Hurlers have it easy in season opener

Depleted students offer weak resistance as Wexford cruise to 35-point victory

Alan Aherne

Wing-back Diarmuid O'Keeffe sizes up his options during Sunday's comprehensive victory in Gorey
Wing-back Diarmuid O'Keeffe sizes up his options during Sunday's comprehensive victory in Gorey
New joint captain Lee Chin tries to negotiate a route around Rathnure's Brian Quigley, the U.C.D. centre-back
The first Wexford Senior hurling team to start a competitive fixture under Davy Fitzgerald. Back (from left): Shaun Murphy, Conor McDonald, Lee Chin (joint capt.), Mark Fanning, Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Richie Kehoe, Paul Morris. Front (from left): Diarmuid O'Keeffe, James Breen, Simon Donohoe, David Redmond, Liam Ryan, Barry Carton, Cathal Dunbar, Harry Kehoe

The Wexford Senior hurlers christened the arrival of Davy Fitzgerald as manager with a runaway 35-point victory over an embarrassingly weak U.C.D. outfit in this one-sided Bord na Móna Walsh Cup tournament Group 3 opener before a big crowd in a well-prepared Páirc Uí Shíocháin, Gorey, on Saturday.

Wexford 5-31 U.C.D. 1-8

In truth, the afternoon stroll was a complete non-event in terms of assessing the true potential of this crew, because they came up against opponents who were completely out of their depth and powerless to mount any semblance of a challenge.

However, what the game did show was the desire of the players to impress the new backroom team, as there was a hunger and purpose to their play from the off.

The positive reports from the camp in the midst of a punishing training schedule ensured one of the biggest attendances at a home Walsh Cup encounter for many years. And even allowing for the paucity of the students' challenge, only those who view the glass as always being half-empty would have found fault in this most comprehensive of victories.

Fair enough, 19 wides wouldn't suffice against better opponents but, then again, one can hardly be too critical of players on a day when they still amassed a whopping 36 scores, and nine starters plus four substitutes hit the target.

A stiffer test would have been worth so much more given the tough league campaign that lies ahead, but hopefully two will be forthcoming in the remaining group games away to Carlow next Sunday, and home to Dublin Thursday week at a venue to be confirmed.

All of the starting 15 had previous Senior experience, and by game's end just two new faces had sampled inter-county action at the top level for the first time: substitutes Damien Reck, last year's Minor, and Buffers Alley defender Seán Murphy, himself a former U.C.D. stalwart.

However, the team was a mixture of the solid experienced core along with the notable return of Richie Kehoe, while Oulart-The Ballagh pair Shaun Murphy and David Redmond were also back in the fray after last year's injury lay-offs.

The up and coming talent was provided by defender Simon Donohoe and corner-forward Cathal Dunbar, along with Barry Carton who certainly made the most of his chance this time after struggling to make an impact in last year's Walsh Cup campaign.

After a very impressive domestic run with Cloughbawn, he finished with 1-5 from play in an eye-catching performance around the middle third of the field. Although wearing number 12, he swapped wings with clubmate Harry Kehoe but drifted out into the space vacated by Shaun Murphy, who spent the entire afternoon sweeping up between his own full- and half-back lines.

Murphy is perfectly suited to this role and mopped up time and time again, while Carton showed that if he is given space he has a keen eye for the posts. It took him less than 75 seconds to open Wexford's account from a Harry Kehoe pass, and he was also on the end of the move for the first goal in the fourth minute.

Lee Chin - who alternated with Conor McDonald between full- and centre-forward at different stages - sprayed the ball into the right corner where Paul Morris fed Carton who had the easiest of tasks in beating Darragh Holohan from close range.

Morris turned from provider to finisher a mere 45 seconds later when he held off direct opponent Michael Cronin to gather possession and dodge the advancing netminder before tapping into an empty net.

Even at that early stage it looked like the students were of limited ability and the game wouldn't be a worthwhile contest, and so it proved.

Morris and David Redmond widened the gap to 2-3 to nil by the 13th minute before the sole lapse at the back led to the U.C.D. goal. Podge Guinan landed a delivery into the no man's land between the full-back line and goalkeeper Mark Fanning at the dressing-room end, and Galway's Darragh Dolan nipped in to flick the ball to the net after reacting quickest.

It was only a temporary blip though, as Lee Chin picked out Barry Carton to stretch the lead before Carton, Conor McDonald and David Redmond were all involved in a flowing move which ended with Cathal Dunbar firing the ball through an apparent hole in the net for the third goal (3-4 to 1-0).

A mere 0-8 of the winning tally arrived from placed balls, with the first free converted by Conor McDonald in the 18th minute after a late tackle on Liam Ryan.

Dunbar came close to adding a second goal but shot wide, while Harry Kehoe tried to locate the top corner with another effort but netminder Darragh Holohan denied him.

It was entirely understandable why Wexford were going for goals at every opportunity around this time, but handy points were also there for the taking as Lee Chin and Conor McDonald highlighted (3-7 to 1-0).

Richie Kehoe landed a neat point from close to the sideline before Podge Guinan finally managed to raise the first U.C.D. white flag in the 27th minute.

A Diarmuid O'Keeffe effort then drew two quick responses from highly-rated Kilkenny midfielder Luke Scanlon, but the fourth Wexford goal was just around the corner.

The home side proved very adept at running at their rivals, drawing the nearest man, and then picking out the best-placed player for the next pass.

And this was one of many such instances as David Redmond and Lee Chin linked up before Harry Kehoe rattled the net (4-9 to 1-3).

Although John Murphy responded with two Kilkenny points, Wexford hit the last four of the half through Barry Carton (two), Conor McDonald (free) and Paul Morris to lead by 4-13 to 1-5 at the break.

An impressive 4-11 of that tally had come from play, and was shared by nine players. And there was absolutely no let-up on the re-start, with a further 1-13 added without reply in the opening 26 minutes.

The fact that a maximum of eleven substitutes are now allowed in this tournament led to a lot of changes as the action wore on, but there was no difference in the application of the Wexford crew with everybody out to impress.

Dunbar, Redmond and Carton added points inside three minutes of the re-start, with Paul Morris denied a goal after striking the ball too high before McDonald knocked over another free.

Richie Kehoe's last involvement before he was replaced saw him ghosting into an attacking position and getting on the end of a lovely Dunbar pass to calmly finish the fifth goal in the 44th minute (5-17 to 1-5).

McDonald pointed another free, with a Lee Chin goal attempt saved before Kevin Foley became the first of four substitutes to register in the 52nd minute.

Two more McDonald scores from placed balls were sandwiched by a point from the recently-married Eanna Martin with his first touch, and he added another before Harry Kehoe, Shane O'Gorman and Lee Chin extended the lead to 5-26 to 1-5.

U.C.D. substitute Conor O'Shea finally managed to respond with a point in the 62nd minute, but Martin hit back with his third from the puck-out.

Replacement Gearóid Cullen pointed a free on his home turf for the students before Aidan Nolan marked his arrival into the fray with a fierce first-time drive which rattled the crossbar and went over.

Chin and McDonald ('65) brought the points tally up to an impressive 30, with the latter adding his ninth score from a free before Conor O'Shea had the last word for U.C.D. - who included Rathnure's Brian Quigley at centre-back - in added time.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, James Breen; Richie Kehoe (1-1), Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Shaun Murphy, David Redmond (0-2); Barry Carton (1-5), Conor McDonald (0-9, 7 frees, 1 '65), Harry Kehoe (1-1); Paul Morris (1-2), Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-3), Cathal Dunbar (1-1). Subs. - Damien Reck for Redmond (43), Shane O'Gorman (0-1) for R. Kehoe (45), Kevin Foley (0-1) for Dunbar (51), Podge Doran for Morris (51), Eanna Martin (0-3) for Carton (55), Eoin Conroy for Donohoe (59), Andrew Kenny for Breen (62), Aidan Nolan (0-1) for H. Kehoe (64), Seán Murphy for O'Keeffe (65).

U.C.D.: Darragh Holohan (Kilkenny); Eddie Hayden (Waterford), Rúairí Dwan (Tipperary), Michael Cronin (Waterford); Huw Lawlor (Kilkenny), Brian Quigley (Wexford), Craig Butler (Kilkenny); Luke Scanlon (Kilkenny, 0-1), James Houlihan (Offaly); John Murphy (Kilkenny, 0-2), John O'Toole (Offaly), Podge Guinan (Offaly, 0-1); Rory McEvoy (Laois), Cathal Keane (Galway), Darragh Dolan (Galway, 1-0). Subs. - Eamonn Hennessy (Kilkenny) for McEvoy (HT), Conor O'Shea (Dublin, 0-2) for O'Toole (45), James Power (Kilkenny) for Guinan (58), Gearóid Cullen (Wexford, 0-1 free) for Keane (58), Jack Griffin (Cork) for Houlihan (60), Eoin Parlon (Offaly) for Lawlor, inj. (68), Danny Monks (Kilkenny) for Murphy, inj. (59).

Referee: John O'Brien (Tipperary).

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