Evan Shefflin’s 17th minute goal proved crucial as it helped Kilkenny to a two-point victory over a battling Wexford side in this exciting Leinster U20 HC final at Innovate Wexford Park yesterday evening.
Kilkenny suffered a huge blow before the game when senior star attacker Adrian Mullen was pulled from the side with no explanation given regarding his withdrawal, but many believe it’s because of three huge senior games over recent weeks, two against Wexford and Cork last Sunday.
Despite the greasy underfoot conditions, both sides served up an entertaining opening 30-plus minutes, with Kilkenny not showing the effects of the absence of their star turn, Mullen, for the attack looked threatening right through this opening period, stretching the home defence at every opportunity.
Wexford, playing with the breeze and strong mist behind them, got off to the ideal start with two Ross Banville frees inside the opening six minutes, but it was Kilkenny who responded positively with points from James Brennan and Stephen Donnelly to tie the sides at 0-2 each after eight minutes.
Kilkenny looked stronger physically and were playing the more skilful hurling with the sides going on to exchange points through Sean O’Connor and Eoin Cody, while Kilkenny took the lead for the first time through a Niall Brassil pointed free at the end of the opening quarter.
With Evan Shefflin winning a lot of ball in midfield, Kilkenny got the crucial breakthrough after 17 minutes. Eoin Cody won possession to the right of goal, and saw his powerful shot deflect to one side by keeper James Lawlor, but it was Shefflin who found himself in open space to crash the breaking ball to the net, giving his side a 1-4 to 0-3 lead.
Points from Ross Banville frees and Sean O’Connor kept the homeside in touch, while Niall Brassil was on-target with two placed balls, leaving Kilkenny the more comfortable side leading 1-7 to 0-7 at the interval.
As the sun broke through, both sides opened the second half on a bright note, exchanging points through Niall Brassil and Charlie McGuckin. Wexford then enjoyed a purple patch as two Ross Banville points left the minimum separating the sides, 1-9 to 0-11.
When Ross Banville pointed a free almost immediately to bring the sides level, it looked as if Wexford were back in the game, but Kilkenny responded with three unanswered points through David Blanchfield, Sean Ryan and Eoin Cody to bounce back into a three point lead, 1-12 to 0-12, after 41 minutes.
Despite this setback, Wexford kept on battling with Banville and Brassil going on to exchange pointed free, but it was Kilkenny who led 1-16 to 0-15 entering the closing five minutes. In a dramatic finish, as Wexford laid siege to the Kilkenny goal, producing points through subs Ben Maddock and two from chris Turner, to reduce the deficit to 1-17 to 0-18, but it was Kilkenny who held firm in the five minutes of additional-time.
WEXFORD: J Lawlor; C O’Connor, E Molloy, E O’Leary; N Murphy, M Kelly, C Scallan (0-1); C McGuckin (0-3), E Murphy; S Keane-Carroll, R Banville (0-7 frees), J Reck (0-1); S O’Connor (0-3), C Clancy, D Doyle.
Subs: C Fitzhenry for Keane-Carroll (inj, 4); O Carty for D Doyle (h-t); C Turner (0-2) for Banville (inj, 55); B Maddock (0-1) for S O’Connor (57).
KILKENNY: D Mason; J Brennan, C Flynn, M Butler; C Heary, M Carey (0-1), D Blanchfield (0-2); E O’Shea, E Shefflin (1-1); J Bergin, N Brassil (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1, 65), A Brennan; S Donnelly (0-3), S Ryan (0-1. E Cody (0-2).
Subs: C Brennan for Bergin (39); J Dowd for O’Shea (55).
Referee: M Murtagh (Westmeath).