierney; Aindreas Doyle, David Murphy, Adrian Flynn (0-1); Daithi Waters, Craig Doyle; Michael Furlong, Ben Brosnan (0-6 (0-5 frees), (0-1 ‘45’), Paddy Byrne; Shane Roche (0-1 free), Redmond Barry (1-0), PJ Banville (1-0).
Subs:- Joey Wadding for D Murphy (half-time); James Holmes for A Doyle (52 mins); Rory Quinlivan for C Doyle (60 mins); Conor Carty for S Roche (66 mins); Kevin Gore for R Barry (73 mins).
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Peter Foy (Cashel); Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara), Michael Quinn (Killoe, 0-1, ‘45’), Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta, 0-1); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore), Michael Brady (Longford Slashers); Padraig McCormack (Killoe), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta), Shane Doyle (Kenagh); Francis McGee (Dromard, 0-3), Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 1-0), Sean McCormack (Killoe, 0-4, three frees).
Subs:- Paul Kelly (Longford Slashers) for S Doyle (injured, 13 mins); Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon, 0-1) for B McElvaney (54 mins); Aidan Rowan (Cashel) for F Battrim (70 mins).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).