Kilkenny coast to easy win
Championship Special: Kilkenny 0-30 Wexford 1-14
Wexford supporters among the 6,089 attendance in Nowlan Park for Wednesday's Bord Gáis Energy Leinster Under-21 hurling championship final were in need of a pick-me-up after the Senior defeat, but they travelled home with a sense of utter deflation after Kilkenny cruised to a runaway 13-point victory in a depressingly one-sided contest.
Those who claimed afterwards that the game turned on the 19th-minute dismissal of wing-back Brian Quigley were only clutching at straws, because the home side were by far the sharper side beforehand and only an opportunist Stephen O'Gorman goal had kept Wexford in touch.
The visitors were trailing by 0-8 to 1-2 after a Cathal Dunbar point when Kilkenny netminder Darren Brennan landed the puck-out into Richie Leahy's path down the left flank.
Quigley got his timing completely wrong, catching the attacker high on his left arm after the ball had passed and picking up a straight red card that was inevitable in the circumstances.
From that point on it was all plain sailing for the young Cats who claimed a first provincial title at this level since 2012 with considerable ease.
Indeed, it was painful to watch as they chased the 30-point mark deep into added time, and the score that saw the target reached summed up a wretched evening for Wexford.
It was like a scene from the closing credits of the Benny Hill Show from the bygone days as Kilkenny defender Jason Cleere took off from deep inside his own half, with the posse of chasing Wexford players growing with every passing second. He swatted them all away with ease though before using his last bit of energy to knock over his third point, with the losers put out of their misery by the final whistle seconds later.
In terms of finding positives from this game, it was difficult to pinpoint any apart from Darren Byrne's successful man-marking job on Kilkenny Senior Liam Blanchfield. The number three actually played in the left corner as the man he had been detailed to pick up didn't start on the edge of the square, and the promising Blackwater lad had by far the better of their duel when the game bore a close resemblance to a contest.
The full-back line in general did as well as could be expected given the constant onslaught, with Conor Firman and Shane Reck also trying hard.
However, Wexford were wiped out in the middle third despite some promising moments from Joe O'Connor, while Kilkenny restricted the influence of the two dangermen up front, Rory O'Connor and Cathal Dunbar.
The latter did showcase what he is capable of with one blinding second-half run, but his handpass to Darren Codd came to nothing as a Kilkenny defender got back to block the substitute's shot.
The eventual victors hit five of their 14 wides prior to the dismissal and only that, coupled with O'Gorman's goal, ensured that Wexford had something to cling on to early in the second quarter.
It was 0-3 to nil, courtesy of Billy Ryan, Richie Leahy and Alan Murphy (free), in the seventh minute when the early siege was lifted with an equalising goal.
Joe O'Connor delivered a sideline cut from the left and Stephen O'Gorman caught it before dispatching a low shot to the far corner of the net.
It was one of the rare occasions when a Wexford attacker got the better of his direct opponent though, while the game in general also underlined the serious problems we face at all levels in winning possession in the air.
Lee Chin and Conor McDonald apart, there seems to be few if any hurlers at any grade in the county capable of grabbing the ball cleanly. Not alone that, but we also struggle to match Kilkenny's ability to control the sliothar with their stick from a puck-out and knock it into a favourable position to run on to.
That issue was clearly evident in this tie, with Kilkenny nearly replying to that O'Gorman goal instantly from a Blanchfield flick that was taken off the line by Conor Firman.
The play was called back for a free converted by Alan Murphy, with Richie Leahy underlining the form that eventually made him man of the match with his second point in the tenth minute (0-5 to 1-0).
Joe Coleman did manage to grab the puck-out and knocked over the free, but Leahy, Jason Cleere and Luke Scanlon widened the gap to 0-8 to 1-1 before Cathal Dunbar pulled one back in the 18th minute.
The Quigley dismissal followed, and it seemed to leave Wexford in disarray on the line as Harry O'Connor appeared an odd choice to move to the unfamiliar role of right half-back in a bid to keep tabs on the rampant Leahy.
Kilkenny more than doubled their scoring haul in the last ten minutes of the half, and they were out of sight by the break when they led by 0-17 to 1-6.
Rory O'Connor, Joe Coleman (free), Joe O'Connor and another Coleman free accounted for the four additional Wexford points, but they came from all angles and distances in reply as Alan Murphy (two frees), Seán Morrissey, Richie Leahy, John Donnelly (two), Billy Ryan, Luke Scanlon and Liam Blanchfield made Kilkenny's numerical advantage count.
There was a bit more structure to the Wexford set-up for the second-half throw-in, with Harry O'Connor back in an enforced two-man full-forward line with Stephen O'Gorman, substitute Jake Firman partnering Joe O'Connor at midfield, and Rowan White reverting to wing-back.
Sadly though, there wasn't even a remote hope of a comeback, with Kilkenny keeping their rivals comfortably at arm's length and even embellishing their lead further as they outscored them by 0-13 to 0-8.
Joe Coleman missed chances from a free and a '65 before he was replaced by John Doyle who scored from his first touch via a placed ball to make it 0-19 to 1-9 in the 41st minute.
Coleman had pointed two frees beforehand while Alan Murphy (free) and Richie Leahy responded, and Darren Codd needed to be quicker to avail of Cathal Dunbar's strong run and pass midway through the third quarter.
The scoreboard read 0-21 to 1-9 at the three-quarters stage, after new Kilkenny free-taker James Bergin registered twice, and the only thing to be decided at that point was the final score.
True to form, the runaway leaders showed no mercy even though consolation scores were chalked up by Rory O'Connor, Cormac Moore, John Doyle, Cathal Dunbar and Darren Codd.
Seán Morrissey (two), captain Pat Lyng, Jason Cleere, James Bergin (free), Eoin Kenny, Luke Scanlon and Shane Walsh all contributed further to the Kilkenny tally before Cleere came up with the final humiliation deep into added time. It was difficult to watch by that sorry stage.
Wexford: Darragh Hughes (Naomh Eanna); Shane Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Conor Firman (St. Martin's), Darren Byrne (Blackwater); Brian Quigley (Rathnure), Aaron Maddock (St. Martin's), Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna); Joe O'Connor (St. Martin's, 0-1), Rowan White (Glynn-Barntown); Joe Coleman (St. Martin's, 0-5 frees), Rory O'Connor (St. Martin's, 0-2), Sam Kelly (Crossabeg-Ballymurn); Harry O'Connor (St. Martin's, capt.), Stephen O'Gorman (Taghmon-Camross, 1-0), Cathal Dunbar (Ballygarrett, 0-2). Subs. - Jake Firman (St. Martin's) for Kelly (HT), Darren Codd (St. Martin's, 0-1) for H. O'Connor (35), John Doyle (St. Patrick's, 0-2, 1 free) for Coleman (40), Cormac Moore (Ballygarrett, 0-1) for White (45), Darragh Pepper (Rapparees) for O'Gorman (48), also Billy Dunne (Oulart-The Ballagh), Daire Barden (Fethard), Michael O'Brien (St. Patrick's), Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers).
Kilkenny: Darren Brennan; Michael Cody, Conor Delaney, James Burke; Darren Mullen, Tommy Walsh, Jason Cleere (0-3); Luke Scanlon (0-3), Pat Lyng (capt., 0-1); John Donnelly (0-2), Seán Morrissey (0-3), Richie Leahy (0-5); Liam Blanchfield (0-1), Billy Ryan (0-2), Alan Murphy (0-5 frees). Subs. - Ryan Bergin for Burke (HT), James Bergin (0-3 frees) for Murphy (39), Eoin Kenny (0-1) for Blanchfield (44), John Walsh for Ryan (51), Shane Walsh (0-1) for Donnelly (57).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).