HomeFootballFunge hits a fabulous winner for Wexford Minors against Meath

Funge hits a fabulous winner for Wexford Minors against Meath


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The very impressive visitors had been ahead all the way to the start of additional time, when the third and fourth points without reply from the hosts brought them level before edging them in front for the first time (0-14 to 2-7).

I must confess that I had visions of a full-time whistle followed by distraught Wexford players slumping to the ground in agony after those scores.

However, I should have known better, because anything is possible when a team has a player of Funge’s calibre in its ranks.

The Wexford Minor football squad after their superb success against Meath in the Leinster championship preliminary quarter-final in Ashbourne on Wednesday.

Wexford had a free around their own 65-metre line, and one last chance to snatch either a point to force extra-time or, better still, a match-winning goal.

The ball was thumped as long and as hard as he could by netminder John Gallagher, after the action resumed following treatment for an injury to Kian Steadmond.

Substitute Alex Carton was prominent in retaining possession, and Wexford supporters rose to their feet in expectation when a long, looping handpass by Steadmond found Funge to the left of the Meath posts, but at a tight enough angle.

If the Gorey teenager was a Senior inter-county player already, no doubt he would have fisted the ball over the bar and everyone would have praised him for securing extra-time.

Thankfully, a lot of young lads still retain a braver, more adventurous approach to the game before it is gradually coached out of them by negativity merchants.

When Funge took on the nearest defender he had only one thing on his mind, and he certainly wasn’t interested in hanging around in Ashbourne for another half-hour on a week evening.

The sight of his shot rattling the net sparked unconfined joy from Wexford folk on and off the field, and referee Niall Ward was calling for the ball from Meath goalkeeper Cian Murphy to signal full-time as he prepared to take the kick-out.

Funge isn’t the first player to score a hat-trick while representing Wexford at this level, and hopefully he won’t be the last either.

However, what set his achievement apart was the sheer quality of all three goals, and I certainly cannot recall a better contribution over the years in that regard.

His first arrived in the eleventh minute, after Louth linesman David Fedigan raised his flag when a Wexford player encroached on to the field while taking a line ball.

Funge latched on to the throw-in, just outside the Meath 65-metre line on the left flank, and embarked on a slaloming solo run that took him all the way inside the defensive cover before he calmly slotted the ball to the net.

Centre-forward Odhrán Morris had already nailed two points from frees, so that classy goal left Wexford with a 1-2 to nil advantage and a solid base to build upon after a very encouraging start.

Seán Fitzharris had earlier shot to the left and wide from a shot on goal after exchanging passes with Morris, while it had required a vital interception beforehand by dual player Eoin Hughes to bring an end to a dangerous Meath attack as Cathal Barron sought Cormac Smith with a handpass.

The home team did work their way back during a fruitful three minutes at the end of the first quarter, with Smith (free), Evan Kelly, Cormac Nugent (free) and Smith from play picking off points to leave the minimum between the sides.

Unusually, just one more score was recorded before half-time, but it was a strike to remember.

It came directly after that fourth Meath point, in the 17th minute. John Gallagher’s long kick-out went beyond halfway, and into the path of Funge who gathered possession close to the opposition’s 65-metre line once more, although this time on the right.

While he didn’t have as many backs to contend with on this occasion, he still had a lot of work to do and time to consider his options as he bore down on goal.

Watching Funge going hand to toe with the ball is a joy in itself, because he glides while in full motion and makes it all look so effortless.

And while he had an option of popping a pass inside to fellow joint-captain Darren Rossiter – the second dual player on the team – he backed himself to take care of business instead and confidently tucked away his second goal to leave Wexford ahead by 2-2 to 0-4.

That’s how it remained up to the break, after 14 scoreless minutes including additional time.

The quality certainly dropped in that spell, with both sides wasting chances as Meath racked up all six of their opening half wides while Wexford added two to bring their total to three.

James Rothwell and John Gallagher (free) took those kicks, but the hosts had the better opportunities on the whole.

Conal Diggins rattled the side-netting, while Pat Crawley didn’t pose any problems for Gallagher with a weak shot in the 29th minute.

That happened after a Darren Rossiter cross from the right gave Darragh Forde a brief sniff of goal, but the ball was dropped and alert Meath goalkeeper Cian Murphy averted the danger.

Scoring resumed quickly on the restart, and it was looking even better for Wexford by the 42nd minute after adding four of the opening six points to extend their lead to 2-6 to 0-6.

Pat Crawley’s early point drew a swift response from Odhrán Morris, collecting a Darren Rossiter pass and seeing his head-high shot tipped over the crossbar by Cian Murphy.

Funge followed with Wexford’s sole second-half wide from a free (Meath had three), before a solo fisted point by interval substitute Senan Duffy reduced arrears for the locals to 2-3 to 0-6.

Three fruitful minutes followed for the visitors, starting when a quick Funge free found Darren Rossiter, and he in turn picked out Abram O’Neill for a well-worked point.

Jamie Hughes – a hard grafter, just like his father, Paul, was on the excellent Wexford Minor team of 1992 – was next to score, with his shot flying inches over the bar after Funge, superb wing-back Rory Cooper, and Odhrán Morris featured in the build-up.

And when the gap widened to six, after Morris sold a brilliant dummy before finishing with his second point from play, Wexford led by 2-6 to 0-6 and were flying.

The beauty of Minor games – for the neutral, at least – is that such dominance can change in an instant and, unfortunately for Wexford, they were unable to sustain that impressive effort.

Meath took over to such an extent that they picked off eight of the game’s last nine points, eagerly winning the vast majority of John Gallagher’s restarts and pinning the long-time leaders into their own half.

It was a slow, gradual process, but eventually it gave them that lead for the first time, 75 seconds beyond the regulation 60 minutes.

Evan Kelly and Cormac Nugent (free) started the comeback, with Funge well tackled and losing possession after another solo run in the 49th minute before a composed Nugent kicked a fine solo point at the other end (2-6 to 0-9).

It was all Meath at this stage, but they kicked a couple of wides on either side of another Nugent point before some welcome respite arrived for Wexford in the 55th minute.

Jamie Hughes passed to Darragh Forde who was fouled, and Odhrán Morris pointed from the free to leave the Slaneysiders ahead by 2-7 to 0-10.

After Rory Cooper dropped a shot short on their next attack, Meath responded just over 30 seconds later with a Pat Crawley point, and the pressure was mounting.

A sloppy concession of the ball from a short free almost cost Wexford dearly and, although the newly-introduced Alex Carton prevented a goal chance with an interception, a foul in the build-up led to another score for Nugent who made it a one-point game (2-7 to 0-12).

The Meath crowd sensed that all was not lost, and their young men on the field continued to press after Cathal Barron kicked their last wide.

Eoin McCrudden won the restart, and substitute Adam Ducie levelled from a Pat Crawley pass just over 30 seconds into additional time.

Two more replacements then combined to put Meath ahead for the first time, with Harry Healy feeding Senan Duffy who had ice in his veins as he ignored the pressure and landed a fine point from the right wing (0-14 to 2-7).

It had been a dramatic second-half and, happily for Wexford, there was another wonderful twist to come as Tom Funge did his stuff in a real ‘Roy of the Rovers’ finish.

This was only the second time in history for a Model County Minor football team to beat Meath on their own patch in the championship, with the current crew following in the footsteps of the 1999 side that triumphed by 2-11 to 1-9 in a quarter-final in Navan.

David Murphy and Niall Murphy from that team went on to become Senior centurions, while Diarmuid Kinsella, Eric Bradley, Páraic Curtis and Robert Mageean also had decent innings in the top flight.

Hopefully, we will get as many good servants from the current team, but for the moment they have another historic target to tackle.

A Wexford Minor football side has never beaten both Meath and Dublin in the same championship campaign, and that’s the task facing the Kevin Morris-managed outfit when they travel to Parnell Park this Wednesday for the quarter-final which has a 7.30 p.m. throw-in.

Wexford: John Gallagher (Volunteers); Kian Steadmond (Ballynastragh Gaels), Liam Kenny (Castletown), Seán Fitzharris (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown); Rory Cooper (Ballynastragh Gaels), Eoin Hughes (Ballynastragh Gaels), Fionn Kavanagh (Castletown); Tom Funge (Naomh Éanna, joint-capt., 3-0), James Rothwell (HWH-Bunclody); Jamie Hughes (Ballynastragh Gaels, 0-1), Odhrán Morris (Castletown, 0-5, 3 frees), Darragh Forde (Ballynastragh Gaels); Ian Noctor (Castletown), Darren Rossiter (Gusserane, capt.), Abram O’Neill (Monageer-Boolavogue, 0-1). Subs. – Andrew Kelly (St. Mary’s, Maudlintown) for O’Neill (47), Max Beary (Shelmaliers) for J. Hughes (55), Alex Carton (St. Patrick’s) for Rothwell (55), Cathal Power (Duffry Rovers) for Forde (58), also Adam Furlong (St. Patrick’s), Mitch Cullen (Gusserane), Jamie Moran (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Ben Furlong (Ballynastragh Gaels), Conall Butler (Kilrush).

Meath: Cian Murphy; Seán McQuillan, Cillian Yore, Thomas Sheridan; Cian Tobin, Oran Meade, Conal Diggins; Cathal Barron, Eoin McCrudden; Cormac Nugent (0-5, 3 frees), Cormac Smith (0-2, 1 free), Ciarán Sheridan (capt.); Evan Kelly (0-2), Jack Doyle, Pat Crawley (0-2). Subs. – Senan Duffy (0-2) for Sheridan (HT), Charles McCarthy for Diggins (43), Harry Healy for Smith (44), Adam Ducie (0-1) for Meade (50).

Referee: Niall Ward (Westmeath).

FOOTNOTE: A minute’s silence was observed before the game in memory of Michael Mulhall of Tara Hill, whose brother, Fergal, is a Wexford selector. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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