Wexford shift through the gears to leave Galway whistling in the wind

Henry Shefflin admits his side ‘never got going’ as Wexford make it three from three

Galway 0-15 Wexford 2-15

A vocal Wexford contingent made the coast-to-coast trip for this blustery encounter and watched Darragh Egan’s emerging side deliver a statement win.

They were just too sharp for Galway in both halves and the slickness and flow of their play deepened even when they were playing into the inevitable February Salthill breeze.

This road success leaves Wexford with three wins from three and they were so comfortable by the close of business that the locals began hastening through the exits with three minutes of normal minutes left.

"It's a home game and after a good victory there is a bit of momentum. The weather was okay so yeah, disappointing is a word," said a perplexed Henry Shefflin afterwards.

“The performance was very poor and the result followed that trajectory. Just a very poor day at the office. Never got going. No flow in it. No one scored two points from play, I think five or six of the lads got a point each and Conor [Cooney] was very accurate with the frees. But that is just not the level we expect.”

Galway managed to shake off a lethargic first half, when they fell into a five-point hole, with a rattling series of points from Conor Cooney, who struck four frees and a terrific point through a thicket of Wexford men in a five-minute spell when the home team asserted themselves. They looked to have wrested momentum from the visitors around then, with their towering half-back line beginning to win their aerial battles.

But Wexford had been busy and bothersome all afternoon and in the 52nd minute that bore fruit. Full back Daithí Burke seemed to have done the hard part when he tidied up a loose ball and brushed aside Oisín Pepper. But Oisín Foley got a hurl to the clearance and the ball broke for Pepper. The Raparees school student is a flier and he finished his goal chance coolly.

Three minutes later, corner back Simon Donohoe, who had a really excellent, tidy hour, swept upfield for another point to emphasise the fact that Wexford were at the right frequency.

“Look, we got a high hurley on the block and it just landed on one of our lad’s hands,” said Egan.

“That doesn’t always happen either. We are just happy with the work rate. We really went after it today. But look, it was nowhere near championship hurling.”

It wasn’t and both managers were conscious that this was a dress rehearsal for their Leinster championship meeting on April 16th. Egan used this return to his old NUIG stomping ground to get a morning training session. Even on a soft Pearse Stadium pitch, his team were fizzing.

“We have a lot of stickwork done, a lot of ball work. Lads were in good nick coming in. We really are trying to improve the hurling skills and the touch and the handling and ultimately the overall game play of the team.”

Between the 16th and 25th minutes, Wexford hit 1-4 without reply. Rory O’Connor caused Galway problems all over the field, dropping deep into the crowded middle sector to operate as playmaker but also breaking forward to strike three fine points from play.

And he joined his full forward team-mates Mike Dwyer and Cathal Dunbar to collaborate in a slickly worked short-passing movement through Galway's defensive cover, finding Dunbar who fired the only goal of the half.

A total of 1-4 from play from the inside line was a handsome return given the experience of the Galway defensive unit. At the other end of the field, Wexford’s defence were busy and organised in breaking the ball delivered to Galway’s inside attackers and looked to ease into their slick passing game at every opportunity, with Charlie McGuckin and Jack O’Connor acting as give-and-go outlets for the Wexford runners.

Galway kept in touch through a series of sporadic, well-taken scores without imposing their own personality on the match in the first half. They had a half goal chance in the 11th minute: a wonderful midfield feint by Ronan Glennon opened up a direct channel from midfield but as he bore down on Mark Fanning's goal, Damien Reck made a terrific covering challenge.

The withdrawal of Conor Whelan just before the throw-in deprived Galway of the Kinvara man's glimmering inside threat and the departure of Pádraic Mannion with a blood injury was another cause for concern for Galway with a trip to Cork beckoning next weekend.

But in all of this, the inevitable Salthill breeze was a mitigating factor. A 1-9 to 0-7 deficit was hardly a disastrous position for Galway to find themselves as they trotted into the dressingrooms. It’s unlikely they found Shefflin in a mood to ladle out hot cocoa and kind words during the break.

The Galway crowd warmed to the swift elimination of Wexford's lead after that Cooney scoring burst. But even when Jack Hastings levelled the score for the last time – 0-13 to 1-10 in the 50th minute – there was no sense that the home team had found their rhythm. Wexford just shifted gears and closed out the day comfortably.

“I think Oisín Pepper added a lot of legs up top. Mikey and Cathal Dunbar had a tough role for 45 minutes and I think Oisín added a bit of freshness to that,” said Egan.

"He stuck his goal well. We had a good chance too with Cathal and Derek Fahy made a great save. We were creating chances and worked the ball well through the lines and we worked a different type of game there today so it is ultimately about moving forward."

GALWAY: 1 D Fahy; 2 J Grealish, 3 D Burke, 4 F Burke; 5 P Mannion, G McInerney (0-1), 7 A Touhey (0-1); 8 J Cooney (0-1), 9 R Glennon; 10 C Fahy (0-1), 11 C Cooney (0-9, seven frees, one s/l), 12 T Monaghan; 13 J Fleming (0-1), 26 K Cooney (0-1), 15 C Mannion.

Subs: 18 TJ Brennan for 5 P Mannion (16 mins, blood), 14 E Niland for J FLeming, 24 J Hastings for 13 T Monaghan (both h-t), 22 D Burke for 9 R Glennon (59), 25 N Burke for 6 K Cooney (67).

WEXFORD: 1 M Fanning; 2 S Donohoe (0-1), 25 S Reck, 4 D Reck; 5 M O'Hanlon, 6 P Foley (0-2, two frees),7 C Flood; 8 K Foley, 9 D O'Keeffe (0-2); 10 L Óg McGovern (0-1), 11 J O'Connor (0-2, two frees), 12 C McGuckin; 13 M Dwyer (0-1), 18 C Dunbar (1-0), 15 R O'Connor (0-5, one free).

Subs: 24 O Pepper (1-1) for 13 M Dwyer (46 mins), 19 O Foley for 11 J O'Connor (51), 21 R Higgins for L Og McGovern (59), 20 C Hearne for 8 K Foley (64), 22 R Lawlor for 12 C McGuckin (71).

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a sports writer with The Irish Times

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