By Ronan Fagan
A DETERMINED second-half fight-back came up short as Carlow’s quest for immediate extraction from Division 4 of the national football league suffered a round-two setback at a blustery Wexford Park on Saturday afternoon.
While Turlough O’Brien’s charges were under the kosh when down 2-6 to 0-2 at half-time, they seemed rejuvenated when bursting out of the traps on the re-start to sting Wexford for 1-1 without reply inside three minutes.
Wexford refused to bend any further though in the face of determined Carlow raids – Seán Gannon having a pile-driver on goal blocked out during added-time – as the locals claimed their first competitive victory since March of last year to the delight of their new boss, Paul Galvin, the former Kerry ace.
Carlow can reflect with disappointment upon this result having generated a wealth of opportunities. Indeed, one cannot but wonder how the absence of the suspended Paul Broderick impacted, as Carlow were off-cue with a number of scorable frees, particularly during the first-half.
In fairness, finding the target at the Clonard-end wasn’t straightforward for Carlow in that period as they attacked into a stiff wind which was blowing straight down the field, and the efforts by Diarmuid Walshe to punish Wexford indiscretions from placed-balls were certainly hindered by the elements on an otherwise sunny afternoon.
In the circumstances, Carlow opted to play number 14 Brendan Murphy at centre-forward as Darragh Foley went to full-forward, while number 10 John Murphy operated as an auxiliary defender, leaving Seán Gannon and Foley to form a two-man full-forward line.
Carlow did plenty of probing before Wexford, having displayed strong defiance, lifted the siege for James Stafford to crack over the opening score after 10 minutes. Within a minute they were 0-2 to no-score up when Mark Rossiter sent a ripple of excitement through the home support.
Diarmuid Walshe was off-cue from a free before eventually putting over one from inside the ‘D’ on 19 minutes.
But Wexford immediately struck back with venom, as a quick kick-out by goalkeeper Ivan Meegan sparked a move which culminated in Ben Brosnan, in his 131st Wexford appearance, driving a low angled drive to the corner of the net on 19 minutes (1-2 to 0-1).
Wexford tagged on three points – two from Brosnan (one free) and a Glen Malone score – while Diarmuid Walshe scuffed one free and kicked wide from another before the home-side hit Carlow with another hammer-blow.
Keeper Meegan was again the instigator in an attack which numbered five players before Jonathan Bealin – son of 1995 Dublin All-Ireland-winner Paul – palmed to the town-end net from a cross by his Castletown club-mate Ben Brosnan to open-up a 2-5 to 0-1 lead after 32 minutes.
Diarmuid Walshe pegged back a pointed free a minute later. But Wexford regained a 10-point margin at the changeover after Mark Rossiter boomed over a kick from the extreme right in the dying seconds of the half (2-6 to 0-2).
Clearly Carlow had considered the potential impact of the wind as they refused to lose heart and instead returned showing serious intent.
Indeed, Darragh Foley put over a free within 50 seconds of the re-start, and Brendan Murphy – after switching to full-forward – forced a penalty which John Murphy slotted low to the net in the third-minute to get the margin down to 2-6 to 1-3.
Opportunity was springing for Carlow. But Wexford’s staunch defence resisted. Seán Murphy was disappointed when a point was cancelled out after the intervention of a linesman.
Carlow netminder Robert Sansom distinguished himself when saving from the much advanced Wexford full-back Gavin Sheehan, before a 19-minute scoring drought ended with Carlow closing to withinfour points – 2-6 to 1-5 – after 59 minutes courtesy of frees from Darragh Foley and Diarmuid Walshe.
Wexford eventually eased their nerves somewhat when their netminder came up to pop over a free into the gale, while Meegan also came out the field in general play to help generate another Ben Brosnan point to make it 2-8 to 1-5 after 64 minutes.
Diarmuid Walshe struck back from a free, and while Mark Rossiter pushed the lead back out to seven points on 70 minutes (2-9 to 1-5), the announcement of at least six minutes added-time meant that anything was still possible.
Carlow kept launching the wrecking-ball, and Wexford were thankful that midfielder Niall Hughes, a member of the IT Carlow Sigerson Cup runners-up, was back on the goal-line to block Seán Gannon’s powerful strike on goal. Ivan Meegan also had to bat away an effort as Wexford successfully resisted Carlow’s strong push.
Wexford: Ivan Meegan (0-1 free); Martin O’Connor, Gavin Sheehan, Conor Carty; Ronan Devereux, Brian Malone, Glen Malone (0-1); Eoghan Nolan, Niall Hughes; Tom Byrne, Jonathan Bealin (1-0), Mark Rossiter (0-3); Seán Nolan, Ben Brosnan (1-4, 0-1 free), James Stafford (0-1). Subs: Michael Molloy for S Nolan (49 mins); Conor Devitt for Byrne (55 mins); Jim Rossiter for M Rossiter (70 mins); Rioghan Crosbie for Stafford (70+5 mins); Shane Doyle for Carty (70+6 mins).
Carlow: Robert Sansom; Mikey Bambrick, Shane Redmond, Niall Roche; Jordan Morrissey, Ray Walker, Conor Doyle; Seán Murphy, Eoghan Ruth; John Murphy (1-0 pen), Brendan Murphy, Darragh O’Brien; Seán Gannon, Darragh Foley (0-2 frees), Diarmuid Walshe (0-4 frees). Subs: Josh Moore for Bambrick (47 mins); Liam Roberts for Doyle (47 mins); Simon Doyle for J Murphy (56 mins); Conor Crowley for Ruth (63 mins); Ross Dunphy for O’Brien (70 mins).
Referee: Seamus Mulhare (Laois)