Wexford rise just above flat Kilkenny in typical January clash
Davy Fitzgerald’s side set up a Walsh Cup final with Galway after a narrow win
Kilkenny’s Conor Delaney wins the sliotar off Ian Byrne of Wexford. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Wexford 0-16 Kilkenny 0-13
Flat, pavement flat, smooth limestone pavement flat. In the end Wexford afforded us a minor peak to secure the win, while the rest made little shift on the spirit level. January hurling as these days it unusually is.
Maybe it’s because the league begins in just a fortnight, and even Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald admitted next Sunday’s Walsh Cup final wasn’t exactly ideal, even as title holders – and with home advantage against Galway, who secured a narrow win over Dublin in the other semi-final.
Last year’s final was actually a toasty affair between these this teams, only neither felt like raising much heat here, even as both played out most of the second half with 14 men: Wexford’s Jack O’Connor and Kilkenny’s Liam Blanchfield both saw red on 39 minutes for their sideline entanglement, the rest only gently sprinkled with the sort of closeness expected.
Between injury and the absence of three club teams, chiefly Ballyhale Shamrocks, Kilkenny were effectively a shadow team, yet not even former hurler of the year Richie Hogan could raise much tempo when introduced, missing his first free, contributing just the one score.
It finished with neither team having one single proper shot at goal, which may be a record in itself, if partly explained by Wexford’s use of Kevin Foley as their sweeper, ensuring Kilkenny didn’t once get a sniff. No wonder Fitzgerald was the more satisfied afterwards.
“Sure Kilkenny were missing a whole team, so we can’t really read anything into that,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re missing a few ourselves, but it was a good win, I’m happy, for January, I thought it was a good competitive battle, happy to get a winning start. But I don’t know if we want that final though. We’re missing nine of 10 today, need to get them back.”
Wexford used five different free-takers, Paudie Foley’s long-range efforts one main difference (he finished with 0-7, one from play), while Ian Byrne (back on board after a three-year hiatus), Harry Kehoe, who hit 0-3, Conor McDonald and then Séamus Casey all stepped up to the mark, Casey closing out with one of the deciding scores.
Fitzgerald it seems also intends on rotating sweepers too: “It’s nice to have a few. All I’ll say is it will be an interesting year... actually, I mightn’t say too much. But it will be interesting, as the year goes on, that’s all I will say. With the free-takers too, yep, we have a battle internally, who is going to hit what, and it’s no harm. So rather than being stuck for one we have a few.”
He was unsure too if the league would be more or less vital this year, given the new stakes in Leinster: “But the financial implications are massive, because the further you go on, in the league, it could make €70,000, €80,000 of a difference, and in fairness with the strain on county boards, you have to try your best to get as far down the league as you can. The thing is, we only used 18 or 19 players in the league last year, I’d be certain of using 25, 25 this year, spread it a bit more for certain.”
Kilkenny played like a team with weeks of heaving training, Kevin Kelly’s free-taking, fleeting moments of class from Ger Malone, Martin Keoghan and Paddy Deegan the scoring highlights. Kilkenny’s minimal advantage at half-time, 0-8 to 0-7, was promptly cancelled out, and midway thought the second half Wexford eased two points clear, then the three.
Now into season number 21 as Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody was typically unruffled about the result, although again questioned the “crazy” onslaught of fixtures, the league starting in a fortnight: “It’s crazy stuff with a load of fixtures coming up and it’s still only early in January. We play Cork in two weeks and training will need to go up another level for that game.
“I mean the whole fixtures thing is a bit mad at the moment. Fellas played today, the winners play in the Walsh Cup next Sunday. The Fitzgibbon starts next Sunday, Fitzgibbon is on the following Wednesday and the league starts the following Sunday, Fitzgibbon is on the following Sunday, the league is on again the following Sunday. I don’t know; I don’t understand it. It’s just going to be very difficult on players and third level college students trying to marry both. It’s going to be really difficult. I’m not going to start pontificating on what should or should not happen to be honest. We have two weeks until the start of the league and that’s fierce competitive so we’ll just prepare for that.”
WEXFORD: E Martin; S Reck, L Ryan, C Firman; S Donohoe, P Foley (0-7, six frees), S Murphy; A Nolan (0-1), D O’Keeffe (0-1); H Kehoe (0-3, all frees), K Foley, I Byrne (0-1); D Dunne, C Dunbar, C McDonald (0-1, a free).
Subs: L Og McGovern for Byrne, J O’Connor (0-1, a free) for Kehoe (both half time), Seamus Casey (0-1, a free) for Dunne (50 mins), D Byrne for S Murphy (62 mins, inj).
KILKENNY: Darren Brennan; R Lennon, H Lawlor, T Walsh; C Delaney (0-1), P Deegan (0-1), E Morrissey; J Cleere, C Fogarty (0-1); G Malone (0-1), M Keoghan (0-2), L Blanchfield; K Kelly (0-5, four frees), J Donnelly, L Scanlon (0-1).
Subs: P Murphy for Cleere (half-time), R Hogan (0-1, a free) for Kelly (45 mins), N Brassil for Scanlon (60 mins).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).