Wexford 4-17 Laois 0-10
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald knows there will be tougher tasks ahead but was happy with his team's 19 point win over Laois on Sunday.
Fitzgerald handed seven players their national league debuts in what was an experimental side as he tries to use the league to build a squad: “I gave seven players their first start at this level of hurling. After being out for so long there was always going to be mistakes but great credit is due to the players who showed a real edge for the game.
“Great credit is also due to the players who came back in great physical shape. Look except for about 15 minutes we dominated the game. We may have coughed up a lot of wides, but we finished the game strongly with two goals. What I am looking for from the league is to build a squad so I will be taking a look of where we are this week before deciding on a format for their next game with Clare.
“We will take the positives from the game, work on that during the week, step up our preparations and be ready for the next outing. Games will come thick and fast, so that is all the more reason we build a squad with the championship following so quickly after the league.”
Laois manager Cheddar Plunkett - back for his second term at the helm - was not too disillusioned despite the final result: “we are only back three weeks so have had little time to stamp our authority on the way we want to play. It takes time to stamp a game plan.
“At times it worked well, while it also broke down. We gave away a lot of ball, particularly when unchallenged, while the wide count, 21 was very high.
“For Laois we will continue to work, hope to have some players back, and get as much as we can from the league. It was difficult out there with the swirling wind, both sides missed chances, but the players are only back following months of lockdown. We will look ahead to Dublin and hope to get a result, which is important.”
Laois played with a strong wind advantage in the first half with the sides sharing 0-2 each inside the opening nine minutes. Roddy King pointed the visitors in front with a fine score after three minutes with Harry Kehoe bringing the sides level one minute later.
Seamus Casey, better known as an attacker but making his debut in goal, then played a short puck out to Kevin Foley who was penalised for over-carrying leaving PJ Scully to point his side back in front from the resulting free.
Conor McDonald, who was playing in the Wexford full-forward line won a high ball to point but the scoring was limited early on - with the hosts leading 0-3 to 0-2 at the first water break.
Laois were hitting some dreadful wides from a variety of distances and Conor Hearne extended his side's lead as Wexford hit a real purple patch which all but decided the contest.
It was a two goal salvo from league debutant Mikie Dwyer which proved decisive. After 22 minutes he got his hurley to a pass from Hearne to flick to the corner of the net. Two minutes later he got on the end of a long Jack O'Connor free to beat Enda Rowland with a neat finish - leaving his side leading 2-4 to 0-2.
Scully - who was proving his side’s main marksman - managed to keep Antrim in touch with a pointed free, but they were paying the price for 10 first half wides. Wexford led 2-6 to 0-4 at the interval.
While Laois showed considerable improvement on the resumption, they began to match Wexford in the outfield exchanges, once again it was their wayward finishing which was proving their undoing.
Scully slotted a 65 to restart the second half action in positive fashion for his team, but at the opposite end Dee O'Keeffe joined in the attack to point. Showing renewed urgency centre-back Podge Delaney drove forward on a lengthy solo run before offloading to Paddy Purcell who reduced the deficit to seven points after 40 minutes.
Still Laois managed to contain the home side trailing just 2-9 to 0-7 within the final 20 minutes but they were dealt a crucial blow at the start of the final quarter, when Wexford substitute Rory O’Connor was brought down just inside the 21m line by corner-back Lee Cleere. He was brandished a yellow card and sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes.
From the resulting penalty Rowland saved excellently from Lee Chin who failed to get any major power in his strike, but it did not dampen the Wexford challenge.
Already facing an uphill task things began to unravel for Laois in the closing 15 minutes. Scully sent an easy free wide, before Simon Donohoe chipped in with two long range points to increase Wexford's lead to 2-11 to 0-7.
Chin atoned for his earlier miss with two pointed frees, while goalkeeper Casey also sent over a huge 80m pointed free. With Laois failing to add to their tally in the final eight minutes plus additional time it was no surprise when Wexford finished the game with a scoring flourish.
Substitute Conor Devitt, Dee O'Keeffe and Chin with another free, added to the home side's tally as the late salvo continued.
Rory O’Connor showed his value with a typical solo goal three minutes into additional time, while one minute later Hearne capped an excellent debut by raising a fourth green flag for his team. Linking up with Dee O’Keeffe he finished with a ground shot to the net leaving his side with a comfortable opening day victory.
Wexford: Seamus Casey (0-1 free); Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Conor Firman; Gavin Bailey (0-2), Simon Donohoe (0-2), Conal Flood; Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-2), Conor Hearne (1-1); Harry Kehoe (0-3, 2 frees), Jack O'Connor (0-1, 65), Mikie Dwyer (2-0); David Dunne, Conor McDonald (0-1), Kevin Foley.
Subs: Shane Reck for D Reck (27 mins), Rory O'Connor (1-0) 7 for J O'Connor (45mins), Lee Chin (0-3 frees) for Kehoe (45 mins), L Og McGovern for McDonald (49 mins), Aidan Nolan for Dwyer (56 mins), M O'Hanlon for Ryan (67 mins), C Devitt (0-1) for (Dunne 67 mins).
Laois: Enda Rowland; Lee Cleere, Sean Downey, Donnchadh Hartnett; Jack Kelly (0-1). Podge Delaney, Ryan Mullanney; Fiachra Fennell, Paddy Purcell (0-1); Aaron Dunphy; Charlie Dwyer, Ciaran Collier; P J Scully (0-6, 5 frees), Roddy King (0-2), Ciaran Comerford.
Subs: James Ryan for Dunphy (31 mins), Diarmuid Conway for Comerford (52 mins), James Keys for Purcell (63 mins), Colm Stapleton for Collier (68 mins), Conor Phelan for Fennell (72 mins), Ciaran McEvoy for Mullanney (73 mins).
Referee: Thomas Walsh (Waterford)