The most unbalanced game of the weekend’s four finals came in Division 3 where Longford started strong and Wexford finished the stronger but not strong enough. Emmet Ryan examines an uneven encounter in Croke Park.
Wexford’s distribution issues
For a team with its strengths lying in attack, Wexford’s efforts to create quality chances in the first half was stupefying. Longford’s use of a deep lying last line forced Wexford attackers out a bit but their problems with passing spanned the park. Jason Ryan’s charges had trouble developing moves from the back and stringing passes together proved a trial.
The frustration this brought carried on into Wexford’s efforts to score. Long range efforts became the norm by the 20 minute mark. Even at this early stage, they were playing like the game was getting out of hand, with desperate attempts at low-percentage scores. In truth Wexford only trailed by 6 points with the bulk of the game still to go and were by no means being dominated. For all of Longford’s edge on the scoreboard, Wexford were staying competitive in battles for possession. Greater structure to passing and calmer minds in attack were however sorely lacking in the opening 35 minutes, absences that Longford exploited.
Longford prove comparatively efficient
While far from perfect going forward, Longford did a lot more things right in the first half than Wexford and it paid off handsomely on the scoreboard. The size advantage of their full forward proved most telling in generating early scores. Brian Kavanagh and Seanie McCormack won frees in favourable position as Glenn Ryan’s charges rattled off 0-4 inside of 8 minutes. Longford’s distribution was critical in padding the early advantage. With a small cushion to build from, Longford played a more patient game going forward, working to find the best option. Paul Barden finished off two well worked passing moves to score. Kavanagh’s lone point however was the best example of this build up play as Michael Quinn found John Keegan who passed through the middle to set up Kavanagh for the finish from outside the 21.
Efficiency was the telling factor for Longford in these early stages. While there were chances being missed, they had room to manoeuvre as Wexford gave up some cheap turnovers. Having started the half by relying on their size for scores, Longford would let their better passing prove the telling factor as the break approached. A run of 1-3 without reply from 30 minutes through to the break would push Glenn Ryan’s charges 10 points clear. The goal was made by an excellent pass by Kavanagh, threading the needle to leave Paul Kelly with a chance to strike first time.
Wexford calm down, get more organised
A change in Wexford’s approach was obvious from the re-start. They look far more controlled in possession from the outset. Play was developed with scoring chances taken much closer to goal. The substitutions made by Jason Ryan had a telling impact on the tone of the game. Lee Chin worked the ball well up the right flank, Shane Roche proved a fine outlet as a scoring threat, while Paddy Byrne was a creative engine in the passing game. More so than the change in personnel, there was a change in tone to Wexford’s game all over the park. Redmond Barry and Ciaran Lyng were more selective in their efforts on the uprights and rarely was an attacker left without options.
Defensively Wexford looked far more organised as well. Taking advantage of Longford’s trouble with long-range passing, the Wexford backs operated better as unit and didn’t allow the one-on-one situations that troubled them in the opening 35 minutes. This allowed Wexford to take a firm grip on possession and dominate the half.
Neither team will come out of this encounter smiling at their performance. Wexford’s first half display lacked focus and organisation, with a dearth of support for the ball-carrier making Longford’s defensive task all the more easier. They responded well after the break with the kind of performance we expect from a team that pushed Dublin to the brink in last year’s Leinster Final. The substitutions played a big role as Wexford played the type of composed game one does not expect to see from a team trailing by 10 points at the break. It was nearly enough to win it for them but in the end the margin proved too great to claw back.
Longford can celebrate a hard-earned win but one they could have easily let slip away. The first half display was composed and showed an ability to play to their strengths up front. Their response when Wexford’s comeback was in full flight did little to inspire confidence. Much like Wexford in the first half, Longford turned to long range efforts as they struggled to break down the opposing defence. It’s foolish to give away cheap possession when trailing an opponent, it’s careless to do so while in front. The game however is won over 70 minutes and Glenn Ryan’s charges did enough over the first 35 to still be in contention for the result at the end. The Laois camp will no doubt be wondering what side of Longford they see in Pearse Park on 20 May.
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