Saturday 18 November 2017

U-21 crew entering lions' den for final

Championship Special: Defeating Kilkenny will be a big ask

Brendan Furlong

Cathal Dunbar will be hoping to carry his good form from the semi-final win over Carlow when he hit three goals into Wednesday's game
Cathal Dunbar will be hoping to carry his good form from the semi-final win over Carlow when he hit three goals into Wednesday's game
Rory O'Connor will be expected to play a big role from the off in the final after coming on against Carlow due to his exam commitments at the time

Having laid the Nowlan Park hoodoo to rest at Senior level, Wexford will not fear the visit to the renowned hurling venue to take on Kilkenny in the Bord Gáis Energy Leinster Under-21 championship final this Wednesday (7.30 p.m.).

This is a game that will test both sides, more particularly Wexford coming off the back of a defeat to Galway in the Senior provincial final on Sunday, while for Kilkenny they will be boosted by the victory over Dublin in the Leinster Minor decider.

Wexford last held the provincial title in 2015, completing their three-in-a-row, while for Kilkenny they will be endeavouring to end some lean years in this grade to help with their re-building project at Senior level.

Wexford will once again have to line out without the services of their outstanding half-back, Damien Reck, who was a revelation for the county through the league campaign, having burst into the Senior side at just 19 years of age.

The Oylegate-Glenbrien clubman is still out of contention after undergoing surgery on an ankle ligament tear, an injury that will keep him out of the game for at least another four weeks.

Wexford looked quite impressive with an improved performance in their semi-final victory over Carlow, but in Kilkenny they realise this will be a step up in class. A more determined approach over the full 60 minutes will be needed if they are to upset the home side.

Although Reck will be a huge loss, Wexford can still draw on Senior panel members in Aaron Maddock, Joe O'Connor, Rory O'Connor and Cathal Dunbar, while third choice Senior 'keeper, Darragh Hughes, will be between the posts.

Oulart-The Ballagh's Billy Dunne, following his fine display in the club's victory over Glynn-Barntown in the league final, should be pushing strongly for inclusion in the starting 15, while both Rory O'Connor and Conor Firman, who came on at half-time in the Carlow victory as a result of being exam-tied will be in the starting 15.

Kilkenny will be a formidable opposition particularly after being out of the limelight in this grade in recent years. Their star attacker is Alan Murphy, brother of Senior goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, along with Liam Blanchfield, a player of Senior experience, while they will have Jason Cleere in the centre of defence. Incidentally, Alan Murphy played with the Wexford Combined Schools in the Leinster Colleges championship two years ago.

Apart from those already mentioned, Wexford also have quality defenders in Brian Quigley and Gary Molloy, while Joe Coleman and Stephen O'Gorman have also looked impressive in attack.

Selector Tom Foley is under no illusion regarding the task facing the side. 'We played Kilkenny earlier in the year in a challenge game at the Centre of Excellence in Ferns, so we know their physical power along with their hurling ability.

'They won the Minor three years ago so will be backboned by those players. While players do not always transfer to a higher level showing the same abilities, they are still a formidable team,' he said.

'We also have plenty of quality players. The Under-21 is an unforgiving grade with no back doors so we have to get their match-ups rights and take our opportunity.

'We finished well against Offaly, while also settled in against Carlow. We may not have shown Carlow the respect they deserved as they came down fired up for the game. In the end we got a result.

'Cathal Dunbar was on fire in that game. He is a player of pace, good footwork and an excellent finisher, but this is not all about one player, it's about a team effort.

'It's a phenomenal task but we are going up to give a performance and win the game,' he added.

Should Wexford keep a vigilant lookout for the Kilkenny attack, they have the scoring power up front themselves to reclaim the title last held in 2015.

Wexford People

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