A SUCKER PUNCH strike saw the Wexford League deny the Kilkenny & District League a share of the Oscar Traynor spoils.
Leighton Gleeson’s thundering 70th minute stunner flattened the resolve of Ollie Walsh’s side, especially after they had battled their way back into the game with an impressive second half performance at Derdimus on Sunday.
Having come from two goals down to draw level, Kilkenny smelled blood and went for the jugular. Keeping a high line they tried to press for the winner, but were caught out when Jason Murphy won possession outside his own box and broke upfield. He worked play on to Eugene O’Brien, who found room to pull the ball back for the advancing Gleeson to meet first time and send an unstoppable shot rocketing high into the right side of Graham Doyle’s net.
That goal mirrored the start made by Wexford, who took a firm grip on the game with two goals in 12 first half minutes. After going close with a 17th minute Michael Grangel shot which Graham Doyle tipped round his post, the visitors took the lead when Gleeson raced to the near post and glanced the resulting Warren Broaders corner to the net.
The scorer turned provider for the second Wexford goal on 29 minutes. Carving Kilkenny open with a perfect crossfield pass, Gleeson’s delivery was picked up by Keith Kearney, who prodded a low ball through for Eugene O’Brien to poke past Doyle.
However, it could have been so different. Kilkenny made the early pressure and went close with two excellent chances inside the opening ten minutes.
They almost took the lead after just four minutes. Started by a booming Graham Doyle kick-out, Aiden Keenan’s clever flick-on unlocked the Wexford defence and sent Joe Mulcahy on his way. Beating the last defender, Mulcahy tried to loft the ball over Lee Walker, but the Wexford ’keeper made a great save to push the ball away.
The Cats then went within a whisker of bagging the opener on ten minutes. With Wexford in a panic, the visitors only half-cleared a Michael Falsey header. The ball fell to Aiden Keenan, who chested it down and let fly from the edge of the box. His shot looped over Walker but clipped the underside of the bar, hit the line and bounced out.
It was all change after that, as Wexford took control of the midfield battle and slowly squeezed Kilkenny out of the game with those two goals. They could, and should, have had stretched their lead just seconds before half-time when Falsey was dispossessed outside his own box by Jason Murphy. He steamed through on goal, with only Doyle to beat, but opted for power and blasted his shot high and wide of the target.
Kilkenny rang the changes at half-time, bringing young defender Robert Skehan and Damien Raggett into the fray. With Aiden Keenan moving into midfield the addition of Raggett to the strike-force proved vital in Kilkenny seizing momentum once more.
Incredibly, their breakthrough came from a Wexford attack. Aiden Keenan did well to pick off a loose ball in the corner of his own box and then instantly turn on his team on the offensive. Driving a long ball out of the box the delivery was perfect for Damien Raggett, who latched on to possession. Holding play up well until support came through the centre, Raggett floated in a dangerous cross for the inrushing Michael Comerford to glance home.
Kilkenny were in top gear now, and almost had an equaliser to cheer on the hour. Skipping tackles on the left James Kelly threaded a peach of a ball down the wing for Joe Mulcahy to pick off. He rounded netminder Walker and shot from a tight angle, but the striker’s hopes of a goal were dashed when defender Lee Chin scooped the ball off the line.
Kilkenny kept up their by now relentless pressure and got their reward just five minutes later. Once more Mulcahy was involved, teaming up with Comerford on the right before finding the endline and pulling the ball back across the six-yard box.
Raggett was quickest to react, dashing in to sidefoot the ball at goal. Defender Lee Chin blocked the effort but was deemed to have been behind the line - the goal stood.
Wexford looked rattled while Kilkenny were in top form, but Gleeson’s second goal took the wind out of the home side’s sails. They almost carved out another equaliser thanks to some good link-up play between Mulcahy and Raggett, but Declan McQuillan lashed his finish high over the bar when a goal seemed a certainty.
Kilkenny & District League: Graham Doyle, Tommy Earls, James Kelly, Michael Falsey, Lee Delaney (Robert Skehan, 46 mins), Declan McQuillan (Jamie Owens, 77 mins), Chris Whearty (Damien Raggett, 46 mins), Michael Comerford, Joe Mulcahy, Aiden Keenan, Ger Hayes.
Wexford League: Lee Walker, Warren Broaders, Keith Kearney, Anthony Russell, Lee Chin, Tomas Mahon, Leighton Gleeson, Eugene O’Brien (Dylan Mernagh, 90 mins), Michael Grangel (Craig McGuire, 38 mins), Jason Murphy, Ricky Fox (Anthony O’Connor, 82 mins).
Referee: Nicky Marnell. Linesmen: Eoin Walsh, Patrick O’Connor.