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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Job done, now bring on the Cats!

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship: Wexford 2-28 Carlow 0-19

Wexford attacker Paul Morris attempts to steal a march on Carlow full-back Paul Doyle
Wexford attacker Paul Morris attempts to steal a march on Carlow full-back Paul Doyle

The true worth of this Wexford team can't be accurately assessed until next weekend's visit of Kilkenny, but they certainly ticked the required box before a 6,500 crowd in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday when plucky Carlow were overcome by a much-needed healthy margin to record a first Leinster championship success of the year.

It was a case of mission accomplished as the home side boosted their scoring difference by a healthy plus 15, defeating the underdogs by the largest gap of the provincial contestants after our neighbours had earlier fallen to Galway by six, Kilkenny by 14, and Dublin by twelve.

A strong start into the wind saw the team surge into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead after eight minutes, although there was cause for some concern when a sloppy second quarter meant that Carlow only trailed by two points (1-10 to 0-11) at the interval.

However, the general performance on the re-start was first rate, with an array of superb scores taken from an impressive additional haul of 1-18 as the visitors were put to the sword with a considerable degree of comfort.

Carlow did pose some problems, with Marty Kavanagh outstanding at centre-forward, Chris Nolan lively in the inside attacking line, and centre-back David English a key figure when they tried to work the ball through the lines into the elements after the interval.

One area clearly in need of work before Kilkenny's visit on Saturday is the requirement to cut down on the concession of frees, because some of the easy opportunities afforded to Kavanagh could have been avoided.

Antrim referee Colum Cunning may have been somewhat whistle-happy in his desire to keep control of his first big assignment, and three players were dismissed on second bookings late on.

Still, the Wexford backs need to be a lot smarter when they are confronted by an opponent running towards them at pace, because the last thing we want is for T.J. Reid to have a field day from placed balls.

Paul Morris replaced Aidan Nolan from the side which drew away to Galway 13 days earlier, and the favourites settled quickly as Conor McDonald posted the first point from his impressive 1-4 haul after a mere 16 seconds.

Joint captain Matthew O'Hanlon had won the toss and opted to face into the wind first, and it appeared a wise choice given that Wexford prospered early on while Carlow took their time getting to grips with the pace of the game.

Lee Chin converted a free after a foul on Liam Óg McGovern in between the first two of Carlow's 13 wides, and he played a central role in a superbly-worked and clinically-taken goal in the fifth minute.

Conor McDonald is one of the best forwards to catch a high ball in the country, and the opportunity arose after he plucked a Shaun Murphy clearance from the air.

Chin was fed on the left flank and delivered an inch-perfect crossfield pass to the onrushing Rory O'Connor, who had started at midfield, and his finish was sublime as he planted a rising shot into Brian Tracey's net for a 1-2 to nil lead.

Marty Kavanagh caught the puck-out and fired over the opening Carlow point, but Conor McDonald did likewise from Mark Fanning's re-start before Chin increased the gap to six after goalscorer O'Connor was impeded.

There was a momentary scare in the eighth minute when a kick under pressure from Edward Byrne was scrambled off the line at the town end, with Marty Kavanagh converting the '65 that arose before Chin made the most of a foul on Paul Morris (1-5 to 0-2).

The Ferns man followed with the first of his team's 13 wides (six in the opening half), but they were still relatively comfortable moving into the second quarter when the lead stood at 1-7 to 0-5.

A well-taken Chris Nolan point after shaking off Simon Donohoe was cancelled by Chin's next free which was awarded for a foul on McDonald, with a bit of pushing and shoving afterwards resulting in yellow cards for Cathal Dunbar plus Carlow duo Richard Coady and Paul Doyle, who had committed the original foul.

John Michael Nolan's name followed quickly into the notebook for a swipe at Kevin Foley, and Paul Morris made it 1-7 to 0-3 in the 16th minute after McDonald appeared to mis-hit a handpass into his path.

Carlow pulled back two points from free-taker Kavanagh and a long-ranger from wing-back Eoin Nolan, and in between Chris Nolan broke through the defensive cover but was foiled by a fine dive to his left and smart save from Mark Fanning.

Diarmuid O'Keeffe gathered possession in acres of space from a puck-out after a Carlow wide and picked off an easy point, but that marked the start of Wexford's below-par phase as they failed to score between the 20th and 34th minutes.

Chris Nolan and Simon Donohoe joined the growing list of booked players after some off-the-ball niggling, before an overcarrying call against Chin resulted in Kavanagh making it 1-8 to 0-6.

It was the first of four Carlow points on the trot, courtesy of two more Kavanagh frees plus a second from play by Chris Nolan in between.

One placed ball was awarded for a foul on the St. Mullins flyer by Shaun Murphy, who was booked and also had to temporarily leave the field with a blood injury as a result.

There was also a card for Carlow's Seán Whelan after a late tackle on Chin under the stand, and even at that stage there was a strong likelihood that the game wouldn't end with 30 players on the field.

It wasn't a dirty encounter, far from it in fact, it was just the fact that the yellow cards were mounting on both sides, leaving many players just one mis-timed tackled away from an early shower.

Carlow had chances to be even closer to Wexford than 1-8 to 0-9 after that good spell, because it also featured four wides plus one effort that dropped short.

Chin, shaken after that late hit, had missed his sole free, and Rory O'Connor was also off target with a point attempt, but there was a welcome respite in the 34th minute.

Carlow wing-back Eoin Nolan had his back turned to the ball as he contested it in the air with Cathal Dunbar, and it was a free all day long despite the over-dramatic protestations from their manager, Colm Bonnar, close to the scene.

Chin ignored that and made it 1-9 to 0-9, but Carlow had the gap down to two by half-time after Seán Whelan and John Michael Nolan pointed on either side of a Pádraig Foley point after Chin caught a Fanning puck-out.

Liam Óg McGovern partnered clubmate Diarmuid O'Keeffe at midfield for the second-half throw-in, with Rory O'Connor on the '40, and Wexford showed early positive intent with a trio of points inside six minutes from Chin, Morris and Cathal Dunbar, who was very impressive after the break (1-13 to 0-11).

Edward Byrne got what proved to be the second-last Carlow point from play in the 41st minute after winning Brian Tracey's puck-out, with Marty Kavanagh adding six frees on the trot before firing over a final consolation in added time.

McDonald made it 1-14 to 0-12 before a brief goal chance came and went for McGovern, but Chin fed Rory O'Connor to pick off a point in the ensuing play.

It was 1-18 to 0-16 at the three-quarters mark, with the only ongoing concern being those giveaway frees.

While Carlow never looked like overtaking Wexford, by the same token they were too close to meet our requirements from the game as a result of Kavanagh's accuracy.

A Dunbar brace, the second a beauty from the left sideline, plus another Chin free, had brought the tally to 1-18, and the goal that was required to finally bury the minnows arrived in the 54th minute.

Aidan Nolan had only been on the field for three minutes when he crossed from the left of goal for Conor McDonald who stumbled initially before quickly regaining his footing and lashing the ball home from close range (2-18 to 0-16).

What followed was pleasing as Wexford focused on building as large a winning margin as possible, and they achieved that aim since Carlow were outscored by 0-10 to 0-3 down the home straight.

One of the biggest cheers was reserved for Chin when he made a brilliant catch from a Kevin Foley clearance and, despite being clearly held, he powered through the tackle as the referee played a good advantage and split the posts on the run.

He added another from play before further contributions from a variety of sources, including three more of the substitutes introduced: Seamus Casey, Joe O'Connor and, finally, David Dunne.

Pádraig Foley also doubled his tally before a later strike from the defender was almost willed over the bar by home supporters.

Indeed, the cheer ensured that many were of the opinion that it was a point, but after a brief consultation between the umpires it was clearly waved wide.

Given that scoring differences might be of crucial value next Saturday night, every score was important and worth fighting for.

Wexford were reduced to 14 men in the 65th minute, with Shaun Murphy collecting a second yellow for taking down Marty Kavanagh who converted the free to make it 2-22 to 0-18.

McDonald followed with a trademark catch and point from Cathal Dunbar's delivery, and the scorer was then caught high by Richard Coady whose double booking saw the numbers evened up once more.

Chin pointed from the free, with Carlow's last throw of the dice coming 70 seconds into the five extra minutes announced when Marty Kavanagh capped an eye-catching individual display with his 13th point, and second from play.

There was still time for Wexford to work on their scoring difference, with two substitutes combining as Seamus Casey handpassed to David Dunne whose effort on goal was turned around the post by Brian Tracey.

Chin knocked over the '65, with another replacement, Joe O'Connor, then making it 2-26 to 0-19 before Carlow were reduced to 13 when the unfortunate Marty Kavanagh collected a second yellow for a late challenge on Kevin Foley.

Diarmuid O'Keeffe and David Dunne widened that winning margin to 15 before the end, but everyone would happily settle for even a one-point victory when the venue holds the showdown with the Cats at 7 p.m. this Saturday.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Simon Donohoe; Kevin Foley; Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Shaun Murphy, Pádraig Foley (0-2); Rory O'Connor (1-1), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-2); Liam Óg McGovern, Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-11, 7 frees, 1 '65), Paul Morris (0-2); Cathal Dunbar (0-3), Conor McDonald (1-4). Subs. - Shane Reck for Murphy, temp. (27-32), Aidan Nolan for Morris (50), David Dunne (0-1) for O'Connor (58), Seamus Casey (0-1) for McGovern (58), Shane Reck for Donohoe (60), Joe O'Connor (0-1) for Dunbar (70).

Carlow: Brian Tracey; Kevin McDonald, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Eoin Nolan (0-1), David English, Richard Coady (joint capt.); Jack Kavanagh, Seán Whelan (0-1); John Michael Nolan (0-1), Marty Kavanagh (0-13, 10 frees, 1 '65), Edward Byrne (joint capt., 0-1); Chris Nolan (0-2), Ted Joyce, James Doyle. Subs. - Jon Nolan for Joyce (57), Seamus Murphy for Byrne (64), Ger Coady for M. Doyle (66), Diarmuid Byrne for J.M. Nolan (67).

Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim).

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