Third win leaves Cats nicely placed for shot at League final




Scorers: Kilkenny – Richie Hogan (0-6, five frees); Colin Fennelly (1-3); T.J. Reid (1-3, two points frees); James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Eddie Brennan (0-2 each). Wexford – Jim Berry (0-9, six frees); Sean Banville (0-3); P.J. Nolan (0-2); Michael Jacob, David Redmond, Eoin Quigley (0-1 each).

IT HASN’T been what one could describe as a spellbinding journey to date, but the drive has been forward, forward, forward and Kilkenny remain on track for a place in the National Hurling League final.

At the end of the day the team can do no more than win matches and Sunday’s success over Wexford at Nowlan Park, which was far from an epic contest, maintained Kilkenny’s unbeaten run after three series of matches.

“There were some good patches to the game and some not so good, but we won, which was the important thing,” was the way Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody summarised things. “We had opportunities for more scores. Nothing flows easy at this stage of the season.”

When asked why Kilkenny were fading in the second half of games, which happened on this occasion and also against Cork, the manager said he couldn’t give an exact reason for that.

“If we had taken all the chances we created we would have won with more to spare,” he added. “We are using the League to build a team for the championship. We played three matches and won them, so we will try and continue to drive forward.”

Wexford are still searching for their first Division I League point after winning promotion, and boss Colm Bonnar admitted tough days were ahead with Dublin, Cork and Tipperary, in that order, to be faced.

Dublin game crucial

“The pressure is mounting a bit, but the players are very committed and their goal is to remain in Division I,” he said afterwards. “We started badly against Galway, but we have been improving since and we played well against Kilkenny. Our next match against Dublin is crucial.”

There were times during the opening half of this contest when breeze – it was light – assisted Wexford looked very delicate. Kilkenny were doing most of the pressing, and their defence never came under what could be classed as even modest pressure.

The winners led by 2-9 to 0-6 at the rest, and while Wexford out-shot them in terms of wides – 5 versus 4 – the Cats could easily have been two goals better off.

They should have had a goal in the 14th minute when Richie Hogan was clean through at the city end, but he blasted wide from no more than 10 metres almost in front of the posts. That was an excellent chance.

Then in the 22nd minute Eddie Brennan pulled first time on a dropping ball near the right edge of the square following a cross from the left by the very impressive Colin Fennelly. Wexford ’keeper Noel Carton brought off a magnificent stop.

In the second half the visitors did better and actually out-scored the opposition by 0-11 to 0-7. It had been much the same for Kilkenny against Cork, when the second half returns were 1-8 (Cork) against 0-4.

While the game and fare came under the general heading of “tame”, there were some encouraging things from a Kilkenny point of view.

Eoin Larkin made an auspicious return after being out for weeks. He was very involved in terms of being a good link-man with colleagues and also as a creator of space and scores. James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick played a very clever game in the unusual – for him – position of corner-forward, again mainly as a score maker.

Finding feet

Richie Hogan continued the encouraging form he showed against Cork. He is edging closer and closer to nailing down a first team place. The upcoming championship can be big for him.

The brightest performers were Michael Fennelly, who has charged into the season with mighty force in his game, Colin Fennelly, who is shaping up very nicely, and Jackie Tyrrell, who retreated to his more familiar role at corner-back and played excellently. John Dalton, Paul Murphy, T.J. Reid and P.J. Ryan, because of one deadly stop from Jim Berry in the 45th minute, were others who hit a high line in terms of performance.

The losers had a narrow escape after only 80 seconds when corner-back, Paul Roche took a goal bound shot from Eddie Brennan off the line. For me there was a brittle look to the visitors defence during most of this half, but central defenders Matthew O’Hanlon and Darren Stamp did great work to keep things together.

Still, there was a breach in the ninth minute. T.J. Reid bagged a goal. Richie Hogan started the move from the left on the ‘50’. He found Eoin Larkin in the centre with a deadly pass that would have made William Tell proud. As the James Stephens man drove forward a huge gap opened up.

As Larkin passed the 14-metre line he had the choice of Eddie Brennan (right) or Reid (left) to finish off the move. This was Wexford at the time......vulnerable and unsure.

Hogan tossed over his third score and Kilkenny’s fourth before David Redmond opened Wexford’s account in the 12th minute (1-3 to 0-1). The losers boosted their returns with points from Jim Berry (2 frees) but the pressure was mounting on them.

Strong pressure

After an exchange between the teams Kilkenny struck through Colin Fennelly and Hogan to jumped 1-6 to 0-4 clear. By the half hour mark the difference rose to 1-8 to 0-5.

Then Kilkenny scored their second goal. Strong pressure led to goalie Noel Carton pulling on a ball in around the square. The sliotar hit the in-rushing Colin Fennelly and rebounded over the ’keeper’s head and into the net.

The score helped Kilkenny into a strong interval lead of 2-9 to 0-6.

To be fair to Wexford, it should be mentioned that they went for a goal from a 20-metre free just before the ‘whistle’, but P.J. Ryan saved well and the ball was cleared.

Twice scores were swopped early in the second half. After that Wexford enjoyed the better of things and got on top on occasions, but they never looked like getting into a position where they might win.

The best the losers did was to slice the arrears to five points (0-16 to 2-15), which they did in the 65th minute. Kilkenny picked up things again with a point from Eddie Brennan and it was plain sailing home after that.

Others who did well for the visitors were Stephen Banville, Lar Prendergast and Harry Kehoe.

Kilkenny – P.J. Ryan, P.J. Delaney, Noel Hickey, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, John Dalton, Paul Murphy, Michael Rice, Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, T.J. Reid, Eoin Larkin, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Eddie Brennan, Richie Hogan. Subs – Pat Hartley for Rice (inj) 26th min; Eoin Guinan for R. Hogan 54th min.

Wexford – N. Carton, P. Roche, M. O’Hanlon, C. Kenny, L. Prendergast, D. Stamp, C. Farrell, M. Jacob, D. Redmond, T. Waters, H. Kehoe, S. Banville, E. Martin, G. Sinnott, J. Berry. Subs – E. Quigley for C. Farrell ht; P.J. Nolan for T. Waters 45th min; B. Doyle for E. Martin 54th min; P.J. Nolan for Redmond 67th min.

Referee – T. Carroll (Offaly).

Attendance - 3,038.