A LOSS of focus saw Kilkenny come away empty-handed from Wexford just when they looked like upsetting the unbeaten under-17 Leinster League leaders.
Despite putting in their best performance of the year, playing in a ferociously contested match, Kilkenny will be left kicking themselves for the way they handed the game to the opposition when in a position to win with five minutes left on the clock.
While both teams were slow to start Kilkenny, playing into the wind, were organised and disciplined. The visitors coped with the initial Wexford dominance without ever looking like conceding a try. In that time they conceded just one kickable penalty, a 17th minute scoring chance Wexford spurned when they sent their kick wide of the posts.
Gradually Kilkenny got on the front foot. With 12 minutes left in the half they capped an excellent period of play when a quick release and good handling by the backs saw Rikki Drennan cut inside his man and score near the posts for a try which was converted by Sean Moran. Kilkenny went to the break with a deserved 7-0 lead.
Wexford came out with a renewed effort in the second half. When a Kilkenny miskick failed to put them on the defensive at the start of the half the game changed complexion completely as Wexford adopted route one tactics against the wind, taking the ball physically at the Kilkenny defence. Excellent tackling and defensive organisation held them at bay when nearing the Kilkenny line, but too often they gainlined easily in the middle section of the field.
The exchanges grew in intensity and ferocity, with players on both sides putting their bodies on the line, but Kilkenny gradually became frustrated by the Wexford, who won a turnover a near their own goal line 16 minutes into the half. The ball emerged on the Wexford side of the ruck with Kilkenny set to kick to touch and Wexford scored an easy try.
Though still ahead on the scoreboard Kilkenny’s discipline started to slide. With that loss of focus their tactical awareness diminished, allowing Wexford to run the ball easily from defence from the kick-off.
As they defended wave after wave of Wexford attacks Kilkenny were blown 11 times by the referee for technical offences, all of which could have been avoided, before scrum-half McWey was sin-binned for hands in a ruck under his posts.
Having weathered the storm while short a player, Kilkenny gained a penalty under their posts. Instead of relieving pressure with a kick to touch, the penalty was taken quickly. The ball was turned over in the tackle in the 22 and led to a second Wexford try which left them 10-7 ahead with nine minutes remaining.
To their credit, Kilkenny refocused and set about retrieving the game. After Sean Moran kicked a booming penalty into the Wexford half a great lineout drive of 25 metres led to a break by McWey, who was hauled down five metres short. With several options open, a scoring pass to Drennan was put to ground instead of to hand and the chance of an upset was gone.
In the last two minutes, while chasing the game, Kilkenny dropped a ball and ended up conceding a five yard scrum. For the only time in the game the Kilkenny back row defence were caught flat-footed, allowing Wexford to score an easy try and complete the scoring.
While Kilkenny defended ferociously and were extremely organised in defence and attack for the majority of the game, a lot of work remains to be done before playing the unbeaten Northern section winners and All-Ireland favourites Navan in the quarter finals. The break for South-East games, where gaining a home semi-final is the next goal for the panel, and for friendlies means that Kilkenny have a chance to look at several replacements within the panel for the more physical and more pressured matches ahead.
Training continues tomorrow (Thursday) at 7pm. New players are welcome. Contact 086-8242735.
Kilkenny: Will Bergin, Paddy Mullen, Cormac Connolly, Seam Moran, Peter Hutchinson, Matthew McWey, Cian Smith, Nick Feehan, James Rafter, Conor Quinlan, Ciaran Martin, Craig Murphy, Gary Dunne, Tommy Cuddihy. Subs: Danny Nolan, Ciaran Sutton, David Sutton, Colin Corcoran, Luke Rafter, Shaun Fitzgerald.