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Kilkenny hold nerve and stumble over the line

Kilkenny V Wexford

Kilkenny 0-22 Wexford 1-16
By Jim O’Sullivan, Croke Park
IF you were to ask yourself where this cracking Guinness Leinster SHC final in Croke Park yesterday was won and lost, you would have to highlight the last ten minutes.

During the most tense period of the game, Wexford had the misfortune to waste scoring opportunities which could have earned a draw or even seen them retain their title.

For raging favourites Kilkenny, it was a struggle to the winning post and they were as relieved to hear the final whistle as they had been shell-shocked after losing sensationally in last year’s semi-final.

Kilkenny succeeded because they didn’t lose their nerve through the course of the opening 20 minutes when they looked in big trouble. And, because, ultimately, the class of Tommy Walsh (after moving to midfield), the significant input of newcomers Richie Power and Eoin Larkin and the contribution of substitutes Eddie Brennan and Eoin McCormack helped compensate for a below standard team performance.

Wexford gave notice of their intent in the ferocious manner their backs combined to beat off Kilkenny’s first raid. Clearly stung by criticism, they settled quickly, picked off some terrific scores and the confidence they gained helped inspire some wonderful individual displays from the like of Diarmuid Lyng at left half-back, Rory McCarthy at midfield and Des Mythen at left half-forward.

And, the fact that seasoned performers like Darragh Ryan, Doc O’Connor, Declan Ruth and Mitch Jordan were all to play to the best of their ability meant that Wexford were able to control the game.

In contrast, Kilkenny looked disjointed and were under pressure in all key areas.

Des Mythen scored the only goal in the 13th minute, with Jordan making the opening after James Ryall’s attempted clearance had been blocked. It put Wexford 1-5 to 0-1 in front and deservedly so. However, in another ten minutes, the game had begun to turn in Kilkenny’s direction - best illustrated by the fact that after Eoin Quigley (in his best display yet) hit over a magical point from midfield in the 21st minute, Wexford were to add only one more point to their total. And that came just before the break, from a huge clearance from Ruth.

What signalled the change was a tightening up in the Kilkenny defence, with Noel Hickey more assertive at full-back, Peter Barry starting to get on top against Quigley and both wing-backs more prominent. And, Derek Lyng (who hadn’t achieved much as a highly motivated Adrian Fenlon) had more of a say at midfield - where Rory McCarthy continued to be the main ‘player.’

However, the biggest boost to Kilkenny hopes came through the improved form of Eoin Larkin at midfield, which was to be followed by stronger play from Tommy Walsh (especially after he switched wings) and Richie Power in the right corner. Shefflin, too, was more involved, but he was to be mainly influential with impeccable free-taking.

Larkin pointed twice (in between Darragh Ryan getting in a crucial tackle to deny him a goal opportunity), Conor Phelan (from a Peter Barry break) added another and nearing the break Power and Walsh scored to level scores for the first time.

Kilkenny were almost flattered to be on level terms going in half-time (1-8 to 0-11). That was after Ruth had scored from long range and Shefflin pointed a close-in free in the 38th minute.

Critically, however, referee Seamus Roche (in his only major error) denied Wexford a lead point when Paul Carley was clearly fouled before being allowed to carry on and hit wide.

During the interval, Wexford had to replace Fenlon due to an ankle injury and, while his experience was missed, Quigley blossomed after taking over his position, with footballer Redmond Barry coming in at centre-forward and doing well in stages.

The game was to remain very competitive all the way to the finish, but after a Shefflin free levelled scores for the last time in the 51st minute, the initiative moved to Kilkenny. The net improvement helped them into a three points lead in another eight minutes and they never lost it.

Twice they promised goals, when an Eoin McCormack shot hit O’Connor in the shoulder and when Ruth made a vital interception as Power tried to put Brennan through. And, typically, Damien Fitzhenry brought off a fine save from Comerford (after a Peter Barry/Brennan move). Wexford’s attack suffered from a lack of good quality ball - at a time when O’Connor and Ryan were excelling at the back - and it seriously limited them.

Rory Jacob was unlucky to lose possession after a threatening run down the left, Ruth (free) and substitute Mossie Mahon (sideline) hit balls wide. Conversely, Tommy Walsh frustrated them with some outstanding clearances from around the half-back line.

At the death, Wexford might have snatched a goal from two frees which Rory Jacob dropped into around the goalmouth. But, fortunately for Brian Cody’s team, there was no late bolt of lightning to frustrate them this time.

Scorers: Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 0-8 (0-7 frees, 0-1 ‘65); T. Walsh 0-4; E. Larkin and R. Power 0-3 each; C. Phelan, E. McCormack, E. Brennan and P. Mullally 0-1 each. Wexford: R. Jacob 0-5 frees; D. Mythen 1-1; R. McCarthy, M. Jordan and E. Quigley 0-2 each; P. Carley, M. Jacob, D. Ruth and R. Barry 0-1 each.

KILKENNY: J. McGarry; J. Tyrrell, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; P. Mullally, P. Barry (capt.), J.J. Delaney; D. Lyng, B. Barry; M. Comerford, E. Larkin, T. Walsh, C. Phelan, H. Shefflin. Subs: E. McCormack for Phelan (40th minute); E. Brennan for B. Barry (45th); M. Kavanagh for Ryall (47th); M. Phelan for Comerford (60th); J. Hoyne for Larkin (69th).

WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; D. O’Connor, D. Ryan, K. Rossiter; M. Travers, D. Ruth, D. Lyng; A. Fenlon, R. McCarthy; P. Carley, E. Quigley, D. Mythen; M. Jordan, M. Jacob (capt.), R. Jacob. Subs: R. Barry for Fenlon (injured, second half); T. Mahon for Carley (60th); K. Kavanagh for M. Jacob (71st).

Referee: S. Roche (Tipperary). *Seamus Roche’s refereeing was very good for the greater part of the game. He was unfortunate that his call on the Carley incident was a bad one.