OKAY, SO WEXFORD lost and that first half was appalling but for a side that have been to an All Ireland semi-final and a Leinster final in recent years, there are more important things than a Division Three crown.
Besides, they head for the championship with Division Two football ahead of them and that was the major aim of this springtime. On top of that, the second half here involved glimpses of what we knew this side were capable of and all that meant Jason Ryan meandered into the press room in Croke Park with a cheeky smile and without anything bordering on a hoarse voice. They lost, but so be it.
“Longford defended well in the first half, and our decisions on the ball just weren’t up to scratch,” he said explaining away a two-point defeat, having trailed deservedly by 10 midway through. “We gave away too much possession. We absolutely dominated kick-outs, we won more than three-quarters of them in that opening 35 minutes, but we were making bad use of it. Just bad decision-making on the field. That’s disappointing, but it wasn’t a case of trying to understand what was wrong because that was blatantly obvious, it was just giving away cheap ball. If we improved that in the second half we were always going to do better.”
And they did. Much better. So much so that they might have stolen an unlikely win in the dying moments. But even in defeat there were other reasons behind the poor performance that explained away that opening 35 minutes, including knocks to key players who were obviously struggling throughout.
“We gave Davidl Murphy and Ben Brosnan every opportunity and they had a fitness test this morning and came through it with flying colours. But lack of training the last week showed but the two of them will be ready and raring to go come the championship in June. Besides, we only played half a bad league final. If we had played mediocre for the whole game, we’d be very worried but we had one positive half where our heads didn’t drop and at least people who paid in had some value for money in the second half.”
Brosnan and Murphy were two of the biggest reasons this game got away from them in the opening half. The playmaker suffered with poor ball striking and never dictated the game as he did so often last championship. Meanwhile Murphy the captain failed to hold the line at six as Longford were direct and scored easily throughout that opening period.
“But at least the substitutions made a difference, the guys that came on were hungry and they ran at them,” added Ryan. “We got clean ball but we were more direct too and that paid off. As a team there was greater intensity. We were more determined, we gave away less than half the ball that we gave away in the first half. That went from over 20 turnovers to 10 I think.
“It’s still a knock every time you lose but the plus is we lost because we didn’t play as well as we were capable of. That’s not taking away from Longford, they might have won had we played as well as we could. But we can go away and say, ‘Look, we were sub-standard in the first half’ and we can rectify that. The lads will be disappointed but they’ve club hurling championship the next couple of weekends and that will take their minds off of this but you’d hope as a group they’ll learn from this defeat and we’ll be back stronger.”