Friday 24 November 2017

Hurlers show no mercy

Alan Aherne

Shane Tomkins tackles Tommy Casey whose uncle, Fr. Martin, represented Wexford with distinction
Shane Tomkins tackles Tommy Casey whose uncle, Fr. Martin, represented Wexford with distinction
Netminder Conor O'Leary in action on his league debut.
Liam Og McGovern taking on Kerry substitute Dougie Fitzell during the second-half.

Wexford followers made the cross-country journey to Austin Stack Park, Tralee, on Sunday with a certain degree of trepidation after recent events, but there was absolutely no need for anxiety as the Senior hurlers built on the promise shown at certain stages in the loss to Clare with a 23-point trouncing of a shell-shocked Kerry side.

Wexford 2-25 Kerry 0-8

The reputation of the home side had been growing after a win over Laois and a gutsy loss to Limerick, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The visitors knew they needed to be on their game from the start to prevent the locals from building momentum and confidence, and so it proved as wind-aided Wexford powered into a 1-13 to 0-4 interval lead and never looked back.

Kerry failed miserably to do anything of note after the break even with the elements in their favour, and the only matter of conjecture was what the winning margin would be. However, the game was still notable for a couple of things, chiefly the outstanding scoring contribution of big Andrew Shore who accounted for a staggering 1-7 from play, divided between 0-5 at centre-forward and 1-2 on the edge of the square.

The first full game of the year for Conor McDonald yielded a morale-boosting goal too for the Gorey lad, while there was a call-up, and late debut off the bench, for Oulart-The Ballagh's Kevin Sheridan who impressed so much during their extended club campaign. As expected too, Sheridan's colleague, Conor O'Leary, was preferred to Mark Fanning between the posts and wasn't over-exerted in keeping a clean sheet.

Wexford had first use of the strong wind on a miserable day which still drew a large crowd to the venue which had been closed for a year due to renovations. The stand filled up rapidly as Kerry fans settled in for part one of a double-header which also featured their ill-tempered football win over Donegal, but they had little to cheer about in the curtain-raiser.

Indeed, they spent most of their time on the back of Tipperary referee John O'Brien who awarded eleven frees to the home side and ten to Wexford. Kerry finished with 13 players as wing-back Tom Murnane was dismissed on a second yellow card for dissent before full-back Bryan Murphy received a late straight red for a swipe at Liam Og McGovern to prevent a goal.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the Wexford performance, and something which Kerry couldn't cope with, was their physicality in the tackle and relentless pursuit of the man in possession. These two facets of the game need to be a constant for this team if the players are to make real progress.

Wexford wasted little time in putting their opponents on the back foot, with Shane Tomkins pointing from a Podge Doran handpass before Andrew Shore started his scoring spree from a Lee Chin assist in the second minutes.

Tomkins made it 3-0 after Kerry defender Tommy Casey - a nephew of Buffers Alley hero Fr. Martin - broke a Pádraig Foley clearance into his path. A Shore handpass to Conor McDonald was then intercepted as he eschewed the option of an easy point and sniffed out an early goal.

Seconds later John Egan was fouled at the other end and Shane Nolan got Kerry off the mark, but in general their chances were few and far between. Shore's second point, after Chin hit a low ball to Liam Og McGovern who delivered a handpass, widened the gap to 4-1 in the tenth minute.

Mikey Boyle pulled one back after a crossfield Michael O'Leary ball broke off Eoin Moore, but the latter's short pass fed Shore for his third point. Aidan Nolan robbed John Griffin to make it 6-2, and the goal which knocked the stuffing out of Kerry arrived in the 14th minute.

Shore turned provider on this occasion, starting the move before parting to Podge Doran who found Conor McDonald to his left with a handpass, and his shot went in off goalkeeper Martin Stackpoole to leave Wexford with a healthy 1-6 to 0-2 lead.

McDonald followed up with the third Wexford wide from seven in the half and ten in all (Kerry had six), but he atoned with a point after Aidan Nolan won a tussle on the ground after an Eoin Moore line ball.

Only a brilliant diving save from Pádraig Foley prevented a certain Kerry goal in the 20th minute after Michael O'Leary fed John Egan, and the point in the follow-up was scant consolation.

A low McDonald snapshot flew across goal and wide before Harry Kehoe's cross picked out Aidan Nolan to make it 1-8 to 0-3. Kehoe added three frees after good Wexford pressure forced three technical fouls, with Kerry's frustration growing with every passing minute.

A Shane Nolan free did stop the rot a little, but Wexford added two more points before the break. Liam Og McGovern got his sole score after a great touch by Conor McDonald to control a Pádraig Foley clearance, and a crossfield Eoin Conroy pass left Lee Chin with all the time in the world to stretch the lead to 1-13 to 0-4.

In truth, the second-half was a pretty dull affair but a pleasing 35 minutes all the same as Wexford never looked in danger of surrendering that big lead.

Indeed, they increased it by another eleven points which was no mean feat given the strength of the wind and, more importantly, they did so playing a neat brand of controlled and composed hurling, with an unselfish approach and genuine attempt to find the best-placed man for a pass at all times.

Liam Ryan's assist was the catalyst for another Andrew Shore point which was responded to by Shane Nolan, with a couple of long balls from Kerry capably dealt with before Shore posted a wide.

A foul on Conor McDonald was punished by Harry Kehoe who also split the posts after Kerry substitute Jason Diggins was booked for a poor challenge on Eoin Conroy (1-16 to 0-5).

Kerry squandered a second goal chance in the 48th minute when Mikey Boyle caught a long delivery from John Egan but turned and kicked wide. A good long-range pointed free from Shane Nolan was cancelled out by Shore's fifth score from play which was created by St. Anne's duo Diarmuid O'Keeffe and Liam Og McGovern.

Conor McDonald had a half-chance parried by goalkeeper Martin Stackpoole who initially spilled a Liam Ryan lob, with Pádraig Foley making a good tackle at the other end moments later to deny Jack Goulding.

The dismissal of Tom Murnane only added to Kerry's woes, with the additional space exposed to the full by the leaders. Shane Nolan did convert a free first before Eoin Moore stretched the gap to 1-18 to 0-7 from a Shore pass.

Harry Kehoe converted a '65 before a brilliant leap into the air by Shore to catch a Moore centre, and his finish was equally spectacular as he buried the ball in the net for a quality goal (2-19 to 0-7).

Colum Harty's effort over the shoulder in the 64th minute was the last Kerry point.

There was still time for Wexford to tack on five more though, with no fewer than five added minutes facilitating the last two.

Prior to that Ian Byrne, Conor McDonald and who else but Shore were set up for points by Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Shane Tomkins and Liam Og McGovern.

Shore's seventh followed an Eoin Conroy delivery, and Ian Byrne blazed over the last from a penalty after McGovern was hacked down with the goal at his mercy from a Shore handpass, leading to an inevitable straight red card for full-back Bryan Murphy.

Wexford: Conor O'Leary; Liam Ryan, Matthew O'Hanlon (capt.), Andrew Kenny; Eoin Conroy, Pádraig Foley, Eoin Moore (0-1); Lee Chin (0-1), Harry Kehoe (0-6, 5 frees, 1 '65); Shane Tomkins (0-2), Andrew Shore (1-7), Aidan Nolan (0-2); Liam Og McGovern (0-1), Conor McDonald (1-2), Podge Doran. Subs. - Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1) for Doran (49), Ian Byrne (0-2, 1 pen.) for Nolan (58), Jack O'Connor for Chin (63), Aaron Maddock for Ryan (65), Kevin Sheridan for Moore, inj. (65).

Kerry: Martin Stackpoole; Seán Weir, Bryan Murphy, Keith Carmody; Daniel Collins (capt.), Tommy Casey, Tom Murnane; Patrick Kelly, John Griffin; Colum Harty (0-1), Michael O'Leary, Shane Nolan (0-5, 4 frees); Jack Goulding, Mikey Boyle (0-1), John Egan (0-1). Subs. - Dougie Fitzell for Weir (HT), Darren Dineen for Kelly (41), Jason Diggins for Casey (45), Philip Lucid for O'Leary (46), Jordan Conway for Goulding (65).

Referee: John O'Brien (Tipperary).

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