Final cut is cruel as Wexford's own goal is decisive


Dublin 2-12 Wexford 1-12:GOALS WIN matches alright – especially the killer ones. It’s just a pity when they define what turned out to be an utterly indecisive contest. Who knows what would have happened had Wexford not directed the ball into their own net, just as it appeared they might actually be closing in on a first Leinster football title since 1945?

What is certain is that Dublin collected their 50th provincial title – and sixth in seven years – in perhaps the most unconvincing fashion of the lot. But like goals, they all count.

The obvious starting point here would be to recreate that nightmarish scenario in the 51st minute and wonder how Wexford ever allowed it to happen – but perhaps a little sympathy is called for: Anthony Masterson no doubt endured one sleepless night already, and it could be a while before the Wexford goalkeeper stops seeing replays of it in his own mind.

Wexford manager Jason Ryan was certainly sympathetic towards Masterson, removing any blame, and claiming Dublin’s second goal – scored after a searing burst forward by defender James McCarthy – was every bit as culpable. Masterson, however, may take some convincing of that, as his absolute dismay afterwards clearly suggested.

Masterson, by the way, hadn’t conceded a goal in his six previous championship games.

Some sympathy must also go towards Wexford full back Graeme Molloy, who is credited with the own goal, as the ball rebounded off him after Masterson’s fumbled attempt to clear a relatively harmless dropping shot from Tomás Quinn. Molloy, who otherwise enjoyed an excellent game, was actually left to chase the ball into the open goal, probably realising at the time this would turn things irrevocably.

So it proved: Wexford had moved into a fairly commanding position shortly beforehand, when Redmond Barry’s sweet goal on 44 minutes – brilliantly set up by Brian Malone and PJ Banville – put them in front for the first time, 1-7 to 0-7. The 43,983 in attendance must have sensed a shock on their hands, whatever way they interpreted that.

Dublin hadn’t scored in 23 minutes, and it took substitute Kevin McManamon to end the wait. But when the remarkable Ben Brosnan tagged on another free for Wexford shortly afterwards it seemed Dublin’s extremely limited game plan was all but undone.

This was the period when Wexford needed to sustain the pressure, having cleared frustrated Dublin beyond visible repair, and instead they conceded an own goal. Not only did that revive Dublin spirits – as Alan Brogan popped up for another class point, to underline another fine individual performance – but it flattened Wexford’s hopes, and they went the next 13 minutes without a score.

It could be argued that Wexford still closed the gap considerably on the one-sided Leinster final between the counties three years ago, but in reality Dublin’s performance fell well back.

Pat Gilroy ended up replacing his entire full forward line before they end, as both Eoghan O’Gara and Diarmuid Connolly were held scoreless – while Bernard Brogan managed a mere 0-3. O’Gara evidently sustained an injury to his left wrist which prompted his half-time replacement, while Connolly had one of those entirely directionless games where he seemed desperately unsure of his role.

As for the 2010 Footballer of the Year, all Gilroy could suggest afterwards was that perhaps Brogan was human after all. He did manage one gem of a point after 15 seconds, but after that looked anything but comfortable on the ball. He scored two from play and one free, but missed 11 chances in all – dropping four short, sending five wide, and having two blocked down at the last moment (of course on a good day that means he might have scored 0-14.)

It wasn’t all bad for Dublin, as the full-back line retained much of the credibility, and the half forwards also worked well in tandem, but their midfield was stagnant, and even when gifted the own goal they failed to shake off Wexford. McCarthy’s goal added a five-point cushion, but at no stage did Dublin take control. If anything Brosnan found even greater space to run at goal – and ended with a 0-9 in total, including two from play.

Wexford sensed this, and were chasing what could have been an equalising goal until the end: substitute Paddy Byrne made one particularly dangerous run that forced a block from Stephen Cluxton, and it took another Dublin substitute, Ross McConnell, to calm the nerves as he fired over a point within moments of coming on.

There were periods in the first half when Dublin played as if they simply expected the scores would come. The heavily defensive tactics of both teams didn’t help, but a little imagination – or even something as basic as a creative foot pass – might have gone a long way towards a somewhat more convincing win. Whether or not Dublin are actually capable of that sort of football this summer will soon be revealed. Time, or at least the second chances, have run out.

DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton (0-1, 45); 2 P Conlon, 3 R O’Carroll, 4 M Fitzsimons; 5 J McCarthy (1-0), 6 G Brennan, 7 K Nolan; 8 D Bastick (0-1), 9 E Fennell; 10 P Flynn (0-1), 11 A Brogan (0-3), 12 B Cullen (0-1); 14 D Connolly, 15 B Brogan (0-3, 0-1 free), 13 E O’Gara. Subs: 26 T Quinn for Connolly (31 mins), 25 K McManamon (0-1) for O’Gara (half-time), 22 B Cahill for Fennell (52 mins), 24 D Henry for B Brogan (61 mins), 21 R McConnell (0-1) for Quinn (69 mins) Yellow cards: Conlon (34 mins), Cullen (47 mins).

WEXFORD: 1 A Masterson; 2 J Wadding, 3 G Molloy (1-0, own goal), 4 B Malone; 5 A Flynn (0-1), 6 D Murphy, 7 A Doyle; 8 D Waters, 9 R Quinlivan; 14 E Bradley, 12 B Brosnan (0-9, 0-5 frees, 0-2 45s), 13 C Morris; 11 C Lyng (0-2), 15 R Barry (1-0), 10 S Roche. Subs: 21 PJ Banville for Roche (41 mins), 19 A Morrissey for Doyle (54 mins), 26 P Byrne for Morris (63 mins), 22 L Óg McGovern for Quinlivan (64 mins).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).