Old order restored as Kilkenny blitz Wexford to reach NHL final

Resurrection nearly complete as Cody’s side dominate to set up Tipperary showdown

Conor Delaney holds off Lee Chin during Kilkenny’s win over Wexford. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Conor Delaney holds off Lee Chin during Kilkenny’s win over Wexford. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

 

Kilkenny 1-27 Wexford 2-15

Behold the eleventh coming. Brian Cody has never believed in transitions or indeed resurrections but in making it back to another Allianz hurling league final he has at least defied most predictions.

Because despite losing their opening two games, thus beaing early contenders for relegation, Cody has now guided Kilkenny into an 11th league final as manager, having won eight and lost two – the last three titles coming in succession, 2012-2014.

It was a near vintage Kilkenny performance too: TJ Reid finished with 0-15, including three from play, and there was ample support all around him, 10 players in all scoring, Richie Leahy and Martin Keoghan and John Donnelly among the newer lights to shine.  

Wexford had most of the bumper 16,454 crowd behind them, confidence soaring after taking out defending champions Galway last weekend, seeking a first league final since 1993, only they soon found themselves surrendering to Kilkenny’s absolute superiority. At least on the savageness scale.

Cody also brings Kilkenny back home to Nowlan Park next Sunday for a league final showdown against Tipperary, the 10th national final between the teams within the last 10 years. After a league that started with revolution in the air, the old order remains.

Kilkenny ’keeper Eoin Murphy fails to keep out Aidan Nolan’s penalty at Wexford Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Kilkenny ’keeper Eoin Murphy fails to keep out Aidan Nolan’s penalty at Wexford Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

“Not surprised, no,” said Cody, standing outside the Kilkenny dressing room door with the look of a man exactly where he wanted and expected to be. “I’d never presume anything, but the reality is we lost the first two games by three points, and could have won both or either of those two games. I’m not saying we should have, and we were being tipped for a relegation battle, but our ambition was to win the next game, get some reaction from the players, and now we are into league final.

“I’ve made it no secret that all times I’ve had huge confidence in my panel, and continue to have. So I’m delighted, obviously. You always want to make the league final if you can, and it was a good performance, a good win. Tipp next Sunday now, and that’s a brilliant game to be facing.”

Swift and stark

The difference between the teams here was swift and stark: Wexford hit the ground running, scoring 1-2 within seven minutes, including a penalty from Aidan Nolan, before the old empire struck back – with an incredible 12 scores, 1-11, without reply, including a belter of a goal from Walter Walsh. All partly wind-aided, but devastating nonetheless.

Wexford didn’t score from play at all in the first half, and relied instead on the accuracy of teenager Rory O’Connor from the placed ball. All that seemed to finish the game as a contest, although Wexford performed a minor resurrection of their own early in the second half to get it back to three points, 1-14 to 2-8, Conor McDonald deftly finishing their second goal from close range, on 39 minutes.  

It was a false hope for the home support though: O’Connor missed a simple free not long after, having rallied spirits for so long, and with that the life went out of Wexford. Neither Lee Chin nor Conor McDonald could get their scoring mojo working and Shaun Murphy’s so far imperious role as sweeper was simply bypassed by Kilkenny. It was by some distance their most disappointing performance under manager Davy Fitzgerald in his two seasons in charge, and he himself suggested as much.

“Kilkenny bossed us today, were absolutely 100 per cent the better team, and that’s not acceptable the way we played,” said Fitzgerald. “The first 10 minutes we owned the game, then we allowed Kilkenny to work the ball from the back, and they have changed their game completely. And you have to hand it to them, their hard work paid off, and they wanted it today, more than we did.

Colm Lyons speaks to Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Colm Lyons speaks to Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

“Our work rate wasn’t good enough. We it got it back to three points, missed a free, and the life just went out of us. I’m just disappointed for the Wexford supporters, we feel we let them down today, which we haven’t done too often. But there’s not that much between us.

“But it’s about Kilkenny today, Their attitude was absolutely incredible, they played great stuff, took us apart. It’s as good as I’ve seen them play in the last four or five years. I know it’s early days, but if they play like that, they’ll be right contenders. But I’ll tell you one thing, we’ll be back, and looking forward to another go at them again.”

That will come soon enough, in the last round of the Leinster championship, but having beaten Kilkenny three games on the trot, they’ve now lost the last two: it’s obvious now which team needs to improve the more before that June showdown.

“The biggest problem today was they won every 50-50 all, all the hard tussles, and hats off to them for that,” added Fitzgerald. “Our intensity wasn’t the same, I know we’d a hard game last week (against) Galway, and they’d the week off, but their intensity was savage. But we have to learn a valuable lesson. I know how I feel, and I know how the boys feel as well.  There is more in us than that.”

Cody wasn’t buying into the longer-term significance of the result either: “I suppose if it counts for anything it will make them even more determined, that’s usually what happens when you’re beaten by a team, it’s fairly easy to get a reaction.”

On this evidence, that Wexford reaction will need to be substantial.

WEXFORD: M Fanning; W Devereux, L Ryan, S Donoghue; P Foley, M O’Hanlon, D O’Keeffe; S Murphy (0-1), K Foley; J O’Connor, C McDonald (1-1), L Chin; A Nolan (1-0, a penalty), R O’Connor (0-12, eight frees), P Morris. Subs: D Reck for Devereux (15 mins), H Kehoe (0-1) for Morris (49 mins), D Dunne for Nolan (53 mins), C Dunbar for J O’Connor (69 mins).

KILKENNY: E Murphy (0-1, a free); J Holden, P Walsh, P Deegan; C Delaney, C Buckley (0-1), E Morrissey (0-1); R Leahy (0-2), J Maher; M Keoghan (0-1), TJ Reid (0-15, 12 frees), J Donnelly (0-2); G Aylward (0-2), W Walsh (1-1), B Sheehn (0-1). Subs: C Fogarty for Maher (47 mins), L Blanchfield for Donnelly (59 mins), L Ryan for Leahy (67 mins), L Scanlon for Sheehan (68 mins), P Lyng for Keoghan (71 mins).

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

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