Two nights after more than 8,000 paying customers trotted along to the Cork/Tipperary minor replay, an attendance of 6,089 made the effort to take in this Leinster U21 final. Not earthshattering stuff but not to be sniffed at either.
Seeing as we’re tossing out facts and figures, here’s the really relevant one: By half-time Kilkenny were eight points up and one man up. There was never going to be any way back for Wexford from there. The second half was an exercise in box-ticking, manfully though the losers strove.
Many of these young men in stripes were All-Ireland minor winners three years ago. If they were unimpressive in reaching this final, they produced their best form on getting there. It can fairly be said that they’ve trained on.
With the Ulster champions set to provide the opposition in the All-Ireland semi-final, assuming the fixture takes place, it’s hardly going out on a limb to assert that Eddie Brennan’s charges will be seen on the big stage in September. On this display, they’ll take stopping.
While Kilkenny’s shooting wasn’t perfect in the first half — they racked up nine wides — they still managed 13 points from play from seven different scorers. The undoubted star of the show was Richie Leahy with four of them, three inside the opening 13 minutes.
Five minutes later he stood under a puckout with Brian Quigley and shipped a blow to his left arm that had the crowd audibly wincing. The red card was flourished and a match that had already begun to slip away from Wexford was now lost altogether. From there to half-time the winners tacked on nine points to their opponents’ six. And the visitors were inordinately dependent on Joe Coleman’s accuracy from placed balls for their scores whereas Kilkenny were banging them over from all angles and distances.
Jason Cleere finished the evening with three points from centre-back, Luke Scanlon with three from midfield, Sean Morrissey with three from the half-forward line, and the stylish Leahy with five.
The second-last score was supplied by Shane Walsh from Tullaroan, brother of you know who (and if you don’t know who you ought to be able to hazard a shrewd guess).
Not that too much should be made of what wound up being a turkey shoot: As minor champions of three years ago the hosts were entitled to win, even win well. And Wexford had their limitations aplenty, as witnessed by the fact that no fewer than four of their forwards were withdrawn.
Stephen O’Gorman, their full-forward, will at least take a measure of satisfaction from proceedings. He it was who bagged the only goal and he bagged it early, fastening on to Joe O’Connor’s sideline cut from the left wing after six minutes, turning and finishing cleanly. Kilkenny having hit the first three points, the goal tied the game temporarily before Alan Murphy (free) and Leahy, with a splendid point on the run, gave them a lead they would never lose. Darren Mullen acted as spare man, sweeping up plenty of ball in defence and distributing it with purpose and precision.
Underwhelming against Dublin and flattered to beat a valiant Westmeath by ten points, Kilkenny were far more fluent here than they’d been in their opening two outings. Brennan may have been simply relieved in overcoming those two obstacles; this performance, on the other hand, he can take pride in. An All-Ireland semi-final awaits. If they’re beaten it’ll be by a serious team.
R Leahy 0-5; A Murphy 0-5, frees; J Cleere, L Scanlon and S Morrissey 0-3 each; J Bergin 0-3, frees; J Donnelly and B Ryan 0-2 each; P Lyng, L Blanchfield, E Kenny and S Walsh 0-1 each.
J Coleman 0-5, frees; S O’Gorman 1-0; R O’Connor and C Dunbar 0-2 each; J Doyle 0-2, 0-1 free; J O’Connor, D Codd and C Moore 0-1 each.
D Brennan; M Cody, C Delaney, J Burke; D Mullen, J Cleere, T Walsh; L Scanlon, P Lyng; A Murphy, R Leahy, S Morrissey; S Walsh, L Blanchfield, B Ryan.
R Bergin for Burke, ht; J Bergin for Murphy, 38 mins; E Kenny for Blanchfield, 43; J Walsh for Ryan, 50; S Walsh for Donnelly, 56.
D Hughes; C Firman, D Byrne, S Reck; B Quigley, A Maddock, Molloy; J O’Connor, R White; S Kelly, R O’Connor, J Coleman; C Dunbar, S O’Gorman, H O’Connor.
J Firman for Kelly, ht; D Codd for H O’Connor, 35 mins; J Doyle for Coleman, 43; C Moore for White, 44; D Pepper for O’Gorman, 47.
P Murphy (Carlow)