DRIVE ON and finish off the job! That was the challenge from management to the Kilkenny team after scoring a most impressive win (3-20 to 4-6) over experienced Wexford in the Leinster under-21 hurling championship at Nowlan Park.
“We play Laois in the Leinster final in Portlaois on July 11, and the challenge for the players is to rise again for another victory,” suggested Kilkenny manager, Richard Mulrooney.
“It won’t be easy. Laois showed in the win over a Dublin team that had seven lads who started last year’s under-21 All-Ireland final that they can be formidable opposition, and especially in Portlaois. They will take beating. The best way for our players to build on this fine effort against Wexford would be to add another win to it.”
The victory was impressive. The Cats were slow to get into their stride. After 10 minutes they were 0-1 to 1-4 behind, but boosted by an 11th minute goal from man of the match, Walter Walsh they rebounded smartly and totally out-classed the opposition.
Indeed, were it not for two goals from frees by Jack Guiney in the 52nd and 56th minutes the Slaneysiders would have finished way, way behind.
“We were happy enough,” suggested Mr Mulrooney. “We played well and the more time the squad spends together the better it will become.”
Four players, including two of the stars in attack, John Power and Kevin Kelly, were tied up with the Leaving Certificate before this game and their training was restricted.
“There was a certain amount of pressure on the team playing at home, and especially so for the lads who had lost last year against Wexford. But when the challenge was put up to them the response was tremendous. The positives out of the game were many.
“Throughout there were some bouts of really fine hurling from our players. From a slow start, I think at one period we out-scored Wexford by 3-11 to 0-1. That was good going.
“That was a very good Wexford team. Utter determination won the game for us. We had said it was all about trust. The players had to trust us as a management team. We trusted them totally once they went out on the pitch.
“The players didn’t let us down. All the credit for this fine win goes to the players.”
The dark clouds weren’t just over head at Nowlan Park on Wednesday of last week. When Wexford opened with unanswered points from Micheal O’Regan (2), Barry Carton and Gary Moore within seven minutes of the start, they suggested they really meant business. Although Kevin Kelly interrupted the flow when shooting a point for the home side, that minor effort was buried by a goal from Carton, who batted the ball into the net from the edge of the square after a bullet like shot from Gary Moore had been blocked out (1-4 to 0-1).
Within a minute Walter Walsh lifted Kilkenny spirits when he burst through the visitors defence and lashed the ball into the net from eight metres. The tap was turned on. Quick points flowed from Kelly (3) so that it was all level at 1-4 each by the 18th minute.
On Kilkenny charged. Their next score was a smashing individual goal by John Power, who worked his way along the end line on the left at the city end before squeezing the ball into the net between the advancing ’keeper and the near post.
The score helped Kilkenny into a commanding interval lead of 2-9 to 1-5.
Within 14 seconds of the restart the ball was in the Wexford net again. This time Kevin Kelly supplied Walsh with good possession, and from 10 metres on the right he sent the green flying.
The Kilkenny charge continued. During the next two minutes Padraig Walsh landed a massive point from distance on the right sideline and Walter Walsh shot a point (3-11 to 1-5).
Things went from bad to worse, or into a no win situation for Wexford, in the 35th minute when defender Willie Deveraux was shown a second yellow card and was sent off.
The visitors lost ground slowly after that. A 51st minute point from Kevin Kelly left them trailing by 2-5 to 3-18. Guiney’s two face saving goals followed. A rescue act was never on the cards.
Kilkenny had a fistful of top notch performers, including Walsh, Kevin Kelly, John Power, powerful centre-back Richie Doyle, Ger Aylward, Brian Kennedy and midfielders, Geoff Brennan and Ollie Walsh. Sub Martin Gaffney, who contributed three points, made the type of strong contribution that will give the selectors food for thought before the final.
Kilkenny – Dylan Walsh, Jason Corcoran, Willie Phelan, Joe Lyng, Luke Harney, Richie Doyle, Brian Kennedy, Geoff Brennan, Ollie Walsh, Cathal Kenny, Padraig Walsh, John Power, Ger Aylward, Walter Walsh, Kevin Kelly. Subs – Martin Gaffney for Kenny 43rd min; Paul Buggy for Kelly 51st min; Pat O’Carroll for R. Doyle 53rd min; Owen McGrath for Power 56th min.
Wexford – Mark Fanning, Willie Deveraux, Matthew O’Hanlon, Alan Nolan, Conor Goff, John Lacey, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Aidan Nolan, Mark Maloney, Lee Chin, Micheal O’Regan, Gary Moore, Liam Og McGovern, Jack Guiney, Barry Carton. Subs – Shane O’Gorman for M. Maloney 29th min; Kevin Nimmo for Alan Nolan 38th min; Ian Byrne for Carton; Barry O’Gorman for Aidan Nolan 47th min; Aidan Cash for McGovern 54th min.
Referee – David Hughes (Carlow).
Attendance – 2,731.