Wexford U21s 4-17 Kilkenny 1-09: Wexford hurling may have suffered over recent weeks but they bounced back with a scintillating display to claim a three-in-a-row of provincial titles with a marvellous 17-point victory over arch rivals Kilkenny in their Leinster final clash before a crowd of 7,800 at Innovate Wexford Park yesterday evening.
Wexford were bidding for a treble for only the second time since the competition’s inception. Last recorded in 1969-71, they went on to lose the three All-Ireland finals to Cork.
The Model County boys were hit with a Kilkenny scoring blitz inside the opening 90 seconds, a start which rocked the home crowd, reminding them what had befallen their senior counterparts in their two championship outings.
Kilkenny grabbed the initiative from the throw-in as Liam Hickey drove through the centre. His initial attempt was partially blocked but he recovered to beat keeper Oliver O’Leary with a low shot.
A minute later William Brennan followed with a point and giving them a 1-1 to 0-0 lead. It took a Conor McDonald pointed free in the third minute to settle the home side, although Liam Blanchfield responded with a Kilkenny point straight from the puck-out.
Urged on by the large crowd, Wexford suddenly sprang to life, with a glorious 25 minutes of hurling as their marquee forward began to take the game to the Kilkenny defence. Points flowed from Kevin Foley, McDonald, and Jack O’Connor — a huge effort from inside his own half. Full-forward McDonald sent over two points, one free.
Many felt this was always going to be a tricky assignment for the home side, but the Kilkenny defence, under some intense pressure, soon wilted. McDonald collected a long Paudie Foley ball to find the net with a splendid finish, having shortened his grip as he moved in on goal, leaving his side with a 1-6 to 1-2 lead after 17 minutes, that opening 90-second spell long forgotten.
Kilkenny found it hugely difficult to win outfield possession, and in a three-minute spell they were rocked as Wexford struck for two. goals. James Cash and Cathal Dunbar on 20 and 23 minutes, respectively helped them to a 3-8 to 1-4 interval lead.
Wexford would have been unbackable at half-time and they justified this optimism on the resumption as they continued to dominate their arch rivals with a scintillating display of hurling. Kilkenny were outhurled all over the pitch by a Wexford side determined to put recent disappointments behind them.
It was suggested in the lead-up to this game that Wexford could suffer, but this was never going to be the case, as they played some of the best hurling seen in this grade for some time.
McDonald and Martin had exchanged points in the first half, and in the 33 minute any hope of a Kilkenny revival was well and truly buried, as a Wexford move opened the Kilkenny defence. James Cash placed a delightful ball across the face of the goal for corner-forward Cathal Dunbar to find the net from close in, giving the home side a 4-9 to 1-5 lead.
While Kilkenny kept battling they were unable to break down a dominant home defence, only managing four points for the remainder of the game. Wexford full-forward Conor McDonald continued to inspire his side with splendid points both from play and frees from a variety of angles.
This was a Wexford performance to rave about as they hurled with confidence and composure to record a provincial treble for only the second time, recording a comprehensive victory over their rivals whose performance over the 60 minutes was disappointing.
Wexford scorers: C McDonald (0-7 frees) 1-10; C Dunbar 2-1; J Cash 1-0; K Foley 0-3; J O’Connor, Shane Murphy, S Kenny 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: L Hickey 1-0; C Martin 0-3 frees; L Blanchfield, C Ryan 0-2 each; E Cody, W Brennan 0-1 each.
Wexford: O O’Leary; S Donohoe, L Ryan, E Conroy; J White, P Foley, J O’Connor; C Devitt, G Bailey; A Kenny, K Foley, J Cash; C Dunbar, C McDonald, P Sutton. Subs: T French for Sutton (45); Shane Murphy for Bailey (47); S Kelly for Cash (50); S Kenny for Ryan (57); Sean Murphy for Donohoe (59).
Kilkenny: D Brennan; E Cody, C Delaney, C Wallace; J Cleere, E Morrissey, D Cody; P Deegan, W Brennan; M Mansfield, C Martin, L Blanchfield; K Kenny, C Bolger, L Hickey. Subs:J Maher for Mansfield (21); C Ryan for Brennan (36); B Troy for Cleere (36); T Phelan for Kenny (52).
Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).
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