Wounded Cats will be gunning for revenge

League outcome adds even more spice

Brendan Furlong

How will Kilkenny deal with the presence of Shaun Murphy as the Wexford sweeper? That is one of many intriguing questions that will be answered
How will Kilkenny deal with the presence of Shaun Murphy as the Wexford sweeper? That is one of many intriguing questions that will be answered
Wexford midfielder Aidan Nolan is tackled by Kilkenny's Jason Cleere during their National League quarter-final clash in Nowlan Park in April
Former Kilkenny goalkeeper P.J. Ryan, now an integral part of the Wexford backroom team, will be plotting his own county's downfall

Wexford be warned - they can expect a backlash from a sore Kilkenny team when the two sides meet in the Leinster Senior hurling championship semi-final at Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday (7 p.m.).

The edge on what had been the most sharp-edged rivalry in provincial hurling had been dulled for some time because of Kilkenny's dominance in the province.

During this period of near-total Kilkenny control, Wexford have managed just one championship victory with that historic late Michael Jacob goal in 2004, so a victory is long overdue.

The reality was framed even more brutally on the national stage through Kilkenny's dominance, only interrupted by two Tipperrary All-Ireland final victories.

But Wexford did manage to upstage the neighbours when they clashed in this year's league quarter-final with a first victory on Kilkenny soil in some 60 years, an outcome that has brought an extra edge to this provincial semi-final.

So Wexford can expect their sore neighbours to come out fighting. Little wonder then that Innovate Wexford Park is a sell-out which should ensure huge home support, but Kilkenny are also travelling in numbers down the road in the hope that their long-held dominance of Leinster hurling will continue.

While the Kilkenny dander will be rising all week, Wexford will set up to meet the expected early onslaught so as to ensure they will not be stung in the opening minutes.

This could be a feisty encounter, particularly through the opening 20 minutes, as there is no doubt this is going to be a different scenario as to when the sides met in that league quarter-final.

For Kilkenny they will look on that game as a poor league finish, but they believe it could prove a blessing in disguise too, as they have been forewarned of the dangers of Davy Fitzgerald's new-look Wexford side.

Many had felt that Kilkenny were poised to set up a league semi-final with Tipperary, but that fraught finish has provided the incentive for the side to step up preparations, which by all accounts have been quite severe over the past month.

Kilkenny will look to the absence of key players on that occasion, but now they have the mighty Michael Fennelly back in the fold, while goal poacher Ger Aylward from Glenmore is also back after a lengthy absence from a cruciate knee ligament problem. Also fully fit is attacker Colin Fennelly following a nose operation.

This is in stark contrast to Wexford who are struggling with injuries. Goalkeeper Mark Fanning is facing a race against time with a hand injury which prevented him from lining out against Laois in the quarter-final, while Willie Devereux - who also missed that game with a hamstring tear - is also racing against the clock.

But also of major significance is the fitness, or lack of it, of Jack O'Connor. The St. Martin's player was proving a huge presence against Laois until forced to retire with an ankle injury which is still considerably swollen.

Wexford are prepared to wait until the final hours to decide on his fitness, while corner-back James Breen should be fit having recovered from some niggling injuries. However, Damien Reck has been ruled out with an ankle ligament injury which sees him sidelined for up to eight weeks.

Wexford will play to their usual gameplan with Shaun Murphy as sweeper so they will have bodies behind the ball. It will be interesting to see the Kilkenny gameplan on this occasion in an effort to counter-act that.

The Wexford system is now established, but whether that is enough to control the game only time will tell. Still, they will be encouraged by the success of this plan through the league campaign and against Laois in the championship opener.

With a few adaptions along the way, the Wexford plan has been effective, their late scoring collapse against Tipperary being the exception rather than the rule.

Wexford will be enxious to win the midfield battle, thus limiting the opportunities of ace attackers such as Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and T.J. Reid, who could have Michael Fennelly as their support player from centre-forward.

Following the quarter-final second-half exploits of Jack Guiney when introduced as a half-time substitute, Wexford must be toying with the idea of having the big Rathnure attacker in from the start.

One always needs to make sure there is a strong presence on the ege of the square where Kilkenny are weakest, so there is no better player to exploit this than the in-form Guiney.

Wexford need a target man. They need a focus, a ball-winner, and Guiney provides all of this.

This would free up the likes of Conor McDonald and Lee Chin to have a real scoring influence on the game, while further down the pitch, they will be hoping that players like Liam Ryan, Matthew O'Hanlon, Diarmuid O'Keeffe and Shaun Murphy can limit the opportunities of the Kilkenny attack.

But it's Wexford to edge the battle.

Wexford People