Kilkenny laid down a significant marker before the championship when they overturned defending All-Ireland senior champions Wexford by 4-5 to 1-10 to win the Leinster final in New Ross.
This was Kilkenny’s first Leinster senior win since 2009, and was their first in nine attempts against the Slaneysiders. That 2009 victory was the last time Kilkenny overcame Wexford, and this victory suggested they are contenders for the O’Duffy Cup.
This was a magnificent display. Emma Kavanagh was solid in goal with her handling ability safe and assured. Kavanagh pulled off a brilliant point blank save to deny Brid Gordon early in the second-half when Wexford were fighting back.
Defensively Kilkenny were extremely solid, conceding a mere 1-2 from play. Mairead Power was superb at corner-back, doing her best work during the closing 15 minutes.
Leanne Fennelly at wing-back was magnificent. She displayed real drive and determination to totally dominate Fiona Kavanagh. Kate McDonald performed solidly at full-back, dealing with the threat of Katriona Parrock and subsequently Ursula Jacob, while the tenacious and strong working Jacqui Frisby, Edwina Keane at centre-back and the experienced Elaine Aylward all defended really well.
Elsewhere, the industrious Claire Phelan and Anne Dalton gained supremacy in a new look midfield. The attack caused Wexford all sorts of problems.
Aoife Neary was the star, scoring 2-1. She was also involved in the scoring of the other two goals. Aisling Dunphy was superb at centre-forward. Denise Gaule made a positive contribution, scoring 1-1.
It was Neary who set the ball rolling after just 40 seconds with a well taken goal after she was set up by Aisling Dunphy. Neary’s rocket blast strike gave Mags Darcy no chance. Dunphy and Katie Power added points to complete Kilkenny’s great start. They led by 1-2 to 0-0 after six minutes.
The losers reduced the arrears by the quarter-hour mark when Ursula Jacob and Kate Kelly pointed frees, while Katriona Parrock also pointed (1-2 to 0-3). Aoife Neary pointed from play before she added a second goal in the 22nd minute. Elaine Aylward and Anne Dalton then surged forward and Dalton’s cross-field delivery found Denise Gaule.
Gaule shot goalwards. Aoife Neary was on hand to flick the rebounding sliothar to the net (2-3 to 0-4). Jacob pointed twice, including a free, during the closing minutes of the half to narrow the gap before the winners snatched a third goal.
Aoife Neary found space. The twice All-star was fouled as she charged forward. Penalty! Anne Dalton shot was well blocked but Denise Gaule followed up to slot home the rebound.
Half-time score: Kilkenny 3-3, Wexford 0-6.
Gaule pointed within two minutes of the restart, but Wexford slowly reeled in the opposition. Ursula Jacob pointed three times from frees. Kilkenny gained heart from a Jacob miss, and Aisling Dunphy set-up Katie Power to score a well taken point, 3-5 to 0-9.
The Slaneysiders kept plugging away. A Brid Gordon goal in the 47th minute left just points separating the sides (3-5 to 1-9). The game was in the balance, but Kilkenny displayed true character.
Aoife Neary tore through the defence. Her attempted hand-pass was blocked, but Aisling Dunphy made the best of things and slotted home with ease.
A significant feature was the difference in strength in depth on the benches. Kilkenny introduced Michelle Quilty, Kelly Hamilton and Grace Walsh, while Wexford’s bench this year appears weaker because a number of last year’s All-Ireland panel have been unavailable for 2013
Make no mistakes, Kilkenny are contenders for the All-Ireland!
Player of the match: Aoife Neary (Kilkenny).
Scorers: Kilkenny - Aoife Neary (2-1); Aisling Dunphy, Denise Gaule (1-1); Katie Power (0-2). Wexford – Ursula Jacob (0-8, seven frees); Brid Gordon (1-0); Katriona Parrock, Kate Kelly (free) (0-1 each).
Kilkenny – Emma Kavanagh (Rower-Inistioge), Mairead Power (Carrickshock), Kate McDonald (Thomastown), Jacqui Frisby (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Leanne Fennelly (Mullinavat), Edwina Keane (St Martin’s), Elaine Aylward (Mullinavat), Claire Phelan (Lisdowney), Anne Dalton (St Lachtain’s), Collette Dormer (Paulstown), Aisling Dunphy (St Brigid’s), Katie Power (Piltown), Shelley Farrell (Thomastown), Denise Gaule (Windgap), Aoife Neary (James Stephens). Subs - Kelly Hamilton (Rower-Inistioge) for Dormer; Michelle Quilty, capt (Mullinavat) for Farrell; Grace Walsh (Tullaroan) for Aylward.
Wexford – Mags Darcy, Louise O’Leary, Karen Atkinson, Francis Doran, Noeleen Lambert, Mary Leacy(captain), Brigid Curran, Josie Dwyer, Shelley Kehoe, Kate Kelly, Ursula Jacob, Fiona Kavanagh, Louise Hammel, Katriona Parrock, Brid Gordon. Sub - Eimear O’Connor.
Referee - John Thompson (Carlow).