Goals prove decisive for Wexford as Model County deservedly edge out Wicklow
Leinster Senior Football Championship Round One:
By Tom McLoughlin
There is an old adage in Gaelic football that “goals win matches”. It doesn’t always ring true but today in Aughrim, two Wexford goals courtesy of Mark Rossiter and Martin O’Connor proved to be the difference between two evenly matched sides. Ironically, when these sides last met in the Leinster championship just 220 days ago, it was Wicklow who availed of their goal opportunities to win 2-09 to 0-11. However, Wexford very much exacted their revenge for that defeat this afternoon with an impressive display full of endeavour and perseverance.
Wexford had the aid of a decent breeze in the first half and at times used it to good effect, certainly more so than Wicklow did in the second. Mark Rossiter was by far the classiest forward on show today and he opened the scoring with a brilliant goal after just three minutes. Rossiter, who would finish with a personal tally of 1-6, found himself one on one with Wicklow keeper Mark Jackson and the Gusserone man, slid the ball low to find the net and give the Model County the perfect start. Following a fine point from Wicklow’s Arran Murphy, Rossiter fired over another lovely right footed point and Wexford led 1-1 to 0-1 after 9 minutes.
Wicklow, playing against the wind, had the majority of possession in the first half and played a very patient brand of football. Davy Burke’s men responded well to the early setback and scored three points in a row through Patrick O’Connor, a Chris O’Brien free and a wonderful solo effort from Podge O’Toole. O’Toole in particular impressed in the first half driving forward on multiple occasions to good effect and Wicklow would have been satisfied to be on level terms, 0-4 to 1-1 at the water break.
Wexford were the better team on the restart and took the lead again through a Rossiter free in the 24th minute. Mark Kenny responded with a nice left footed point from a tight angle before Paraic Hughes struck a mammoth score from distance to regain the advantage for Shane Roche’s charges. Indeed Wexford should have been further ahead as they spurned two wonderful goal opportunities, the first after 26 minutes when Tom Byrne skewed his effort wide from in front of the goal after some great Wexford interplay. In the 28th minute John Tubritt scored a wonderful point and Wexford were on a roll as they led 1-4 to 0-5. Tubritt should have raised a green flag soon after but he, like Byrne, fired wide when he should have at least tested Jackson in the Wicklow goal.
O’Connor was impressing for the Garden County and got a much needed score in the 30th minute with an audacious point from the left wing with the outside of his right boot. Rossiter replied with a score of his own after some lovely work by midfield stalwart Daithi Waters who had a fine game throughout. Wexford deservedly led 1-5 to 0-6 at the interval but lost Waters on the stroke of half time to a black card for an incident on Fergal Kelly’s half-time whistle.
That black card for the St Martin’s clubman proved costly for his side as Wicklow took control of this championship tie on the resumption. In the time that Waters was in the sinbin, Wicklow turned a two point deficit into a one point lead with Arran Murphy kicking two wonderful points from distance and when Waters returned to the fray in the 45th minute, his side trailed 0-11 to 1-7. Indeed between the 41st and 47th minutes, Wicklow hit a purple patch scoring five points in a row and when the second water break arrived, Wicklow led by 0-12 to 1-8 and looked very much the team in the ascendancy.
However, Wexford, after a disappointing league campaign, where they lost both their games to Carlow and Waterford, would not be deterred today. They seemed determined to defy the bookmakers’ odds of underdogs and in the fourth quarter, they outscored their opponents by 1-3 to 0-2. Remarkably, Wicklow went 28 second half minutes without scoring, and Davy Burke knows that you cannot expect to win a championship game possessing such a damning statistic. The key score of the game came in the 61st minute with Wexford’s second goal. Centre back Martin O’Connor rampaged through the Wicklow defence, receiving a return pass from Liam Coleman, to sweep the ball past Jackson to net the pivotal score of the game.
Another fine Rossiter point and a Donal Shanley free meant Wexford had hit 1-3 without reply, and gave them a four point lead going into the closing stages. A Jackson free in the fifth minute of added time was Wicklow’s first in 28 minutes and cut the deficit to three and Wicklow needed a goal to bring this game to extra time. Rossiter and O’Connor traded late points but Wicklow did not trouble the Wexford goal and Wexford left Aughrim with a vital and deserved win on a score-line of 2-11 to 0-14.
Wicklow, after today’s performance, may look upon their 2021 campaign with a tinge of regret as they would have fancied their chances of progressing over Wexford especially with the benefit of home advantage. Burke can take solace in Wicklow’s retention of their Division Three status with victory over reigning Ulster champions Cavan. Next up for Wexford is the daunting task of hosting All Ireland champions Dublin in Wexford Park next Sunday afternoon. Wexford are a Division Four side, who valiantly saw off a struggling Division Three side. The challenge next week is the seven in a row chasing All Ireland champions and one expects it will be a bridge too far. However, for tonight Roche and his players should savour a rare but fantastic Leinster championship victory.
Scorers – Wexford: Mark Rossiter 1-6 (0-1f), Martin O’Connor 1-0, John Turbitt 0-2, Donal Shanley 0-2 (0-2f), Paraic Hughes 0-1. Wicklow: Patrick O’Connor 0-4, Arran Murphy 0-3, Chris O’Brien 0-2 (0-2f), Mark Jackson 0-2 (0-2f), Padraig O’Toole 0-1, Mark Kenny 0-1, Conor Byrne 0-1.
Wexford: Darragh Brooks; Martin O’Connor, Gavin Sheehan, Liam O’Connor; Paraic Hughes, Brian Malone, Michael Furlong; Daithi Waters, Liam Coleman; Tom Byrne, Sean Nolan, Kevin O’Grady; John Turbitt, Eoghan Nolan, Mark Rossiter. Subs: Ben Brosnan for Nolan (7), Donal Shanley for Brosnan (19), Niall Hughes for Nolan (47), Eoghan Porter for L O’Connor (57), Alan Tobin for O’Grady (58).
Wicklow: Mark Jackson; Arran Murphy, Eoin Murtagh, Oisin Manning; Darragh Fitzgerald, Niall Donnelly, David Deveraux; Padraig O’Toole, JP Hurley; Andy Maher, Mark Kenny, Conor Byrne; Chris O’Brien, Seanie Furlong, Patrick O’Connor. Subs: Paul Cunningham for Fitzgerald (40), Daniel Keane for O’Brien (55), John Sheeran for Hurley (62), Fintan O’Shea for Cunningham (68), Saoirse Kearon for D Devereaux (69), Pat Burke for Maher (69).
Venue: Joule Park, Aughrim
Man of the Match: Mark Rossiter
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)