Whitty goal crucial
Electric Ireland Leinster U17HC: Wexford 2-21 Laois 1-18
Owen Whitty's 46th-minute goal was the decisive score in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday when the Wexford Under-17 hurlers came through a tough battle with Laois to make a winning start to the Electric Ireland Leinster championship.
The sides were deadlocked for the seventh time (0-16 each) when impressive number 11 Tomás Murphy created a pocket of space close to goal at the town end and popped a handpass to the St. James' attacker who drilled the ball to the net off his left side.
The outcome still wasn't fully decided as a long-range free from centre-back Conor Cosgrove narrowed the gap to two points seven minutes later (1-17 to 0-18).
However, one of the stand-out features of the game was Wexford's strong finish to both halves, and they calmly reeled off the last four scores on the trot to fill them with confidence for the trip to face Kilkenny in Nowlan Park next Saturday.
The outstanding accuracy from placed balls of Rathnure's A.J. Redmond was another key factor in the win, and he brought his personal tally to 0-13 in that late flourish with a '65 and a free respectively.
Sandwiched in between were two efforts from play by Tomás Murphy and substitute Cian Molloy, with the latter catching the puck-out after the previous point and returning it over the bar with interest.
The old Under-18 grade has been replaced by this Under-17 version, and some of the differences were notable.
For starters, the physical development of players at that stage of their lives can be pronounced in the space of twelve months, and a lot of the protagonists on both sides have yet to build the power that one would normally associate with a Minor of old.
Secondly, it's a big ask to expect 16- and 17-year-olds to do everything right on such a major stage, and this led to a lot of unforced errors from both sides although the match was also sprinkled with outbursts of real quality.
Wexford were expecting a tough battle from Laois, and so it proved as the visitors had first use of the breeze blowing into the town end.
The accuracy from both sides in the first-half was impressive, with a mere three wides for the home team and two for the midlanders as Wexford finished with a flourish to open up a 0-13 to 0-11 interval lead.
It was 0-5 apiece after 13 minutes, with A.J. Redmond showing that he was on form from frees by converting his first three attempts. Indeed, he only missed one placed ball throughout, ending with a very impressive strike rate of twelve from 13.
Tomás Murphy and Richie Lawlor also picked off points in that first quarter for Wexford, but a flurry of scores from lively corner-forwards Adam Kirwan and Mark Hennessy (two) left Laois 8-5 clear by the 16th minute.
Wexford utilised full-forward Jack Kirwan as a third midfielder to leave plenty of room inside for Redmond and Paddy Whitty, and the top marksman from Rathnure punished a foul on centre-back David Codd with an excellent long-range point before picking off his sole score from play.
It was 10-10 by the 25th minute after further Wexford contributions to the scoreboard from Redmond (free), Jack Kehoe and Whitty, but Laois regained the lead with a Ciarán Byrne rocket that zipped over rather than under the bar with a goal on the cards.
It was a let-off for the home side, and they responded well with the last three points of the half, courtesy of Zac Firman and a couple of Redmond frees (0-13 to 0-11).
Another Redmond brace, from a '65 and a free, widened the gap to four on the re-start, but Laois dug in and showed their worth by drawing level on 0-15 each by the 43rd minute.
Adam Kirwan (free), Conor Cosgrove (free), Tadhg Cuddy and Mark Hennessy left Wexford with a lot of work to do, and it was no different after Redmond and Kirwan exchanged further points from placed balls.
In the circumstances, Owen Whitty's goal was precious and it couldn't have arrived at a better time, because it gave his team the resolve to push on for the final quarter.
A Ciarán Byrne point for Laois was cancelled by Tomás Murphy, now at right corner-forward, and a chance to wrap it up was squandered in the 50th minute when A.J. Redmond fired back across goal and wide after Owen Whitty picked him out with a handpass.
Another Conor Cosgrove free left Laois just two in arrears (1-17 to 0-18), but Wexford didn't concede again and ended up winning by a margin of six that probably flattered them slightly to give the losers their due.
Laois goalkeeper Lorcan Fitzpatrick survived a couple of anxious moments, with substitute David Cantwell almost capitalising on his second error after a Tomás Murphy flick across goal.
Wexford looked comfortable though as those late points from Redmond (two), Murphy and Molloy left them worthy winners.
As to their overall ability and potential, we'll probably know that for sure after their trip to the lions' den next Saturday when Kilkenny will present an entirely different proposition.
Wexford: Darragh Hayes (Oulart-The Ballagh); Shane Walsh (St. Martin's), Rory Scallan (Ferns St. Aidan's), Noel Rowsome (Monageer-Boolavogue); Billy Dunne (Oulart-The Ballagh), David Codd (St. Martin's), Eanna Doyle (Cloughbawn); Zac Firman (St. Martin's, capt., 0-1), Richie Lawlor (Faythe Harriers, 0-1); Owen Whitty (St. James', 1-0), Tomás Murphy (Blackwater, 0-3), Jack Kehoe (Horeswood, 0-1); A.J. Redmond (Rathnure, 0-13, 10 frees, 2 '65s), Jack Kirwan (Rapparees), Paddy Whitty (Cloughbawn, 0-1). Subs. - Cian Molloy (Naomh Eanna, 0-1) for Kirwan (38), Dylan O'Neill (Shelmaliers) for Firman (51), David Cantwell (St. Martin's) for Whitty (54), Feidhlim Roche (Blackwater) for Dunne (59), Eamonn Doran (Craanford) for Murphy (60+4), also Cian Byrne (St. Mary's, Rosslare), Patrick O'Connor (Blackwater), Cian Browne (Naomh Eanna), Kevin Breen (St. Anne's).
Laois: Lorcan Fitzpatrick; Killian Kirwan, Danny Brennan, Ben Shore; Keilan Kelly, Conor Cosgrove (0-3, 2 frees), Thep Fitzpatrick; Fionán Mahoney, Fionn Holland; Ciarán Byrne (0-3), Alan Connolly (0-1), Tadhg Cuddy (0-2); Mark Hennessy (0-4), Cathal O'Shaughnessy (0-1), Adam Kirwan (0-4, 3 frees). Subs. - Evan Hawkes for K. Kirwan (38), Niall Carey for Kelly (47), Gearóid O'Neill for Shore, inj. (52).
Referee: Richie Fitzsimons (Offaly).