Patrick Breen and Jonny Dwyer are still absorbing what it means to be part of history, grins as wide as the River Slaney etched across their faces.
reen has kicked – yes, kicked – the only goal of this year’s Wexford senior hurling final in what transpires to be a one-point game.
And Dwyer, who has been hurling senior for not far off two decades, has landed the final point for Ferns St Aidan’s – a sublime sideline cut from 55 metres, following the pin-point trajectory of the perfect golf ‘fade’ – that would prove the ultimate match-winner.
The club has been on the go for 135 years and Breen points out, as if reminders are needed, that “we’ve never won a senior championship. We’ve lost a lot of finals. Unbelievable. If you come down to Ferns for the next few days, then you’ll really know what it’s like.”
Breen is now 28; he was on the fringes when Ferns last contested a county final, losing to Oulart-The Ballagh nine years ago. At 36, Dwyer has been waiting considerably longer for a moment like this.
“In 2013 we thought, ‘Ah sure, we’ll be back in a year or two, we’ll win one’ … but then nine years passed and we hadn’t even been in one,” Dwyer noted. “When we had this group of players coming through, I said surely there’s a year there for us.”
Now we know that year: 2022.
Watched by some 7,500 spectators on a clammy afternoon in Chadwicks Wexford Park, Ferns finally made that tantalising breakthrough after a riveting contest with St Martin’s.
The champions of 2017 and 2019 were without their talisman, Rory O’Connor, while injury also reduced his brother Jack to a late cameo. Might it have been a different story if both O’Connors were flying fit? Quite possibly, but there’s no denying the merit of this famous victory either.
Martin’s only led for a few fleeting minutes – at the very start after Joe Coleman landed the first of his ten points, and only one from play; and then late in the first half when a run of six unanswered points propelled them two clear, 0-10 to 0-8.
But, almost as quickly, Ferns were back in front. As the half slipped into injury-time, Corey Byrne Dunbar and Dwyer were both involved on the left touchline before the latter fed Breen, wandering from his defensive base but still outside the ‘45’.
Breen took the pass at pace, and then kept on running as the Martin’s defence opened up in front of him.
“I just kept going and once I got to the goal I just kicked it,” said the former Wexford underage footballer. “To score a goal like that in a county final, in front of this crowd, especially Ferns, is unbelievable.”
The livewire Dwyer (with his third from play) and Aaron Maddock then swapped points to leave Ferns ahead by the minimum, 1-9 to 0-11, at the interval.
The third quarter was a classic of the tit-for-tat genre, Ferns edging a goal clear before Kyle Firman, with the fourth of his five points from play, left Martin’s two adrift at the second water break, 1-15 to 0-16.
Ferns almost made a decisive burst soon after, Diarmuid Doyle’s goal attempt saved by Dylan Byrne. But with the increasingly influential Byrne Dunbar pointing the rebound, and Doyle scoring soon after, they still led by four, standing on the cusp of glory.
Instead, as often happens in such circumstances, the history-chasers became protective of their lead and increasingly nervy.
Wexford veteran Paul Morris, later named TG4’s Man of the Match, had long since abandoned his starting role at full-forward, making several important interventions deep in defence.
But he couldn’t stop Martin’s from shooting five of the next six points – including a Coleman ‘65’ after Ciaran Roberts had blocked Joe Barrett’s goal attempt. When Coleman’s free restored parity in the 60th minute, his team appeared to have all the momentum.
Instead, a minute into stoppage-time, evergreen sub Chris ‘Bitzy’ O’Connor pounced when a Dwyer line cut broke in the goalmouth, firing over.
Then, from the opposite touchline, Dwyer nailed that outrageous line ball – all the more crucial when O’Connor fired over a free, well beyond the three signalled additional minutes.
It was unclear afterwards whether the Martin’s marksman was trying to drop it short. From the resultant puckout, Eamonn Furlong called time, sparking celebrations that will last long into the week.
“I’m just so delighted for them,” beamed Pat Bennett, who had served as coach under Joe Morris (Paul’s father) before stepping into the managerial breach this year.
“You don’t realise the effort that they have put in. Joe Morris, Padraig Bailey, these guys have just given unbelievable (service) for the last ten years. Like, they brought all these guys up through minor and everything. It’s easy to hand them over then to me.”
His players, in kind, heaped praise on their Waterford leader. “He was just ruthless,” said Morris, hailing the competition Bennett created within the group, while Dwyer revealed: “Pat had a motto from the start of the year – no excuses.”
And now, at long last, there is no more need for them.
Scorers – Ferns: I Byrne 0-5 (3f, 1 ‘65’), J Dwyer 0-4 (1 sideline), P Morris (1f), C Byrne Dunbar 0-3 each, P Breen 1-0, D Doyle 0-2, J Tonks, B Jordan, C O’Connor 0-1 each. St Martin’s: J Coleman 0-10 (7f, 2 ‘65’), K Firman 0-5, J Devereux 0-2, L Kavanagh, A Maddock, J Barrett, J Firman, M Coleman 0-1 each.
Ferns: J Lawlor; P Breen, N Murphy, D Byrne; C Roberts, E Murphy, J Tonks; R Scallan, T Dwyer; I Byrne, C Turner, J Dwyer; D Doyle, P Morris, C Byrne Dunbar. Subs: B Jordan for I Byrne (38), J Breen for Turner (41), C O’Connor for Doyle (57), R Nolan for Scallan (61).
St Martin’s: D Byrne; D O’Leary, J Barrett, P Dempsey; P O’Connor, C Firman, D Codd; M Maloney, J Firman; L Kavanagh, A Maddock, J Coleman; M Coleman, K Firman, J Devereux. Subs: D Codd for Devereux (42), W Devereux for Kavanagh (49), J O’Connor for M Coleman (52), D Waters for Maloney (54).
Referee: E Furlong (Rapparees).