A night of rich celebration for Wexford GAA promised a result befitting the occasion from the senior footballers before Laois battled back for an extra-time victory in Saturday evening’s Leinster championship first-round clash at sunny Innovate Wexford Park.
With Wexford dressed in the replica jersey from when the county completed the historic first-ever All-Ireland senior football championship four-in-a-row back in 1918, the current generation, including Brian Malone in his 150th competitive appearance, threatened to upset expectations against the newly-crowned Division 4 champions.
Indeed, with captain Daithí Waters setting the tone with a point after a mere 16 seconds, Wexford immediately set about the task with purpose to surge clear by 0-8 to 0-0 inside 22 minutes as Donal Shanley (4), John Tubritt (2) and Glen Malone added further scores.
Laois were quite menacing and forced Wexford ‘keeper Conor Swaine into distinguishing himself with several interventions over the course of the 90 minutes, including when thwarting David Conway early on, while the midlanders were also denied a penalty.
Laois eventually ended their scoring impasse after 23 minutes with the first of two quick points before being struck by another hammer-blow when Wexford centre-back Naomhan Rossiter bundled to an empty town-end net to open-up a 1-8 to 0-2 lead on 26 minutes.
James Stafford and Shane Doyle got on target in their first-ever championship appearances to stretch the gap to 1-10 to 0-3 at half-time.
But Donie Kingston emerged as a powerful focal-point for the Laois attack after switching inside on the re-start, and while Tiarnan Rossiter was unfortunate with a goaling chance, Laois fought back to within 0-14 to 1-13 after 60 minutes.
John Tubritt prodded Wexford 1-14 to 0-14 clear before Laois eventually breached the net from a penalty, powered home by Donie Kingston to level matters on 1-14 apiece entering stoppage-time.
Donal Shanley elected to point a penalty in the dying seconds of added-time after Brian Malone had been impeded. But Laois refused to concede, and corner-back Gareth Dillon forced extra-time on 1-15 each.
Unfortunately Laois’s growing momentum never waned, and midfielder Kieran Lillis rammed to the net in the third-minute of added-time to hand them an initiative which saw them pull clear by 2-18 to 1-16 at the break on the way to negotiating the remainder with some assurance as they reached the provincial quarter-finals.
Wexford, meanwhile, face into round-one of the All-Ireland Qualifiers on June 9th next.
During a time of considerable transition for the Wexford footballers, the bright and purposeful start on Saturday is something which they should derive real heart from, and by the close of business on Saturday they had pressed no fewer than seven senior championship debutantes into action, namely Glen Malone, Shane Doyle, James Stafford together with Alan Nolan, Eoin Porter, Nick Doyle and Barry O’Gorman.
Laois – Graham Brody; Ruairdhri C Fennell, Mark Timmons, Gareth Dillon (0-1); Trevor Collins (0-1), Colm Begley, Stephen Attride (capt., 0-2); John O’Loughlin, Kieran Lillis; Alan Farrell, Donal Kingston (1-6, 1-0 penalty, 0-3fs), Damien O’Connor; Ross Munnelly (0-5, 2fs), David Conway (0-1), Gary Walsh (0-1).
Subs: Benny Carroll for Walsh (half-time), Niall Donoher for Farrell (47), Paul Kingston (0-3) for Fennell (50), Darren Strong (0-1) for Conway (61), Tom Sheil for Munnelly (67). Extra-time: Finbarr Crowley for O’Connor (75); Denis Booth for Dillon (83), David Holland for Collins (87).
Wexford – Conor Swaine; Michael Furlong, Jim Rossiter, Conor Carty; Glen Malone (0-1), Naomhan Rossiter (1-0), Shane Doyle (0-1); Brian Malone, Daithí Waters (capt., 0-1); James Stafford (0-1), Ben Brosnan (0-1), Eoghan Nolan; Paul Curtis, Donal Shanley (0-9, 0-6fs, 0-1 pen., 0-1 ’45), John Tubritt (0-4).
Subs: Tiarnan Rossiter for Curtis (11), Alan Nolan for J Rossiter (35), Eoin Porter for Brosnan (50), Nick Doyle for Stafford (61), Barry O’Gorman for Doyle (69) Extra-time: David Shannon for T Rossiter (78); James Stafford for O’Gorman (78); Darragh Pepper for A Nolan (half-time extra-time).
Referee – Martin McNally Photo: Noel Reddy/PJ Howlin