SCORERS: Kilkenny - Kevin Kelly (1-10, 0-9 frees, 0-1 65); Conor Martin (1-1); Kevin Walsh, Chris Bolger, Richie Reid (0-2 each); Robert Moran, Peter Vickery (0-1 each). Wexford - Aidan Nolan (1-3); Rhys Clarke (0-6, 0-5 frees); Gary Moore (0-4, 0-1 free, 0-1 line ball); Jack Guiney (1-0, free).
A POWERFUL second half performance propelled the Kilkenny minor hurlers into the Leinster final.
The Cats, led by an impressive Kevin Kelly, overturned a five-point half-time deficit to win by six in Wexford Park and set up a double header against Dublin in Croke Park this Sunday.
The two-pronged advantage of the extra man and the strong wind at their backs was a huge boost as a clever Kilkenny turned the screw on hosts Wexford after the restart. Although they slipped six points behind thanks to a fine point from Wexford’s top man Aidan Nolan (2-11 to 1-8), they quickly established a rhythm that slowly extinguished Wexford’s victory hopes.
Chris Bolger got them started, snatching a point following Kevin Walsh’s hand-pass before the half-back broke forward to land one himself. The deficit was whittled to the bare minimum when Robert Moran’s 37th minute shot flashed across the face of goal and fell at the feet of Kevin Kelly, who gleefully tucked the loose sliotar in at the unguarded back post.
No way back
From then on there was no way back for Wexford. In a devastating 12-minute spell Kilkenny rattled off seven unanswered points, a run that saw them move from a point behind to six clear of their staggered rivals. While Kelly (three frees), Richie Reid (0-2), Conor Martin and Chris Bolger tacked on the scores the defensive work of Ciaran Doyle, now operating as a sweeper behind an impressive half-back line of Kevin Walsh, Eoin McGrath and Diarmuid Cody, ensured there was no way through for Wexford.
The Cats had made the perfect start to the game, grabbing a goal through a cool Conor Martin finish after just 30 seconds. Kevin Kelly then converted his first free, but Wexford were anything but out of the game. By the tenth minute they had surged three points clear (1-5 to 1-2), their revival centring on a Jack Guiney free which was drilled to the net after just four minutes.
Although fighting the breeze Kilkenny did well to get back into the game, as three more Kelly points left them trailing by the bare minimum after 16 minutes (1-6 to 1-5). They could so easily have been in front, as Thomas O’Hanrahan found himself with just the keeper to beat when a loose ball rolled his way, but somehow netminder Conor O’Leary got something on the point-blank 12th minute shot to turn it away for a 65.
Wexford had their fair share of goal chances too - Kilkenny’s Aaron Duggan had to deal with Gary Moore’s menacing 18th minute line ball, before making an excellent reaction save to keep out Rhys Clarke’s 65 which dropped into the busy goalmouth just seconds later.
Wexford upped the ante after that, moving three points clear by the 22nd minute, before doubling their lead with a wonder strike seven minutes from half-time. Trying to grab Conor McDonald’s hand-pass, it looked like Aidan Nolan had missed his chance when the sliotar sailed beyond his hand - not so. The half-forward strode on and pulled first time, delivering a bullet-like strike which rocketed past the full stretch Duggan.
Wexford were on fire now, but blotted their copybook when half-back Colm Heffernan was sent off for a second yellow card for a trip on Peter Keneally after 27 minutes. That foul allowed Kelly to cut the gap to four, but Wexford secured a five-point interval cushion when Rhys Clarke grabbed a free in the dying seconds (2-10 to 1-8).
The second half was anything but memorable for Wexford, who were swamped by Kilkenny’s attack. They raised a brief rally, Rhys Clarke and Gary Moore converting frees that ended a 23-minute barren spell, but points from Peter Vickery and Kevin Walsh saw a confident Kilkenny finish with a flourish.
Kilkenny - A. Duggan, J. McDowell, C. Doyle, E. Morrissey, K. Walsh, C. O’Shea, E. McGrath, D. Cody, C. Bolger, C. Martin, K. Kelly, P. Keneally, R. Moran, T. O’Hanrahan, R. Reid. Subs: P. Vickery for Moran, 37 mins; J. Maher for Bolger, 59 mins.
Wexford - C. O’Leary, S. Murphy, A. Kenny, G. Foley, C. Heffernan, S. O’Gorman, W. Furlong, J. Guiney, C. Devitt, G. Moore, A. Nolan, C. Hughes, R. Clarke, C. McDonald, P. Roche. Subs: K. Foley for Roche, 31 mins; P. Doyle for Clarke, D. Byrne for Furlong, both 55 mins.
Referee - J. Keenan (Laois).