Wexford’s Liam Dunne made to feel like he’s pushing a boulder uphill
Dublin find it all too easy as depleted Wexford struggle to raise a gallop
Wexford’s Liam Óg McGovern is going nowhere with Dublin’s Oisin Gough lying on top of him at Croke Park on Saturday evening. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
A grim night’s toil on Jones’s Road. In matters of pathetic fallacy, it was hard to know if we were watching the weather reflecting the hurling or the other way around. At a certain point they became one and the same thing, inspiring one and the same bout of rampant boredom in the 13,066 crowd.
Dublin did as they had to, Wexford did as they do. This was a game for the first 20 minutes and not for very many after that. Eamon Dillon’s goal exposed the first crack in a Wexford defence that had up to that point been doing reasonably well. Corner back Liam Ryan was mugged by Dillon and lost his hurley so couldn’t get a tackle in chasing back, leaving Dublin’s strike forward to barrel through and scoop a clever effort into the top corner. It put Ger Cunningham’s side 1-4 to 0-5 ahead and they were never caught after that.
Though both managers pointed to Dublin’s second goal from Darragh O’Connell just before half-time as the game-killer, Wexford had already visibly shrunk after Dillon’s goal.
It was as if that was the point at which they looked down and realised they’d left the cliff’s edge behind them. After it, they only scored another seven points for the remaining 51 minutes and only two in the closing half-hour, both from placed balls.
It was deadening stuff from a team that was clearly badly affected by the loss of Lee Chin and Andrew Shore through injury. Only Conor McDonald and the excellent Liam Óg McGovern were able to fill the leadership vacuum – and even then only intermittently.
Liam Dunne has been pushing the rock up the hill for four seasons now with Wexford and the burden doesn’t appear to be lightening any. When asked afterwards if he felt like he was making any progress, he didn’t reach for the spoonful of sugar.
“When you look at a performance like that, straight up you’d have to say, no. But there’s a such a transition of players from this team in the last two or three years. You have Jack Guiney going over to America in the middle of last week. You have Kevin Foley, a guy with three Leinster under-21 medals and he feels he can’t give the commitment and doesn’t want to hurl for Wexford at the moment. We can’t afford not to have everybody.
“But look, it’s a tough one. People will say you’re not making progress but you’re introducing young guys all the time. And they’re learning harsh lessons at the moment. It’s happening all over. It’s not just Wexford and it’s not just hurling teams. You see the Tipperary footballers there had three lads away to America last week. It’s just happening all over. The demand is there for them.
“And you think of those guys in the dressing-room there, they’ll be ridiculed by everyone after that, which you have to take on the chin. Some fellas don’t want that. They wonder is it worth the hassle and they decide it isn’t. Some fellas will die for it. Everyone is different.”
For Dublin, this was a satisfying enough piece of business to get out of the way. They were professional without ever really shaking their moneymaker. Niall McMorrow insinuated himself about the place as though he had some sort of rain shield, all loose limbs and snake hips throwing the Wexford defence for a loop whenever he got possession. Liam Rushe spent his night catching ball unopposed, no doubt wishing they could play Wexford every week.
More pertinently, Dublin were disciplined and structured and cussedly drilled throughout. They take their puck-outs short and to the hand, they drop their wing backs into midfield to close up the space and they put the onus on Dillon, Mark Schutte and Dotsy O’Callaghan to win their own ball and fashion their own scores inside.
They are a known quantity, with all the good and bad that implies. They do enough of the basics right to live with the best teams in the championship but will probably just lack an x-factor to beat them in the heel of the hunt. Kilkenny will most likely have their hands full for an hour against them. After that, who knows?
“Yeah, that’s the ultimate challenge really,” said Ger Cunningham. “These guys have been champions for the guts of the last 10 or 12 years. It’s a huge challenge for us, but any of the guys inside in the dressing- room will hopefully look forward to it and take on the challenge of what’s ahead.
“There’s some of the aspects tonight won’t be good enough to go to Portlaoise and beat Kilkenny, so there’s stuff we’ll have to work on – but just delighted to be in a position to take them on. We had that cushion once we got the second goal and we had chances for a couple of others that we didn’t take. Again, that just gave us that cushion and we maintained that all the way through.
“The one that Shane [Barrett] took off the line, that was their final challenge really. If they got a goal there it would have been back to a two-score game but again, some things to work on for the next day.”
WEXFORD: C O’Leary; LRyan, M O’Hanlon, E Moore (0-1, 65); D O’Keeffe, P Foley, J O’Connor; E Conroy, A Kenny; L Óg McGovern (0-4), P Doran, H Kehoe (0-1); P Morris, C McDonald (0-6, four frees), D Dunne. Subs: C Dunbar for Kenny (half-time); I Byrne for Morris (47 mins); E Martin for Moore (66 mins).
DUBLIN: C Dooley; E O’Connell, C O’Callaghan, O Gough; S Barrett, L Rushe, C Crummy; D O’Connell (1-0), J McCaffrey (0-1); D Plunkett (0-1), N McMorrow (0-4), D Treacy (0-8, seven frees, one 65); M Schutte (0-1), D O’Callaghan (0-1), E Dillon (1-0). Subs: R O’Dwyer (0-1) for O’Connell (57 mins); C Bennett (0-1) for Schutte (60 mins); P Schutte for McCaffrey (68 mins); O O’Rorke for O’Callaghan (70 mins); P Ryan (0-1) for Dillon, 71 mins.
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).