Ger Aylward makes stunning debut as Kilkenny trounce Wexford

Glenmore player scores 3-5 from play on championship debut at Nowlan Park

Kilkenny 5-25 Wexford 0-16

The longest day of the year arrived and for the Wexford hurlers it contained the longest hour of their lives. Best laid plans are often vaporised in the Marble County but nothing could have prepared Liam Dunne’s players for this excoriating experience. The guests were heading for the exits and the south before the hour mark in Nowlan Park yesterday as the All-Ireland champions opened their campaign wearing the familiar cloak of splendour and intensity. This was a harrowing afternoon for the Model County.

Five goals gave Kilkenny such a cushion that Brian Cody was able to call two thirds of his fullback line ashore with ten minutes remaining, by which time the game was reduced to a succession of fabulous scores by the home team. Much of that scoring damage was finished by Glenmore's debut man Ger Aylward, who scooped an absurd 3- 5 from play on his championship start, joining the ling list of players who thank Brian Cody for their chance with glittering opening day turns. Aylward has been working diligently in the shadows for three seasons waiting for this chance and was predictably modest about his haul afterwards, leaving it to the boss to assess.

“Ger had a decent game, there is no doubt about that,” Cody said. “It is up to himself now to drive things forward again.”

In keeping with the theme of last season, Richie Hogan’s fingerprints were all over this performance. The Danesfort man is an impossibly busy bundle of brilliance and he was completely on his game here, always taking the right option, always moving into space, scoring the first Kilkenny goal and setting up a further two.


Wexford’s ambitions of unsettling Killkenny with the simple plan of direct ball into their big forward unit never materialised. Kilkenny never allowed it to, pressing Wexford’s delivery relentlessly and forcing them into errors which were, as always, punished.

It didn't take long before the Wexford men found themselves in a maelstrom familiar to most teams visiting Nowlan Park. They began their day on a blisteringly positive note when Ian Byrne fired a confident point after just seventeen seconds. On the way into the ground, the visiting supporters were talking about the possibility of a good show and just maybe a surprise: they were daring to hope.

The teams traded points for five minutes and then a sliver of a goal chance opened up for Byrne but Wexford couldn't exploit it. Two minutes later, Kilkenny struck, with big Michael Fennelly squaring a ball for Richie Hogan to bat in from close range. Liam Dunne's men were still absorbing the after-effects when TJ Reid and Eoin Larkin clipped smartly taken points.

The Wexford defence looked anxious now and Kilkenny implemented their stress test, with Fennelly and Hogan creating a chance for Ger Aylward to goal on his debut even as referee Dermot Kirwan played advantage. It all looked familiar now, with Hogan snapping up possession from Fennelly's hook to strike a beautiful point from midfield. After 14 minutes, Kilkenny had registered 2-4 from play - and into a strong breeze. Welcome to Nowlan Park.

And yet for all that, Wexford stayed with them on the scoreboard. During Kilkenny's rampant period, the match took on a Lee-Chin-Against-the-World aspect: the Faythe man was immense through that turbulent period but a soaring point from Andrew Shore settled the others down as they sought to deliver high ball for Conor McDonald and Liam Og McGovern to work with.

Seven frees from Ian Byrne kept them in contention but the Kilkenny goal threat remained a live proposition all through. In the 29th minute, McGovern missed a half chance to capitalise on rare mistake in the Kilkenny back line and seconds later, Richie Hogan, drifting into full forward- plucked a long ball out of the sky and slipped a perfect pass to TJ Reid. The big Ballyhale man was hauled down in the square and neatly converted the penalty himself.

Wexford's best goal chance came on during a rare opportunity to run with the ball, with Diarmuid O'Keeffe looping a handpass for David Redmond to run onto and test Eoin Murphy with an audacious, low strike from thirty metres. Byrne missed the resultant 65 but Wexford were able to point to the mere seven points that Kilkenny scored in the first half for encouragement. They trailed by 3-7 to 0-10 at the break.

Minutes before that, during a lull in the crowd of 19,134, David Redmond could be hear urging his team mates to keep going. It was a heartening battle cry. But fifteen minutes into the second half, the scene was unrecognisable. The counties were hurling in different realms. Playing with the breeze now, Kilkenny slipped into a rhythm of play and the scores began to whistle over from all angles.

Aylward's second goal was an absolute killer, ruthlessly finished after Kilkenny tidily worked the ball along the touch line from Holden through to TJ Reid. Aylward's third was the result of a second's hesitation from Ciaran Kenny and Andrew Shore and the new man was through again. Kilkenny were four clear goals after 50 minutes and Wexford faced the demoralising prospect of fresh stripy battalions coming in, eager to stake their claim.

They kept battling and landed an occasional score but it was a deluge of scores for the Nowlan Park faithful, who are accustomed to being spoilt. Kilkenny’s eternal summer shows little sign of ending. So far so good for the post-Shefflin era of Kilkenny hurling.

KILKENNY: 1 E Murphy; 2 P Murphy, 3 J Holden. 4 J Tyrrell; 5 P Walsh, 6 K Joyce, 7 C Buckley (0-1); 8 M Fennelly (0-1), 9 C Fogarty; 10 W Walsh, 11 R Hogan (1-5) , 22 J Power (0-2), 13 G Alyward (3-5), 14 TJ Reid (1-7, pen, 65, three frees), 15 E Larkin (0-3).

Substitutes: K Kelly (0-1) for Power for (57 mins), S Prendergast for Tyrrell, R Lennon for P Murphy (both 59 mins), 24 M Kelly for Larkin (63 mins).

WEXFORD: 1 M Fanning; 7 C Kenny, 2 L Ryan, 4 E Moore; 6 L Chin, 3 M O'Hanlon, 5 A Shore (0-1), 11 D Waters, 8 D Redmond (0-2); 12 I Byrne (0-11, nine frees), 10 S Tomkins, 9 D O'Keeffe; 13 P Morris, 14 C McDonald, 15 L Óg McGovern (0-2).

Substitutes: A Nolan for Moore (32 mins), P Doran for Waters, H Kehoe for Tomkins (both half-time), 18 E Martin for Shore (60 mins), 25 G Sinnott for McGovern (65 mins).

Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times