It’s rare in the modern annals of Kilkenny’s and Wexford’s mutual affairs that the onus should fall on the Cats to make the statement.
However, that is precisely the way of things, as these rivals approach what could be a defining Leinster Championship for both this coming weekend.
It’s nine weeks since Wexford sacked Nowlan Park for a stunning five-point league quarter-final win, with the scene set in the first minute, as James Breen got stuck into TJ Reid and Eoin Murphy needed a miracle save to deny Conor McDonald.
“Yeah, even things like Kilkenny getting a sideline and the Wexford lad pushing him over the line, that’s a mentality thing,” said JJ Delaney. “That’s not a normal league game. That is: ‘I am here to set down a marker.’ That is bullying and intimidation and they brought that to the table.
“And you have to be focused for a few weeks before that. You can’t just switch it on 10 minutes into the game, flick a switch, because they are up for it and we are not. Only for Eoin Murphy, they would have been beaten out the gate.
“But they should be hurting. Those players, and the character they have in that dressing-room, there will be a reaction to it, too. Whether the reaction will be good enough or not remains to be seen and that is the enthralling thing about it.”
We have been here before with Kilkenny, questioning their worth. Delaney remembers well the annoyance they felt in the wake of their All-Ireland defeat to Tipperary in 2010, when the expectation was that the Premier were poised to usurp them as the game’s market leaders.
It didn’t happen.
Less than a year later and Dublin were beating Brian Cody’s men in a league final, and with a dozen points to spare. Same doubts raised and questions answered and, yet, there is no debate but that Kilkenny are not the force they so recently were.
It makes for an odd backdrop, given they remain overwhelming favourites among the bookmakers ahead of the upcoming Wexford Park clash, but Delaney’s 14 years under Brian Cody in the black and amber leaves him in no doubt as to the grievances being harboured right now.
“It’s your personal pride, you know what I mean? You can go out to a training session and a lad knocks you to the ground and a few lads are laughing and sneering at you. You will get thick. It is personal pride and their pride is dented at the moment. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is.”
Wexford can draw on some angst of their own, should they choose.
Davy Fitzgerald will again be looking on from the stands, just as he was in the straightforward defeat of Laois last month, due to the suspension imposed after his altercation with two Tipperary players on the Nowlan Park pitch during the league semi-final.
“It was lucky enough that Brendan Maher came in; Brendan was calming down the whole thing, but if he had come in and hit another couple of Wexford lads the whole thing could have kicked off even more, but lucky enough, Brendan had a level head on him and he was defusing the whole situation,” said Delaney, who is calling things for Sky Sports this summer. “It is an unusual situation. I know passions are high and all that, but a manager’s position is on the sideline and he shouldn’t be coming on the field.”
Ultimately, the Davy angle is a sideshow. Flick back to that league game in early April and much more interesting and significant pre-match discussion points present themselves.
Delaney was impressed with the manner in which Fitzgerald matched his players up with Kilkenny’s. Among them, Diarmuid O’Keeffe on Colin Fennelly, Matthew O’Hanlon on Walter Walsh, Sean Murphy sweeping, and Conor McDonald doing damage on Padraig Walsh at full-back.
“He got his match-ups 100% right.”
Delaney won nine All-Irelands with Kilkenny, so when he talks about some personnel changes being likely, it makes sense to pay heed. If it was his call, he would withdraw Richie Hogan back out the field and stick Colin Fennelly in at full-forward to play a part in counteracting the sweeper.
Man-marking Lee Chin would be another focal point.
“Someone like Cillian Buckley would be as athletic and as strong as Lee Chin and you could see those two matching up,” he suggested. “If those two are marking each other, that could be worth the admission price alone.”
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