Submitted by Micheál Kelly
Wexford minors recovered from a lacklustre first-half display to see off a gallant Laois side in this Leinster Minor Hurling quarter final played in a rain-swept Portlaoise on Saturday night. Trailing by a goal at half-time, a brace of goals from Conor McDonald was the impetus needed for the young Wexford men to kick on and win the game. Indeed, the two goals came at either side of a red card for Laois centre-back Will Young in a frantic 3 minute period which turned the game in favour of Martin Storey’s team.
Wexford will now face Kilkenny in Wexford Park in the Leinster Semi Final, and they will know that a big improvement is needed. Even allowing for the dreadful weather conditions, their first-half performance was not at the standard this team can produce, with not enough purpose or direction to their game. An example of this is Conor McDonald. He received one long ball in the first half, and scored a point, yet was then starved of possession. In the second half, two high centres came his way, both resulting in goals. Why was this option not taken more often by our players in the middle third of the field?
The sides traded early points through Rhys Clarke and Laois centre forward Stephen Maher, before McDonald and Clarke put Wexford ahead. After 17 minutes however, the O Moore men took the lead as a long ball was caught and buried by Charlie Dwyer. Maher followed this up with three points which saw Laois lead 1-5 to 3 points, and it took two late points from the lively Aidan Nolan to leave Wexford trailing by just a goal at half-time.
Clarke pointed two early second half frees either side of a PJ Scully point before Gary Moore opened his account with a good score. On 17 minutes, corner forward Joe Campion put Laois a point ahead again, before the game sprang to life in an instant.
A great ball over the top of the defence by Aidan Nolan was caught by Conor McDonald, who held his composure to goal from close range. Before the puck-out, Laois centre back Will Young, who had formed a hugely impressive half-back line with Bill Duggan and Gearóid Burke, was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident which very few people in the ground picked up. This saw Wexford raise their game, as the travelling supporters became more vocal. 3 minutes later, another high centre from Nolan was gathered by McDonald, and the classy juvenile repeated his earlier feat as he sent the ball past net-minder Enda Rowland. Wexford got the last three scores of the game, as a free and a 65 from Clarke were added to by a first point for Jack Guiney, who spent the closing minutes of the game at full forward.
So Wexford advance to meet a Kilkenny side who were pushed all the way by Westmeath in their last game. Some key selection issues face the selectors, as they seek to find the best possible combination of players and in the best positions. Home advantage could be a big factor, as a large crowd of Wexford hurling fans will hopefully turn out to cheer on these young men on June 25th
Wexford: Conor O’Leary; Seán Murphy, Andrew Kenny, Garret Foley; Colm Heffernan, Shane O’ Gorman, Walter Furlong; Jack Guiney (0-1), Conor Devitt; Gary Moore (0-1), Aidan Nolan (0-2), Conor Hughes; Rhys Clarke (0-7,5 frees,65), Conor McDonald (2-1), Páraic Roche. Subs: Pádraig Doyle for Conor Hughes, Declan Byrne for Páraic Roche.
Laois: Enda Rowland; Matthew Collier, Paudge Lawlor, Dwayne Palmer; Bill Duggan, Will Young, Gearóid Burke; James Ryan, Colm Gleeson; PJ Scully (0-1), Stephen Maher (0-4, 2 frees), Ryan Peacock (0-1); Tadhg Dowling, Charlie Dwyer(1-0), Joe Campion(0-1) Subs: Kevin Lalor for Colm Gleeson, MJ Lalor for Tadhg Dowling.