Wexford 2-13 Louth 1-15: Little Ben Brosnan proved yet again that he is a man for the big occasion with a stunning late free-kick, as Louth and Wexford served up a contest to match the glorious sunshine in Drogheda.
The injury-time strike against a stiff breeze may not completely erase the painful memories of his nine missed frees in last year’s Leinster semi-final defeat to Dublin, but it was enough to edge Wexford past their strong-finishing hosts, and into another last-four clash with Meath or Wicklow in three weeks time.
Having whittled a seven-point deficit down to the minimum at the end of normal-time, Louth looked like they might just sneak a draw, but Brosnan held his nerve superbly over a difficult opportunity, consigning Brian White’s late point at the other end to the consolation bin.
However, just as crucial was a freak 51st minute goal from PJ Banville, who was left with the simple task of tapping to an empty net after Shane Roche’s shot for a point came back off an upright.
For a relieved Wexford boss, Aidan O’Brien they were the key moments in an absorbing clash, as his side repeated their National League success at the same venue in March.
“Obviously it [Banville’s goal] was very important because it gave us a seven-point lead and it made the task for Louth all the greater. In fairness they kept coming back at us, and it took a very tough, long-range free by Ben Brosnan to win the game for us. We also nicked a few scores through the second-half and that in the end was the vital factor.”
Having led by five points at half-time, 1-10 to 1-5, Banville’s lucky break extended Wexford’s advantage to seven and with very little going right for Louth, another Championship mis-match looked to be on the cards.
Credit to Aidan O'Rourke's troops, they dug deep and kicked the next four points without reply to put a goal between the sides. When sub Paddy Byrne stemmed the tide momentarily for Wexford, Louth kicked on again, this time with three points on the spin, two superb scores from Brian White and a contested fisted effort from Andy McDonnell, to make it 2-12 to 1-14 with three minutes of extra-time to play.
Brosnan ultimately quashed the Wee rising, but O’Rourke was still pleased with his team’s late charge.
“It was a huge display of character to come back from where they were,” said the Armagh man. “They were five down at half-time and fought their way back into the game and the second goal was just a freak – you can’t legislate for that – but again they fought their way back into it and in the last 10 minutes of the game we put ourselves into a position to win it. When we got it back to a point with four or five minutes to go, I thought there was only going to be one winner, but huge credit to Wexford, they looked as if they were out on their feet, but they dug in and held out.‘
When O’Rourke and his players conduct their post-mortem this week, they won’t have to look much further than the second quarter, when Wexford outscored them by 1-6 to 0-2.
Despite starting brightly the Slaneysiders suffered an early blow when Shane Lennon plucked a Derek Crilly delivery from the sky and drilled a left-footed finish past Anthony Masterson to make it 1-2 to 0-4.
However, the goal seemed to do Wexford more good than harm and they completely bossed proceedings from that point until half-time. It took them a while to make that superiority count on the scoreboard, but a wonder-strike from Ciaran Lyng on 28 minutes wiped out Lennon's earlier goal and helped Wexford to a commanding five-point half-time lead.
They would need every one of those scores as Louth refused to melt away under a searing evening sun, but O’Brien will no doubt be glad that his team were asked some tough questions in the second period.
With Dublin and Kildare on the other side of the draw, a third Leinster final appearance in six seasons is very much on the cards. Unsurprisingly however, O’Brien urged caution.
“I’m sure Meath or Wicklow are looking at it the same way and saying whoever wins next weekend only have to beat Wexford to be in a Leinster final. Look, we’ll show up and see what we can do.”
WEXFORD: A Masterson; M Furlong, G Molloy, L Chin; B Malone, D Murphy, A Flynn (0-1); D Waters, R Quinlivan; J Holmes (0-1), B Brosnan (0-5, four frees, one 45), A Doyle (0-1); C Lyng (1-3, one free), R Barry (0-1), PJ Banville (1-0). Subs: S Roche for Barry (47 mins), P Byrne (0-1) for Doyle (57 mins), C Carty for Holmes (52 mins), R Tierney for Chin (63 mins), K Gore for Waters (68 mins). Yellow cards: L Chin (20 mins), D Waters (23 mins), R Quinlivan (59 mins).
LOUTH: N Gallagher; P Rath, D Finnegan, J Bingham; J O'Brien, D Crilly, A Reid; P Keenan (0-2), B Donnelly; A McDonnell (0-1), B White (0-6, three frees), C Rafferty; C Byrne, S Lennon (1-5, three frees), D Maguire (0-1). Subs: C Judge for Byrne (42 mins), P Smith for Donnelly (48 mins), R Carroll for Rafferty (52 mins), J McEneaney for Judge (67 mins). Yellow cards: D Finnegan (26 mins), C Judge (49 mins), J O'Brien (60). Red card: J O'Brien (70+)
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).