Hurlers humiliated on a dark day
Rampant Kilkenny compile record tally against Wexford in one-sided riot
It's going to take an effort of almighty proportions to lift the Wexford Senior hurlers from the depths they plummeted to before a crowd of 19,134 in Nowlan Park on Sunday when reigning All-Ireland champions Kilkenny went through them for a short cut to cruise effortlessly into yet another Leinster final.
Kilkenny 5-25 Wexford 0-16
The rampant hosts posted a record score in the 76th meeting between the sides as they romped to a biggest win over their south-east rivals since the 8-8 to 1-1 rout in 1931. It was painful to watch from a very early stage as the much-altered Wexford defensive unit was repeatedly torn asunder by an attack spearheaded by hurling magician Richie Hogan.
The game was well and truly over long before half-time, with Kilkenny ahead at the break by 3-7 to 0-10 despite playing into the wind. And their ruthless streak was well and truly emphasised in the last six minutes when, with several Wexford players completely switched off, they piled on a staggering seven points on the trot to complete that record championship score.
It was like men against innocent boys, with Kilkenny dictating the terms of the afternoon from the moment new captain and full-back Joey Holden won the toss and pointed his finger towards the city end, signifying that the home side were willing to playing into the elements first.
And there was surprise, and dismay in some quarters, at the throw-in when it transpired that the Wexford mentors had opted for a radical re-shuffle of the defence in a fruitless bid to curb the ruthless Kilkenny attack. Captain Matthew O'Hanlon was moved from the edge of the square to centre-back to pick up Richie Hogan, with Lee Chin reverting to the right flank and Liam Ryan directly in front of Mark Fanning.
Ciarán Kenny, back from a hamstring injury, was entrusted with the thankless task of minding Eoin Larkin, with Andrew Shore moving from the right wing to the left. Eoin Moore was the only defender to start in the same position as in Mullingar and, rather than solidifying the unit, the multiple changes had a debilitating impact as the overall shakiness at the back extended to Mark Fanning who saw a couple of short puck-outs with the wind behind him backfire badly.
O'Hanlon was moved to his natural full-back position after 16 minutes but by that stage Kilkenny already had two goals on the board, were five points up and were well on the road to success. Some of the pre-match talk about the Cats being in transition and therefore vulnerable was exposed for the utter nonsense that it was.
That 't' word simply doesn't exist in Kilkenny where the conveyor belt of talent never breaks down. Indeed, in typical fashion, the least heralded of their six forwards, Glenmore's Ger Aylward, was the one who stepped up the most in the scoring stakes, finishing with an incredible 3-5 from play on a truly dark day for Wexford hurling.
The only blot on Kilkenny's copybook was their high free concession count, 17 to seven, and only for this the margin would have been even higher as nine of Wexford's 16 points came from placed balls by Ian Byrne.
And while the visitors fluffed two golden goal chances in the first-half, Kilkenny took theirs with clinical efficiency and nearly managed a couple more before the break when they did as they pleased for long spells.
The first nine minutes saw the underdogs lead three times, with Conor McDonald setting up Byrne for the first point after 16 seconds which John Power - a replacement for Colin Fennelly - cancelled. A catch by Shane Tomkins from a Mark Fanning puck-out led to Byrne's first chance from a free which he took before Aylward opened his account.
Byrne then hesitated briefly and a goal chance was lost, with Liam Og McGovern shooting tamely wide in the follow-up before the Ferns free-taker made it 0-3 to 0-2 after Daithí Waters was fouled.
The beginning of the end came with less than ten minutes gone when the outstanding Richie Hogan sprayed a pass into the left corner. A ruck for possession followed after Eoin Moore slipped and, when Michael Fennelly eventually emerged with the ball, Hogan had continued his run and claimed the midfielder's pass before beating the advancing Fanning with a cool finish (1-2 to 0-3).
Wides followed from Paul Morris and Lee Chin (Wexford had six per half) before an Eoin Larkin point from a Hogan handpass preceded the second Kilkenny goal in the 13th minute.
Once again the marvellous Hogan was centrally involved, making a spectacular catch for such a small man before being fouled but looping a handpass to his right in the process.
With referee Diarmuid Kirwan's arm raised to signify an advantage, the play didn't need to be called back as Ger Aylward netted via Mark Fanning to leave Wexford trailing by six points.
Hogan piled on the misery with a point before the netminder redeemed himself after a puck-out was cut out by Walter Walsh when he put off Aylward sufficiently to deny the corner-forward a second goal.
Andrew Shore briefly stopped the rot with a long-range point before an Eoin Larkin major was ruled out after consultation for an earlier foul, but Wexford were clearly in dire straits. Their second opening for a goal wasn't taken either, with Liam Og McGovern somehow pointing when it seemed easier to locate the net from in front of the posts after latching on to a Conor McDonald delivery.
Daithí Waters had moved to midfield to pick up Michael Fennelly, with Diarmuid O'Keeffe on the right wing and Shane Tomkins on the '40, but Wexford were completely obliterated in that sector of the field although David Redmond had some bright moments.
Lee Chin and Andrew Shore delivered a lot of balls in the second-half and couldn't be faulted for effort, but the attack was outplayed by the rock-solid Kilkenny back line which didn't have a single weak link.
Kevin Foley replaced the injured Paul Morris midway through the first-half shortly before Wexford's woes were summed up when a short puck-out by Fanning to Ciarán Kenny went over the sideline.
David Redmond did punish a rare stray pass from Cillian Buckley with a point and, after John Power and Ian Byrne (free) swapped points, the Oulart-The Ballagh midfielder almost repeated his spectacular goal against Waterford last year at the country end but Eoin Murphy made a fine save.
Byrne missed the '65 which resulted but then narrowed the gap to 2-5 to 0-8 from a free after Liam Og McGovern was fouled and no advantage accrued.
The three-point margin didn't reflect Kilkenny's superiority though, but that was altered in the 22nd minute when Richie Hogan caught a Paul Murphy clearance and handpassed into the path of T.J. Reid who bore down on goal.
He was taken down and Liam Ryan entered the notebook before the attacker picked himself up and lashed the resultant penalty to Mark Fanning's left for a 3-5 to 0-8 advantage. It was 3-7 to 0-10 by the interval as two Ian Byrne frees were cancelled out by Ger Aylward and Reid, with HWH-Bunclody youngster Aidan Nolan coming on at midfield at the expense of Eoin Moore and Diarmuid O'Keeffe reverting to the defence.
Shane Tomkins and Daithí Waters were replaced at the break by Harry Kehoe and Podge Doran respectively, with Conor McDonald moving to centre-forward and Nolan left with the onerous task of marking Michael Fennelly.
Referee Diarmuid Kirwan got a nick of the latter's hurl for his troubles at the throw-in but quickly recovered, with Mark Fanning making a good save after just 17 seconds when T.J. Reid sought the fourth Kilkenny goal.
Wexford were on a hiding to nothing though and there was never even a remote chance that they would get the goals that were so badly needed. Kilkenny added five of the next eight points, from Reid ('65), Eoin Larkin, Reid (free) and a Richie Hogan brace, with David Redmond, Ian Byrne (free) and Liam Og McGovern responding at the other end.
Another Kilkenny goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived in the 48th minute when Liam Ryan slipped seconds before T.J. Reid won the ball on the right flank. That was enough for the attacker to gain an edge and he soloed towards goal before parting to his left to a grateful Ger Aylward who finished with ease (4-12 to 0-13).
The fifth goal arrived midway through the half as an Andrew Shore fumble was punished to the full when Eoin Larkin flicked the ball into the path of Aylward who duly completed his hat-trick.
Ian Byrne had the last three Wexford points, two from frees, but there was a queue of Kilkenny men lining up to pick off scores at the other end.
Aylward, Larkin and Reid had all obliged in between the fourth and fifth goals, and Hogan, Cillian Buckley and Hogan again had their say before Byrne closed Wexford's scoring in the 63rd minute (5-18 to 0-16).
Eanna Martin was into the fray at that stage while Garrett Sinnott was introduced too, shortly after Byrne's low effort from a free was saved and Liam Og McGovern sent the rebound wide.
It looked as if a bad day couldn't possibly get any worse, but that was before Kilkenny finished with seven more points from Reid (free), Aylward, another Reid free, Michael Fennelly, substitute Kevin Kelly, Aylward and Reid from play.
It was a humiliating day, and the road to recovery won't be one bit easy.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Ciarán Kenny, Liam Ryan, Eoin Moore; Lee Chin, Matthew O'Hanlon (capt.), Andrew Shore (0-1); David Redmond (0-2), Diarmuid O'Keeffe; Shane Tomkins, Daithí Waters, Ian Byrne (0-11, 9 frees); Paul Morris, Conor McDonald, Liam Og McGovern (0-2). Subs. - Kevin Foley for Morris, inj. (17), Aidan Nolan for Moore (32), Podge Doran for Waters (HT), Harry Kehoe for Tomkins (HT), Eanna Martin for Shore (62), Garrett Sinnott for McGovern (64).
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Joey Holden (capt.), Jackie Tyrrell; Pádraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley (0-1); Michael Fennelly (0-1), Conor Fogarty; Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan (1-5), John Power (0-2); Ger Aylward (3-5), T.J. Reid (1-7, 1-0 pen., 0-3 frees, 0-1 '65), Eoin Larkin (0-3). Subs. - Kevin Kelly (0-1) for Power (56), Shane Prendergast for Tyrrell (60), Robert Lennon for P. Murphy (61), Mark Kelly for Larkin (63).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).