By Kieran Murphy
THIS was a strange kind of NHL Division 1 Group B fixture for Carlow in Wexford Park on Sunday. Knowing their goose was cooked in relation to avoiding a relegation play-off, they didn’t take any chances on fielding their star-man Marty Kavanagh. They will need him fit, sharp and well for their head-to-head against Westmeath in Mullingar next Sunday where the winner will retain their top-flight status for next year. The loser will head into Division 2.
On the other hand, they needed, at the very least, a decent performance if they are to go into the game against Westmeath with any degree of confidence.
Twelve minutes in that looked beyond them as the visitors were in deep trouble. They trailed by 0-7 to 0-0 and Wexford were sweeping the ball around the field with abandon. Rory O’Connor converted three frees and Conal Flood, Harry Kehoe, Jack O’Connor and Aidan Nolan all picked off points from play.
When Liam Ryan lost his hurl and still managed to find Jack O’Connor with a neat kick-pass, it looked as if they were show-boating. The crowd thought so too and probably settled down to witness a feast of scoring.
Out of nothing, Carlow hit back and when Ted Joyce was fouled going through, Chris Nolan converted the simple free. From the puck-out the same player landed a wonderful point from near half-way. He converted another free and Carlow were finally buzzing.
When David English landed a long delivery under the Wexford crossbar on 19 minutes, the home defence failed to gather cleanly and Diarmuid Byrne got a touch to force the ball over the line. At eye level the sliotar didn’t even hit the ground but the umpire was happy to wave the green flag
Wexford were hurting and they had to start all over again. Kehoe and Flood tacked on points while Diarmuid O’Keeffe also posted a brace of points.
When a melee developed among players of both sides underneath the stand, referee Colum Cunning stood back and took notes rather than trying to break it up. When sense prevailed he patiently booked three Carlow players and two from Wexford.
The break didn’t upset the Wexford momentum and by half-time they led by 1-13 to 1-6. Their goal was of the soft variety with Rory O’Connor spotting a lack of concentration on the Carlow line when converting a 23 metre free on 35 minutes.
Rory O’Connor and Chris Nolan exchanged frees early in the second half but then Wexford got a run on Carlow shooting over five points without replay. By that stage, Paul Morris had been introduced to the game and by the end he would have cemented a starting place for Wexford in the knock-out stages, shooting 0-7 from play and placed balls in the second half
On 45 minutes Eddie Byrne picked up a second yellow card. He was unlucky. At most you could say he was a tad careless with his hurl when making contact with a Wexford player. That was all. He was disgusted with the decision and it was hard not to sympathise with him.
The home side kept chipping away at the 14 men. ‘Battling’ is a much overused word to describe a side which bravely goes to an inevitable defeat without bowing their heads. Carlow kept going to the end here. Wexford’s second goal was hardly a thing of beauty. It came late on at the seaside end of the stadium when Cathal Dunbar took possession but his effort was smothered in the small square. As the Carlow defence attempted to work their way out of trouble the outstretched hurl of Diarmuid O’Keeffe, almost accidentally deflected the sliotar over the line for the softest of three-pointers.
At that stage it was immaterial. Taking second place in the group on scoring difference didn’t matter for the Model men.
Just at the end, Ted Joyce’s endeavour was rewarded with a point while John Michael Nolan’s long-range effort from way out on the left bisected the posts. It’s something to bring to Mullingar next Sunday in a game which will be light-years ahead of this one in terms of intensity and what is at stake.
Wexford: James Lawlor; Simon Donohoe (0-1), Liam Ryan, Shane Reck; Paudie Foley, Matthew O’Hanlon, Conal Flood (0-3); Liam Óg McGovern, Diarmuid O’Keeffe (1-2); Aidan Nolan (0-1), Jack O’Connor (0-3), Rory O’Connor (1-6, all frees); Michael Dwyer (0-1), Conor McDonald (0-1), Harry Kehoe (0-3). Subs: Paul Morris (0-7, 0-4 frees) for R O’Connor (41 mins), Shaun Murphy for Foley (43 mins), Cathal Dunbar (0-1) for Kehoe (53 mins), Seamus Casey for J O’Connor (62 mins), Gary Molloy for Dwyer (67 mins).
Carlow: Damien Jordan; Michael Malone, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Alan Corcoran, David English, Gary Bennett; Sean Whelan, Aaron Amond; Jack Kavanagh, Diarmuid Byrne (1-1), Jon Nolan; Ted Joyce (0-1), Eddie Byrne, Chris Nolan (0-8, 0-5 frees). Subs: John Michael Nolan (0-1) for Kavanagh (37 mins), Ciaran Whelan for D Byrne (h/t), Kevin McDonald for S Whelan (45 mins), Cathal Tracey for J Nolan (49 mins), Ger Coady for Corcoran (51 mins), Jason O’Neill for English (62 mins).
Referee: Colum Canning (Antrim).