MIXED FORTUNATES

Footballers beat Westmeath but hurlers lose to Kilkenny

BRENDAN FURLONG in Wexford Park

HENRY SHEFFLIN, the player who has bounced back from more career-threatening injuries than any other during his career, ensured that his manager celebrated his first championship game since that devastating All-Ireland final defeat with a clinical display as they dismissed the Wexford challenge with eleven points to spare in this Leinster Senior hurling championship semi-final at Wexford Park on Saturday evening last.

Shefflin, who has undergone two cruciate knee ligament operations over the past three years, was having his first piece of competitive action since being forced to retire early on in last year's final defeat to Tipperary. Leaner and fitter looking than ever, he felt at home from the word go with his delightful first touch and superb accuracy from placed balls, orchestrating the attack along with the returning Richie Power as they teased and tormented the home defence all through the 70 minutes.

Shefflin looked a player in love with the game as he powered his side towards another provincial final in a game in which they only trailed twice, and that was during the opening five minutes, such was their control of proceedings. It was a game where not alone were Wexford going to be asking questions of their ability to bounce back following the league final defeat to Dublin, but also their supporters, and they answered in emphatic fashion as they controlled this game for most part.

Yet, as well as they responded, the writing was on the wall for Wexford when they went behind after only eight minutes, Richie Hogan creating time and space to power his shot past 'keeper Niall Breen. From there on it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Model county side who, despite battling to the very end, simply hadn't the skill or strength to unseat the reigning provincial champions.

Physically, Wexford were outmuscled all over the pitch, while their first touch and striking also let them down. On so many occasions in the ruck ball situation it was a Kilkenny player who eventually emerged with itl in hand, demonstrating their superior physical input, while also an ability to garner possession even in the tightest of situations. Also on numerous occasions, Wexford players took the ball into contact, only to spill possession, with many of those spills in defence resulting in scores.

There was little Wexford could do about it, as the half-forward line was played right out of the game, while midfield never impacted on the game, while the half-back line, which suffered cruelly for different reasons, could not cope with the pressure, power, and running game of their opposite numbers, who stormed through from midfield, subsequently leading to the half-forward line ripping gaping holes in the home defence.

Kilkenny survived their initial test in impressive style but for Wexford the players were left shattered as after 70 minutes of effort they still found themselves ten points adrift of their great rivals, who started the game without such players as Tommy Walsh, John Tennyson, Eddie Brennan and James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, while they also had players with record AllIreland medal hauls, such as Michael Kavanagh, to introduce to the game.

Wexford were dealt a huge blow before the game when captain and centre-back Darren Stamp cried off with a calf muscle injury picked up in training. Ciarán Kenny, who moved to the centre of defence with Malachy Travers coming in at left half-back, was forced out of the game with a rib injury after just twelve minutes, leading to a further reshuffle in defence, during which period Kilkenny fully capitalised to shoot over four points.

Wexford's bid came up short but the question now will be asked of the players to re-group and re-focus and set out their stall in the qualifiers. That's the test facing this group of players. There will be no great escape as the challenges facing the side are still immense. Wexford must now show defiance in the face of adversity.

Wexford led through the opening four minutes. Garrett Sinnott pointed within 30 seconds of the start, raising Wexford's hopes in the huge crowd, but it was Shefflin who signalled his return when referee Johnny Ryan called for a harsh free, one of his many strange decisions during the game, on both sides one might add, leaving Shefflin to convert the ensuing free.

With Wexford having the assistance of the breeze they boucned back to the attack, for full-forward Sinnott to collect a David Redmond sideline to turn around J.J. Delaney before shooting a fine point, leaving it 0-2 to 0-1 after just four minutes.

Four minutes later Kilkenny signalled they had arrived at the county grounds. Having worked the ball across the Wexford defence, it was Richie Hogan who showed a remarkable turn of speed to leave Paul Roche for dead before planting a stunning shot to the home side's net, giving them a 1-1 to 0-2 lead, a lead they were never subsequently to lose. Garrett Sinnott responded with an excellent point, and along with his club colleague, Rory Jacob, they seemed the only attackers capable of troubling the visitors' back line.

Shefflin (free) and Richie Power tagged on points by the eleventh minute, and even at this early stage the home defence looked in all kinds of trouble as they were being stretched all over the pitch, leaving space for the speedy forwards to utilise. When Ciarán Kenny was forced out injured, Colm Farrell was introduced to midfield, with Willie Doran slotting into centre-back. After Colin Fennelly and Rory Jacob had exchanged points, it was Kilkenny who swept into a 1-6 to 0-4 lead by the 19th minute through Richie Hogan and a Shefflin free, before Wexford managed to lift the siege, responding with a Jim Berry pointed free.

Beforehand it was pondered as to how the Wexford defence would cope with the visitors' attack, but they were unable to provide answers, as Kilkenny hit three unanswered points through a Shefflin '65, Eoin Larkin and Michael Rice, who moved to the wing-forward position, giving his opposite number, Malachy Travers, a torrid evening.

After 25 minutes Rory Jacob pointed while two minutes later he saw a low shot for goal deflected for a '65 that Paul Roche pointed, leaving five points separating the sides (1-9 to 0-7).

Lar Prendergast, who was in all kinds of trouble, switched to left full-back, with Keith Rossiter moving out to the troublesome centre-back position after Willie Doran was called ashore, with Michael Jacob being introduced to the half-back line.

Wexford were hanging in there, while one minute before the break Rory Jacob brought a superb save out of 'keeper David Herity who somehow managed to deflect the ball over the bar.

Two minutes into additional time, Jim Berry powered a low 22-metre free to the net after Garrett Sinnott had been fouled, leaving it 1-14 to 19 at the interval.

Wexford, despite a bright start to the secondhalf, were unable to rattle Kilkenny who kept their composure.

Within two minutes of the re-start, Jim Berry pointed a free to reduce the deficit to four points. After Michael Rice and P.J. Nolan had exchanged points, that was as good as it was to get for Wexford.

Although Garrett Sinnott fired over a 40thminute point to leave four separating the sides (1-16 to 1-12), it was Kilkenny who went on to take the initiative, moving eight points clear by the 47th minute (1-20 to 1-12).

Through the pitch Kilkenny were now in dominant mood, with the Wexford defence coming under increased pressure.

Eoin Larkin fired a great goal chance across goal and wide after Shefflin's initial attempt had rebounded off the post, while 15 minutes from the end Richie Hogan had another goalbound shot come back off the inside of the right upright.

There was never a time when one felt that Wexford could respond as they were outplayed in so many sectors.

However, they came close to a goal, with Banville forcing a great save out of 'keeper Herity three minutes from the end at the expense of a '65 that Paul Roche pointed, but just to demonstrate their dominance it was Kilkenny who closed off the scoring with a T.J. Reid point.

For Wexford it's now into the qualifiers, leaving manager Colm Bonnar with much soul-searching over the coming weeks as there are few positives that he can take out of this game.

Wexford were outplayed in the middle third of the pitch, the half-back line was over-powered, midfield never made an impact, while the half-forward line contributed a meagre two points and not much more in general play.

It was in the half-back line that Kilkenny laid the foundation for their victory effort, where newcomers Paddy Hogan and Paul Murphy plus Brian Hogan were the dominant forces.

Wexford were forced to replace their starting midfield duo, and while they used their five substitutes, a number of other players were somewhat lucky to have played out the 70 minutes. The substitutes failed to make any impact on proceedings, with Tomás Waters yellow-carded although only on the pitch for the closing four minutes for a hurley blow into the face of a Kilkenny player, leaving him somewhat lucky to have remained on the pitch.

The game simply served to underline the vast gulf in class and ability between the neighbouring counties at the present moment in time.

Perhaps the heightened sense of expectation among supporters was brought about by the dubious advantage of home venue, coupled with the fine achievement of the Under-21 hurlers just four nights earlier.

However, from an early stage on Saturday it was clear that there would be no repeat. HENRY SHEFFLIN, the player who has bounced back from more career-threatening injuries than any other during his career, ensured that his manager celebrated his first championship game since that devastating All-Ireland final defeat with a clinical display as they dismissed the Wexford challenge with eleven points to spare in this Leinster Senior hurling championship semi-final at Wexford Park on Saturday evening last.

Shefflin, who has undergone two cruciate knee ligament operations over the past three years, was having his first piece of competitive action since being forced to retire early on in last year's final defeat to Tipperary. Leaner and fitter looking than ever, he felt at home from the word go with his delightful first touch and superb accuracy from placed balls, orchestrating the attack along with the returning Richie Power as they teased and tormented the home defence all through the 70 minutes.

Shefflin looked a player in love with the game as he powered his side towards another provincial final in a game in which they only trailed twice, and that was during the opening five minutes, such was their control of proceedings. It was a game where not alone were Wexford going to be asking questions of their ability to bounce back following the league final defeat to Dublin, but also their supporters, and they answered in emphatic fashion as they controlled this game for most part.

Yet, as well as they responded, the writing was on the wall for Wexford when they went behind after only eight minutes, Richie Hogan creating time and space to power his shot past 'keeper Niall Breen. From there on it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Model county side who, despite battling to the very end, simply hadn't the skill or strength to unseat the reigning provincial champions.

Physically, Wexford were outmuscled all over the pitch, while their first touch and striking also let them down. On so many occasions in the ruck ball situation it was a Kilkenny player who eventually emerged with itl in hand, demonstrating their superior physical input, while also an ability to garner possession even in the tightest of situations. Also on numerous occasions, Wexford players took the ball into contact, only to spill possession, with many of those spills in defence resulting in scores.

There was little Wexford could do about it, as the half-forward line was played right out of the game, while midfield never impacted on the game, while the half-back line, which suffered cruelly for different reasons, could not cope with the pressure, power, and running game of their opposite numbers, who stormed through from midfield, subsequently leading to the half-forward line ripping gaping holes in the home defence.

Kilkenny survived their initial test in impressive style but for Wexford the players were left shattered as after 70 minutes of effort they still found themselves ten points adrift of their great rivals, who started the game without such players as Tommy Walsh, John Tennyson, Eddie Brennan and James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, while they also had players with record AllIreland medal hauls, such as Michael Kavanagh, to introduce to the game.

Wexford were dealt a huge blow before the game when captain and centre-back Darren Stamp cried off with a calf muscle injury picked up in training. Ciarán Kenny, who moved to the centre of defence with Malachy Travers coming in at left half-back, was forced out of the game with a rib injury after just twelve minutes, leading to a further reshuffle in defence, during which period Kilkenny fully capitalised to shoot over four points.

Wexford's bid came up short but the question now will be asked of the players to re-group and re-focus and set out their stall in the qualifiers. That's the test facing this group of players. There will be no great escape as the challenges facing the side are still immense. Wexford must now show defiance in the face of adversity.

Wexford led through the opening four minutes. Garrett Sinnott pointed within 30 seconds of the start, raising Wexford's hopes in the huge crowd, but it was Shefflin who signalled his return when referee Johnny Ryan called for a harsh free, one of his many strange decisions during the game, on both sides one might add, leaving Shefflin to convert the ensuing free.

With Wexford having the assistance of the breeze they boucned back to the attack, for full-forward Sinnott to collect a David Redmond sideline to turn around J.J. Delaney before shooting a fine point, leaving it 0-2 to 0-1 after just four minutes.

Four minutes later Kilkenny signalled they had arrived at the county grounds. Having worked the ball across the Wexford defence, it was Richie Hogan who showed a remarkable turn of speed to leave Paul Roche for dead before planting a stunning shot to the home side's net, giving them a 1-1 to 0-2 lead, a lead they were never subsequently to lose. Garrett Sinnott responded with an excellent point, and along with his club colleague, Rory Jacob, they seemed the only attackers capable of troubling the visitors' back line.

Shefflin (free) and Richie Power tagged on points by the eleventh minute, and even at this early stage the home defence looked in all kinds of trouble as they were being stretched all over the pitch, leaving space for the speedy forwards to utilise. When Ciarán Kenny was forced out injured, Colm Farrell was introduced to midfield, with Willie Doran slotting into centre-back. After Colin Fennelly and Rory Jacob had exchanged points, it was Kilkenny who swept into a 1-6 to 0-4 lead by the 19th minute through Richie Hogan and a Shefflin free, before Wexford managed to lift the siege, responding with a Jim Berry pointed free.

Beforehand it was pondered as to how the Wexford defence would cope with the visitors' attack, but they were unable to provide answers, as Kilkenny hit three unanswered points through a Shefflin '65, Eoin Larkin and Michael Rice, who moved to the wing-forward position, giving his opposite number, Malachy Travers, a torrid evening.

After 25 minutes Rory Jacob pointed while two minutes later he saw a low shot for goal deflected for a '65 that Paul Roche pointed, leaving five points separating the sides (1-9 to 0-7).

Lar Prendergast, who was in all kinds of trouble, switched to left full-back, with Keith Rossiter moving out to the troublesome centre-back position after Willie Doran was called ashore, with Michael Jacob being introduced to the half-back line.

Wexford were hanging in there, while one minute before the break Rory Jacob brought a superb save out of 'keeper David Herity who somehow managed to deflect the ball over the bar.

Two minutes into additional time, Jim Berry powered a low 22-metre free to the net after Garrett Sinnott had been fouled, leaving it 1-14 to 19 at the interval.

Wexford, despite a bright start to the secondhalf, were unable to rattle Kilkenny who kept their composure.

Within two minutes of the re-start, Jim Berry pointed a free to reduce the deficit to four points. After Michael Rice and P.J. Nolan had exchanged points, that was as good as it was to get for Wexford.

Although Garrett Sinnott fired over a 40thminute point to leave four separating the sides (1-16 to 1-12), it was Kilkenny who went on to take the initiative, moving eight points clear by the 47th minute (1-20 to 1-12).

Through the pitch Kilkenny were now in dominant mood, with the Wexford defence coming under increased pressure.

Eoin Larkin fired a great goal chance across goal and wide after Shefflin's initial attempt had rebounded off the post, while 15 minutes from the end Richie Hogan had another goalbound shot come back off the inside of the right upright.

There was never a time when one felt that Wexford could respond as they were outplayed in so many sectors.

However, they came close to a goal, with Banville forcing a great save out of 'keeper Herity three minutes from the end at the expense of a '65 that Paul Roche pointed, but just to demonstrate their dominance it was Kilkenny who closed off the scoring with a T.J. Reid point.

For Wexford it's now into the qualifiers, leaving manager Colm Bonnar with much soul-searching over the coming weeks as there are few positives that he can take out of this game.

Wexford were outplayed in the middle third of the pitch, the half-back line was over-powered, midfield never made an impact, while the half-forward line contributed a meagre two points and not much more in general play.

It was in the half-back line that Kilkenny laid the foundation for their victory effort, where newcomers Paddy Hogan and Paul Murphy plus Brian Hogan were the dominant forces.

Wexford were forced to replace their starting midfield duo, and while they used their five substitutes, a number of other players were somewhat lucky to have played out the 70 minutes. The substitutes failed to make any impact on proceedings, with Tomás Waters yellow-carded although only on the pitch for the closing four minutes for a hurley blow into the face of a Kilkenny player, leaving him somewhat lucky to have remained on the pitch.

The game simply served to underline the vast gulf in class and ability between the neighbouring counties at the present moment in time.

Perhaps the heightened sense of expectation among supporters was brought about by the dubious advantage of home venue, coupled with the fine achievement of the Under-21 hurlers just four nights earlier.

However, from an early stage on Saturday it was clear that there would be no repeat.

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