Wexford have a real chance if Cody’s team fail to improve
Lots of attention will focus on whether Matthew O’Hanlon can again contain TJ Reid
Kilkenny’s Walter Walsh and TJ Reid with Kevin Foley and Paudie Foley of Wexford in this month’s Leinster Championship clash at Wexford Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Leinster SHC final: Kilkenny v Wexford, Croke Park, Sunday, 4pm (Live on RTÉ 2)
It’s striking to look at how different this most traditional of match-ups has been in the three years since Kilkenny stopped (or at least paused) winning All-Irelands. Although Wexford have always been a presence – in 2004 the only county to beat one of Brian Cody’s teams in 13 Leinster Championships – it was in recent decades subdued.
Since David Fitzgerald took over and with the great Kilkenny team breaking up, Wexford have been razor-close to their old rivals. In three matches they have drawn one, lost one by a point and won one by three.
The recent draw in Innovate Wexford Park was still considered a bit of a surprise, but having outperformed expectations Wexford’s odds have drifted for this weekend’s big match. This is partly based on them no longer having home advantage, and although their support is likely to be significant in Croke Park, the venue won’t be as claustrophobic.
There is also the view Matthew O’Hanlon will not be able to contain TJ Reid as effectively this time around, and that with his club mates Colin Fennelly and Adrian Mullen back on the ground where they performed so well in the All-Ireland club final, Wexford won’t find it as easy to stifle their opponents.
Furthermore, Kilkenny’s injuries are clearing up even if Walter Walsh got another knock two weeks ago.
Yet this may be based on the best of all possible outcomes for the favourites. Wexford, after all, are one of only two unbeaten teams in the Championship and that is based on a resilience and tempo that has improved this season, personified in the form and work rate of Diarmuid O’Keeffe.
In last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final they gave Clare a few anxious moments when pushing Lee Chin up to partner Conor McDonald for a couple of aerial assaults, but it is a reconfiguration Fitzgerald doesn’t appear to favour.
Wexford are in with a real chance here but may not ultimately make it for two reasons: one, they don’t get scores as easily – look at how smartly Kilkenny responded to second-half scores the last day and the sharpness of Mullen’s goal – and, two, Cody’s team have more room to improve even if they don’t make all possible advances.
Last meeting: June15th, 2019, Leinster round five at Innovate Wexford Park; Wexford 0-21, Kilkenny 1-18
Just the ticket: Stand: adult – pre-pay €35.00, match day €40.00; Hill 16 - pre-pay €25, match day €30; juveniles (U16), €5.00. Students and senior citizens claim €10 rebate for Cusack and Davin. No concessions Hogan Stand and Hill 16.
Odds: Wexford 2/1, Kilkenny 8/15 and 8/1 the draw.
Verdict: Kilkenny to win