Gaelic GamesMatch Report

Westmeath’s remarkable comeback sends Wexford’s into relegation battle

Wexford were leading by 16 points at half-time before collapse

Leinster SHC round-robin: Wexford 2-22 Westmeath 4-18

The final whistle had barely blown when Wexford supporters suddenly realised their championship dreams for 2023 were over as Westmeath staged a remarkable second half comeback to win this Leinster round-robin clash at Wexford Park.

It was a shell shocked Wexford Park, the scene of so many great occasions in the past, as a second consecutive defeat sent Wexford out of contention in this year’s championship. Meaning their final round game with Kilkenny on Sunday next, is now about avoiding relegation rather than fighting for a place in the All-Ireland series. The result of which will be crucial depending on the outcome of Westmeath and Antrim.

Wexford were leading by 16 points at the interval, 2-15 to 0-5, but after the resumption, Westmeath outscored the home side 4-13 to 0-7, in one of the great championship comebacks for many a year.

As Westmeath set about ending Wexford’s championship dreams it was the inside forward duo of Joseph Boyle and Niall O’Brien who were very much to the fore as they contributed 2-2 apiece. The home defence collapsed under the second half onslaught.


Wexford’s first half goals came from full-forward Conor McDonald and the hosts, despite being rather lacklustre in their approach play, still looked comfortable. Westmeath failed to register a single score from play during the opening 35 minutes, with all of their points coming via Ciaran Doyle frees.

Then in the second half, with Tommy Doyle and Aaron Craig driving their side on from the half-back line, Westmeath gave an early indication of what was to follow. Doyle pointed a free within two minutes of the restart, followed one minute later by a splendid Niall O’Brien goal, and when Doyle picked off two further points, to reduce the deficit to 2-15 to 1-9 after 42 minutes, you could see the panic setting in on the home sideline.

After Lee Chin pointed a free a minute later Wexford increased in their lead to 2-19 to 1-12. Then after Rory O’Connor was fouled they were awarded a penalty, but Jack O’Connor’s weakly struck shot was comfortably saved by Noel Conaty and the ball was cleared to safety.

As Wexford’s panic began to spread, Westmeath sensed they could take something from the game. Eight minutes from the finish Niall O’Brien got on the end of a long Robbie Greville ball to find the corner of the net, leaving seven points separating the sides, 2-20 to 2-13.

But there was more drama to follow as Wexford struggled for scores. Tall full-forward, Joseph Boyle capitalised on two high deliveries to the edge of the small square to fire home goals on 68 and 70 minutes to give his side a 4-16 to 2-21 lead. And after Eoin Keyes and substitute Conor Hearne had exchanged points, it was the superb Niall O’Brien who pointed a 75th minute free to give his side a first ever championship victory over Wexford.

“It’s a great day for Westmeath hurling,” explained winning manager Joe Fortune. “My mother lives just 25 minutes up the road from here, so I know what hurling means to Wexford, being a native.

“Look, the first half we simply did not perform, we did not get off the bus. It was embarrassing. We used those words with the players at half-time. We told them to park the first half, there was nothing we could do about it, but to go out and perform with pride in the second half.

“We got the start to the second half we required. The lads simply stepped their game up to another level, we were first to the ball, showed a hunger and commitment that was missing in that first half. We stayed in there, saw that Wexford were beginning to panic a bit.

“Despite being short some five players through injury, the lads turned in an astonishing second half. Niall Mitchell working his way back from injury came in after 50 minutes and was superb. It was a tremendous team effort. Now we must come back down because we have a huge game with Antrim next weekend, but we’ll savour this victory.

For Wexford manager Darragh Egan there was disappointment: “Look we were lacklustre, we cannot dress up a performance like that. We led by 16 points at half-time but lost the second half by 18 points. I was not even happy with that first half performance, we were lacklustre, not showing any fight or ambition.

“The confidence is low at the moment. We now have Kilkenny and we now realise what that game means. The players will have to stand up, they will need to look at themselves. Things happen when you are falling off a cliff, so we have a difficult week ahead.”

WEXFORD: J Lawlor; S Reck, L Ryan, C Devitt; S Donohoe, M O’Hanlon, I Carty (0-1); C Dunbar (0-1), L Og McGovern; J O’Connor (0-4, 0-2 sideline cuts), L Chin (0-6, 0-4 frees), O Foley (0-2); R O’Connor (0-3), C McDonald (2-2), M Dwyer (0-1). Subs: C Hearne (0-2) for Dwyer (59 mins), C McGuckin for Dunbar (59), D O’Keeffe for Foley (69).

WESTMEATH: N Conaty; D Egerton, C Shaw, J Bermingham; T Doyle, A Craig, R Greville; S McGovern, C McCormack; D Glennon, C Doyle (0-11, 0-10 frees), E Keyes (0-1); O McCabe, J Boyle (0-1), N O’Brien (2-3, 0-1 free). Subs: P Clarke (0-1) for McGovern and C Boyle for McCormack (both h-t), N Mitchell (2-0) for Glennon (50 mins), D McNicholas (0-1) for C Doyle (65).

Referee: C Mooney (Dublin).