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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Farce from start to finish

Championship Special: Kilkenny 1-26 Wexford 1-8

Alan Aherne

Wexford corner-back Garrett Foley bursting out of defence beyond Kilkenny's Edmond Delaney
Wexford corner-back Garrett Foley bursting out of defence beyond Kilkenny's Edmond Delaney
The Wexford squad. Back (from left): Luke Murphy, Shane O'Gorman, Garrett Foley, Michael O'Hanlon, Colm Bennett, Shane O'Hanlon, Sam Kelly, Jack Hobbs, Seán Kenny, John Doyle, Cormac Moore, Quinn Saunders, Michael O'Brien. Front (from left): Niall Murphy, Barry O'Gorman, Robbie Barron, Niall Breen, Shane Murphy, Lorcan French, Daire Bolger, David Doyle, Tony French, Colm Farrell

The oft-repeated quote, 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail', sprung readily to mind in Nowlan Park on Wednesday when the farcical backdrop to Wexford's Leinster Intermediate hurling championship final appearance against Kilkenny led to this inevitable result.

It was embarrassing to watch as a visiting team put together at the last minute, and with zero preparation behind them, lost by 18 points after failing to score from play until the 47th minute.

This competition is clearly on its last legs, with Kilkenny now set to face Cork - the only other entrants - in the All-Ireland final after the withdrawal of Galway and Tipperary plus the decision of Limerick, Waterford and Clare to participate in a new Munster Under-25 championship instead.

However, respect for the jersey alone should have ensured that some work was put into this team, given that the July 12 date for this game was pencilled in many months ago.

I fully accept that Senior and Under-21 must take priority, but that still begs the question: why was it left so late to try to assemble a panel? Even one month's training, with a couple of challenge matches thrown in, would have been worth something prior to this complete mis-match.

The letter to clubs practically begging for players to come forward was, frankly, an insult to all those who had given blood, sweat and tears to wear that Wexford jersey in the past.

It should never have come to that, and I must stress that my criticism isn't directed towards the players who did deem it a sufficient honour to travel to Kilkenny last Wednesday when they knew they were on a hiding to nothing.

The make-up of the winners' squad gives this sorry saga added context too. They won the Intermediate All-Ireland last year, so none of those players were eligible.

It meant they were, in effect, fielding a second string drawn from the Intermediate and Junior clubs, with the exception of two from Senior side Carrickshock who were eligible as they only won Intermediate in 2016 and therefore didn't compete in the top flight.

Kilkenny opted to use a lot of young players who didn't make the final cut for their Under-21 squad which cut Wexford apart at the same venue seven nights earlier. That's a combined loss of 31 points to the Cats in the space of a week, surely enough to put a stop in the tracks of those thinking the future is automatically rosy just because our Seniors appear to be on an upward curve.

Carrickshock's Wexford equivalent, Intermediate titleholders Oylegate-Glenbrien, didn't have any representation on the squad which was drawn from 13 clubs and comprised twelve players from New Ross District, five from Gorey, three from Enniscorthy, and three from Wexford.

The Senior experience was provided by current panel member Shane O'Gorman at full-back, former midfielder Colm Farrell who has represented Leinster in the inter-provincial series, and centre-back Niall Breen who manned the goal in the higher grade.

Four players who featured during the Under-21 campaign were also in action, with Michael O'Brien and Cormac Moore starting while Sam Kelly and John Doyle were introduced at half-time.

The latter was a surprise omission from the starting team in my view given the impact he made when brought on one week earlier, and he went on to contribute two of the three points Wexford scored from play.

Among the Kilkenny attackers was the diminutive Seán Carey, son of the greatest hurler I have ever seen and operating in a different area of the field than his brother, Mikey, who is full-back on the Minor team.

Their captain, Darragh Brennan, scored the first of his five points from play in the second minute, and that set the tone for what was to follow.

Edmond Delaney doubled the lead before free-taker Jack Hobbs got Wexford off the mark from close to the right sideline after Shane Murphy was pushed by Ger Teehan.

Robbie Donnelly added points from a free and play before Murphy drew fresh air on a handpass across goal by Colm Farrell in the eleventh minute in a rare moment of Kilkenny vulnerability.

Donnelly, Martin Power and Cormac Fleming extended the gap to 6-1 before Wexford were handed a lifeline in the 22nd minute.

Niall Murphy floated in a line ball from the right and, with full-forward Shane Murphy distracting netminder David Aylward, it appeared to go all the way to the net, cutting the gap to two points.

The response though was typical Kilkenny: nine unanswered points between the 22nd and 29th minutes, ensuring it was game over by the break when they led by a runaway 0-15 to 1-1.

Most of the Wexford defiance prior to that avalanche of scores had been supplied by gutsy right corner-back Garrett Foley, but even he was powerless to prevent the points flowing relentlessly from Paul Holden (three), Robbie Donnelly ('65, free and two from play), Seán Carey and J.P. Treacy.

Wexford mentors J.J. Doyle, Shane Carley and Tommy Roche made three changes at half-time, bringing Barry O'Gorman on at centre-back for David Doyle, with Niall Breen pushing up to midfield and Lorcan French reverting to the left wing.

In addition, John Doyle and Sam Kelly came on in the wing-forward berths and Cormac Moore moved to the edge of the square.

Damage limitation was the only hope at that stage, and it didn't occur as the final margin was widened from eleven to 18 points given that Kilkenny 'won' the second-half by double scores (1-11 to 0-7).

Donnelly (free) and Holden left them 0-17 to 1-1 clear before Jack Hobbs pointed two frees on either side of another Kilkenny score from Darragh Brennan.

Four more on the trot followed for the runaway leaders from Donnelly, Brennan (two) and Holden, with netminder David Aylward spilling a weak Niall Murphy shot in the 42nd minute but recovering.

Hobbs earned and converted another free at the midway point in the half before Wexford's first score from play finally arrived in the 47th minute, with John Doyle splitting the posts from a Cormac Moore handpass (0-22 to 1-5).

Robbie Donnelly knocked over another Kilkenny free, with a momentary goal chance for Sam Kelly lost when full-back Ger Teehan got back on his feet after an initial stumble.

Lorcan French doubled Wexford's tally from play in the 50th minute, while Hobbs converted his fifth free after a foul on Moore before John Doyle doubled his personal tally.

Kilkenny had goaled in between the latter two points though, with Paul Holden finishing off a Seán Carey handpass with a low shot after cutting in from the left.

Substitute James Power, Carey and Darragh Brennan added three late points to complete the rout before the latter accepted the cup on behalf of his team-mates.

Chances are we will never see another Intermediate hurling championship, and many people in the corridors of power will regard that as a good thing. What a pity that we can't say we departed with our heads held high though, because this was a sorry effort from start to finish.

Wexford: Luke Murphy (St. James'); Garrett Foley (Fethard), Shane O'Gorman (Adamstown), Michael O'Brien (St. Patrick's); Daire Bolger (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Niall Breen (Tara Rocks), David Doyle (St. James'); Lorcan French (Adamstown, 0-1), Colm Farrell (HWH-Bunclody); Cormac Moore (Ballygarrett), Seán Kenny (HWH-Bunclody), Tony French (Adamstown); Jack Hobbs (Ballygarrett, 0-5 frees), Shane Murphy (St. James'), Niall Murphy (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 1-0 line ball). Subs. - Barry O'Gorman (Taghmon-Camross) for Doyle (HT), Sam Kelly (Crossabeg-Ballymurn) for S. Murphy (HT), John Doyle (St. Patrick's, 0-2) for T. French (HT), Colm Bennett (Marshalstown-Castledockrell) for Bolger (35), Robbie Barron (St. James') for O'Gorman, temp. (35-37), Barron for Farrell (48), also Michael O'Hanlon (Horeswood), Quinn Saunders (Our Lady's Island), Shane O'Hanlon (Horeswood).

Kilkenny: David Aylward; David Prendergast, Ger Teehan, Niall Doherty; Barry Whelan, Cormac Fleming (0-1), John Cahill; J.P. Treacy (0-1), Victor Costello; Paul Holden (1-5), Darragh Brennan (capt., 0-5), Edmond Delaney (0-1); Seán Carey (0-2), Martin Power (0-1), Robbie Donnelly (0-9, 3 frees, 1 '65). Subs. - Martin Keoghan for Costello (HT), Liam Hickey for Delaney (43), Eamonn Egan for Cahill (51), Niall Walsh for Donnelly (53), James Power (0-1) for Treacy (53).

Referee: John O'Brien (Laois).

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