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Closing Louth blitz floors footballers, By Ronan Fagan

Louth 0-22,   Wexford 1-14

Photos: Noel Reddy

Wexford seemed destined for a glamour Leinster senior football championship quarter-final at home to reigning provincial and All-Ireland champions Dublin on May 25th next until Louth came with a decisive closing flourish in Sunday afternoon’s keenly-contested first-round clash at sunny Innovate Wexford Park.

Seeking their first win in Leinster since 2014, Wexford carved out a 1-14 to 0-14 lead on 61 minutes with the considerable aid of a goaled penalty from Kevin O’Grady after Eoghan Nolan had been impeded.

But Louth over-turned the deficit in formidable fashion when shooting the closing eight points without reply, with substitute Ryan Burns making his mark, to deprive hard-working Wexford.

Thus, instead of welcoming the powerful Dubs to Clonard later this month, Wexford will be awaiting the outcome of their first-round draw for the All-Ireland Qualifiers on Monday 27th May to discover how they might get themselves in the running.

Yet, the sheer brilliance of Wexford ‘keeper Matt Doyle on his senior championship bow gave Paul McLoughlin’s charges a serious shout of ending their wait for a Leinster win until Louth produced their late surge.

And Glynn-Barntown club-man Doyle demonstrated his excellence as early as the eighth-minute, when, after Ben Brosnan had an opening point negated by Andy McDonnell, the latter forced a penalty. But Jim McEnaney’s powerful low drive was kept out superbly by the Wexford custodian.

The game never really caught fire, especially during the opening-half, and the sides shared the next eight points, with Glen Malone, Conor Devitt and Ben Brosnan (2) ensuring Wexford kept pace on 0-5 apiece after 23 minutes.

Jonathan Bealin then lifted the home support amongst the 1,320 attendance with a pointed free together with one from play to open-up a 0-7 to 0-5 advantage after 28 minutes.

However, Louth’s goal threat remained, and Conal McKeever unleashed a powerful low drive in the 32nd-minute which Matt Doyle stopped before Eoin Porter cleared the danger.

Louth derived some satisfaction with a late pointed free from Sam Mulroy to close to within 0-7 to 0-6 at half-time.

The Wee County were rumbling on the re-start as Declan Byrne lofted two quick-fire scores within 70 seconds of the resumption to turn the tables by 0-8 to 0-7.

 But the subsequent Wexford response indicated that the Michael Furlong-captained Model County weren’t going to be denied, as a couple of further Jonathan Bealin points sandwiched similar additions by defenders Glen Malone and Martin O’Connor to seize a 0-11 to 0-9 transformation after 43 minutes.

Louth had it back level for the seventh-time on 0-11 apiece though before Jim McEnaney was yet again denied a goal by another quality Matt Doyle intervention.

In fact, this threatened to be the game’s defining spell, as just a few minutes later, on 48 minutes to be exact, Eoghan Nolan burrowed his way into the Louth danger-zone only to be thwarted at the expense of a penalty. And Kevin O’Grady, back in championship action for Wexford after representing New York last year, planted the ‘spot-kick’ to blast open a 1-11 to 0-11 gap.

That margin was maintained after 61 minutes (1-14 to 0-14) after Jonathan Bealin (3 frees) sought to curb a Louth fight-back with his accuracy.

However, the visitors gained a definitive edge for the remainder, and a blast of points from six different players, including three courtesy star substitute Ryan Burns, broke Wexford hearts, and left Colin Kelly, the former Louth player and manager who has been drafted into the Wexford backroom team, with mixed emotions.

Louth – Fergal Sheeky; Fergal Donohoe, Emmet Carolan, James Craven; Anthony Williams, Bevan Duffy, John Clutterbuck; Tommy Durnin (0-1), James Califf (0-5, 2 frees); Ciarán Downey (0-1), Jim McEneaney (0-1), Conal McKeever (0-1); Andy McDonnell (0-2), Sam Mulroy (0-3 frees), Declan Byrne (0-3).

Subs: Dan Corcoran for Williams (temp., 5); Conor Early for Califf (50); Eoghan Duffy for Clutterbuck (56); Ryan Burns (0-4, 1 ’45) for Mulroy (56); Ronan Holcroft for McEnaney (62); Dan Corcoran for Donohoe (63); William Woods (0-1) for Byrne (67).

Wexford – Matt Doyle; Michael Furlong, Martin O’Connor (0-1), Conor Carty; Glen Malone (0-2), Brian Malone, Eoin Porter; Daithí Waters, Niall Hughes; Conor Devitt (0-1), Barry O’Connor, Eoghan Nolan; Kevin O’Grady (1-0 penalty), Ben Brosnan (0-3), Jonathan Bealin (0-7, 4 frees).Subs: Gavin Sheehan for Carty (8, black-card); Tiarnan Rossiter for Hughes (40); Robert Frayne for Nolan (63); John Tubritt for Devitt (67); James Cash for Porter (68); David Shannon for Waters (black-card, 70+3).

 Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary).

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