Cats claw way to six-in-a-row

Kilkenny 2-23

Credit Wexford and their management with a brave attempt at victory, but the best they had to offer was a battling first-half display which was also noteworthy for the inability of the champions to capitalise on a series of goal chances.

Once Kilkenny stepped up a gear in the second-half, managing a better return from their forwards after a number of changes, they took almost total control powered by their strength at half-back.

For Wexford, the first of their two goals in the 52nd minute gave promise of a revival, but they never once managed to go in front, and long before the final whistle Kilkenny had turned the game into an exhibition.

Remarkably, a mere seven points (five of them for Kilkenny) had been scored by the 21st minute.

It was explained by the combination of stout defensive play from Wexford and the failure of Eddie Brennan to finish off two goal chances.

The first of them in the seventh minute was followed what proved to be Wexford's only real opportunity of the half to put the ball in the net.

That was when James McGarry frustrated the efforts of Donal Berry to hook the ball past him on the ground.

Wexford lined out with a much rearranged team from the published line-out featuring Dara Ryan at full-back and just six of the outfield players in their selected positions.

Defensively, they enjoyed considerable success in limiting Kilkenny, with David "Doc" O'Connor very effective in the left corner against DJ Carey and Liam Dunne (who had a splendid game and displayed exemplary sportsmanship), very consistent outside him.

Henry Shefflin, too, faced another tough challenge from Declan Ruth, except that he had more success in influencing play than in last year's final.

But while they were to have three further chances of goals before the break, Kilkenny's overall play in attack wasn't up to the usual high standard.

And, for that the highly motivated Wexford backs including Damien Fitzhenry in goal, whose handling of the ball was excellent could take a lot of satisfaction.

Likewise, experienced midfielder Adrian Fenlon was making an important contribution.

At the other end, it wasn't quite the same story with the Kilkenny backs, for the reason that here and there, they were penetrated easily.

For instance, Michael Kavanagh was occasionally troubled in the right corner by Rory Jacob and newcomer James Ryall was tested a few times on the other side.

But the fact that Kilkenny were predominant at half-back, particularly on the two flanks, severely limited the flow of ball in and had the added benefit of supporting their own attack.

Martin Comerford, rarely threatening, could have had a goal in the 27th minute after DJ Carey set him up, but Colm Kehoe's timely tackle spoiled him.

And a mistake by Ryan left Comerford through with an even better chance a few minutes later before he was tackled from behind.

Then, in the 32nd minute an angled shot from Carey from the left was heading for the far corner until Kehoe got his hurley to it to divert it outside the post.

Likewise, Kilkenny weren't making the most of scoring chances from further out (reflected in eight wides).

And, having seen Wexford wipe out a three-point deficit by the 28th minute, a similar lead they enjoyed by the 34th minute was eroded in injury-time.

It ended with Lambert hitting over a marvellous point to tie the scores at 0-8 each. Making two changes in their attack on the resumption (including the replacement of Rory McCarthy who had been doubtful because of a finger injury), Wexford had reasons for resuming their challenge in optimistic mood.

But within a minute, Eddie Brennan had the ball in the net, interestingly after getting a free run in from the left and giving Fitzhenry absolutely no chance of stopping his angled shot.

Achieving a steady improvement, Kilkenny had added on a further four points by the 50th minute, with just one in reply from Wexford.

Actually, the outlook became bleaker for Wexford as the game developed, until Lambert goaled from a low ball which took a deflection.

In between, a more highly motivated Kilkenny had tightened their grip on the game.

Peter Barry asserted himself much more, controlling the centre with several of those trademark catches under pressure, and both Seán Dowling and JJ Delaney continued to excel on the wings.

In addition, Derek Lyng really came into his own at midfield and some shrewd positional changes in attack, which brought Shefflin to the wing initially and then to full-forward, and Comerford out to the centre, enhanced their grip.

Shefflin seriously troubled Ryan and Comerford won a lot of good ball. Carey, too, was more influential.

Despite obvious problems in attack with team captain Paul Codd largely anonymous Wexford fought spiritedly, helped by the play of substitute centre-forward Michael Jacob.

They were twice only four points in arrears, following Lambert's goal and another from substitute Chris McGrath in the 60th minute, but, realistically it was only damage-limitation.

Their younger (and smaller) forwards showed promising form, but Kilkenny's increasing grip on the game meant that, realistically, there was never any real prospect of an upset.

Shefflin took advantage of a defensive mix-up to goal in the 63rd minute and that was the end of Wexford.

It would be easy to say that Aodhan MacSuibhne had a simple job of refereeing.

He had to a large extent and did an outstanding job, but it was because his diplomatic approach earned him the respect of the players.

Scorers for Kilkenny H. Shefflin 1-8 (0-5 frees); E. Brennan 1-1; T. Walsh, D.J. Carey (0-1 free, 0-1 seventy) and D. Lyng 0-3 each; S. Dowling (0-1 free) and M. Comerford 0-2 each; C. Phelan 0-1.

Wexford: B. Lambert 1-1; M. Jacob and P. Codd (0-3 frees), 0-4 each; C. McGrath 1-0; D. Stamp, A. Fenlon and B. Goff 0-1 each.

KILKENNY: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; S. Dowling, P. Barry, J.J. Delaney; D. Lyng, C. Phelan; J. Hoyne, H. Shefflin, T. Walsh; D.J. Carey (capt.), M. Comerford, E. Brennan.

WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; C. Kehoe, D. Ryan, D. O'Connor; K. Rossiter; D. Ruth, L. Dunne; A. Fenlon, D. Stamp; M. Jordan, D. Berry, R. McCarthy; B. Lambert, P. Codd (capt.), R. Jacob. Subs: B. Goff for McCarthy and M. Jacob for Berry (second half); C. McGrath for Jordan (46th); T. Mahon for Rossiter (61st).

Referee: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin).

* Attendance: 48,830.

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