Hurlers on top after powerful start
Students stepped it up in second-half, but goal from newcomer Kelly sealed fate
A first-half scoring onslaught when backed by the bitingly cold wind guided the Wexford Senior hurlers to a fairly convincing nine-point win over a U.C.D. team featuring five Slaneysiders in their Bord na Móna Walsh Cup opener in Páirc Uí Shiocháin, Gorey, on Sunday.
Wexford 1-21 - U.C.D. 0-15
It looked like a rout might be on the cards when the home side, featuring some new faces eager to impress, powered into a runaway 0-10 to nil lead after just 17 minutes. It was 0-13 to 0-1 before the students finally got their act together, but they still trailed by 0-17 to 0-5 at the break and it was clear that if Wexford managed to play at any reasonable level at all on the re-start - wind or no wind - they would end up as comfortable winners.
As it transpired, it was no harm for Liam Dunne and his fellow mentors to see U.C.D. coming more into proceedings with the elements in their favour, because it provided the Wexford defence with the type of challenge they most definitely hadn't received before the break.
Indeed, when free-taker Ross King narrowed the gap to 0-19 to 0-14 midway through the last quarter after a ten-minute scoreless spell from the leaders, it briefly looked like the closing stages could be more interesting than mundane.
What little doubt there really was regarding the outcome at that stage was well and truly put to bed though in the 63rd minute when Joe Kelly, one of the newcomers on view, worked hard to secure the game's only goal. Receiving a crossfield pass from substitute Shaun Murphy into the left corner, it looked like a tap-over point might be the best option, but the Shelmaliers attacker backed himself to take on the defence and ended up batting the ball to the net past advancing netminder Billy Leydon from close range.
It brought his personal tally to 1-6, all bar two points from play in a lively contribution first at right half-forward and later in the corner. He was one of four debutants in the starting line-up, with last year's Under-21 wing-forward Pádraig Foley starting at right half-back and getting on the scoresheet in the opening half along with his two colleagues in that sector, Lee Chin and Richie Kehoe.
Benny Barron was the second new face from Shelmaliers at midfield, a fine personal achievement after enduring so many injury woes in the past, and his understanding with club colleague Kelly was evident as he sprayed a few neat passes into his path.
The attack also featured David Dunne of Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, the man who sprung from nowhere last September to score two goals off the bench in the All-Ireland Under-21 final, having donned the county jersey in Senior football earlier in the summer. He was replaced at half-time by Kevin Foley who had made his debut in this competition last year, while Adamstown's Shane O'Gorman also came on for the last quarter a full three years since his sole other appearance at this level.
The fifth completely new face to get some game-time was long-time football midfielder Daithí Waters who replaced Podge Doran on the '40 for the last seven minutes.
Matthew O'Hanlon, red-carded seven days earlier against Laois, was a notable absentee for U.C.D. but one-third of their players were on home soil.
Indeed, Naomh Eanna's Eoin Conroy was on his own ground and he was joined by fellow corner-back Seán Murphy (Buffers Alley), midfielder Conor Devitt from Ballyfad, left half-forward Jack O'Connor of St. Martin's and left corner-forward Conor McDonald, another hometown performer who retired with an ankle injury near the end of the third quarter.
There was an interesting conclusion to the game as O'Connor was marked near the end by St. Martin's team-mate Willie Devereux who had been introduced for Pádraig Foley.
The Nicky English-managed students had shipped a 2-22 to 1-8 hammering to Laois in Abbeyleix one week earlier, and they looked completely off the pace in the first quarter when Wexford did as they pleased. Just 15 seconds had elapsed when Shane Tomkins set up Podge Doran for the opening point, and Joe Kelly quickly doubled the lead after a Benny Barron delivery broke off David Dunne and Eoin Conroy.
Wexford continued to pepper the road end goal with shots from various angles and distances, with first-time captain Ciarán O'Shaughnessy latching on to Niall Breen's puck-out and firing over from close to the right sideline.
The energy and enthusiasm they brought to bear on proceedings was impressive, with a good spread of scorers and the best option taken by the man in possession more often than not.
Joe Kelly picked out Harry Kehoe for the fourth point before Shane Tomkins drilled a pull low and wide from an Ian Byrne run and handpass in the fifth minute.
It was the first of eleven shots off target in all before the break and, while that gives some idea of the complete dominance enjoyed, it's also an area ripe for improvement.
Byrne, Richie Kehoe and Byrne again landed points before the first of just six frees awarded to Wexford yielded another score for Joe Kelly in the 15th minute.
The Screen man made it 0-9 to nil from play shortly after swapping positions with Ciarán O'Shaughnessy, and Pádraig Foley brought the rampant home side into double figures by the 17th minute.
U.C.D. finally broke their duck with a good solo point from Laois midfielder Pat Purcell early in the second quarter. However, Kelly cancelled that out from play and added another from a free after a harsh over-carrying call against Conor McDonald before Shane Tomkins stretched the lead to 0-13 to 0-1.
The one-sided nature of the contest was doing nothing for supporters on a very cold afternoon, but the first real hint that the Belfield boys had something to offer arrived between the 25th and 29th minutes when they hit four points without reply from Ross King, substitute Oisín O'Rorke, and two more King efforts, the second from a free.
Lee Chin, who dominated his sector, ensured all three half-backs were on the scoresheet though before Ian Byrne grabbed a third and Benny Barron set up Joe Kelly to make it 0-16 to 0-5.
Another goal chance for Shane Tomkins was well saved by Billy Leydon, but there was still time for Ciarán O'Shaughnessy to widen the margin to twelve points by the break.
With 17 points chalked up already, one would have expected Wexford to hit the 20 mark pretty quickly when play resumed, but it didn't work out that way.
In actual fact, they had to wait until the 65th minute and a mere five scores were added to their tally in all including that decisive Joe Kelly goal.
Three additional wides brought the overall total to 14 compared to eight for U.C.D., while Wexford conceded nearly three times as many frees (16-6) and that is another area where improvements will be sought.
Podge Doran, scorer of the game's first point, nearly rattled the net inside one minute on the re-start but instead struck the post following good work from Benny Barron and Joe Kelly.
A goal at that stage would have completely killed the game off, but instead U.C.D. gained some heart from a brace of Conor McDonald points, while another attempt from Doran, via a ground stroke, went wide.
Luckily for Wexford, the Gorey attacker was penalised for a throw in the 42nd minute because he had put Ross King in the clear and a goal seemed a certainty.
A foul on McDonald led to a free which King converted before Joe Kelly should have done better from a close-in placed ball which was cleared.
The unrelated Foleys combined for Wexford's first score of the half in the 46th minute as Pádraig gave a short handpass to Kevin who injected some pace into the move before splitting the posts (0-18 to 0-8).
The leaders were finding progress into the wind nearly as difficult as their rivals did in the opening half though, and they conceded the next three points to U.C.D. free-takers Ross King (two) and Cian Mac Gabhann.
Podge Doran stopped the rot with a point but again it was met with a treble from the students, courtesy of Pat Purcell and King from two more placed balls.
And they could have ventured even closer as Niall Breen had to make a decent save to deny King a goal following a Jack O'Connor pass in the 55th minute.
It was a generally nervy spell for Wexford, but that Joe Kelly goal knocked the wind completely out of the U.C.D. sails and the rest of the game was a formality. Shane Tomkins and Ciarán O'Shaughnessy added late points, with one from Colm Cronin sandwiched in between, while Joe Kelly caught an Ian Byrne centre but didn't get the free he seemed to deserve after ending up on the ground with another goal on his mind.
The outcome means Wexford will head to Abbeyleix on Sunday knowing that the winner of their joust with Laois will book a place in the semi-final against Dublin or Antrim on February 1.
Wexford: Niall Breen; Andrew Kenny, Liam Ryan, Ciarán Kenny; Pádraig Foley (0-1), Lee Chin (0-1), Richie Kehoe (0-1); Benny Barron, Harry Kehoe (0-1); Joe Kelly (1-6, 0-2 frees), Podge Doran (0-2), Ian Byrne (0-3); Ciarán O'Shaughnessy (capt., 0-3), Shane Tomkins (0-2), David Dunne. Subs. - Kevin Foley (0-1) for Dunne (HT), Willie Devereux for P. Foley (56), Shane O'Gorman for C. Kenny (56), Shaun Murphy for H. Kehoe (56), Daithí Waters for Doran (63).
U.C.D.: Billy Leydon (Kilkenny); Eoin Conroy (Wexford), Conor O'Shea (Galway), Seán Murphy (Wexford); Cian Mac Gabhann (Dublin, 0-1 free), Cian O'Callaghan (Dublin), Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny, capt.); Conor Devitt (Wexford), Pat Purcell (Laois, 0-2); Colm Cronin (Dublin, 0-1), Caolán Conway (Dublin), Jack O'Connor (Wexford); Michael Brennan (Kilkenny), Ross King (Laois, 0-8, 6 frees), Conor McDonald (Wexford, 0-2). Subs. - Oisín O'Rorke (Dublin, 0-1) for Brennan (24), David Higgins (Westmeath) for McDonald, inj. (52), Dillon Mulligan (Dublin) for Conway (54).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow).