Thursday 19 September 2019

The Wexford Minors booked a Leinster final spot on Sunday last


WEXFORD CONTINUED their bid for provincial glory when in a hugely-impressive display they handed out a 14-point defeat to a highly-rated Laois team in this excellent Leinster Minor hurling championship semifinal at Wexford Park on Sunday last.

The tag of favourites always hangs nervously on a Wexford side and it was no exception on this occasion, as the team had some nervy passages in both periods before eventually going on to turn their dominance into scores. When it came down to separating the sides, Wexford rose to the occasion, picking off some excellent points, while their hurling skills and stickwork were quite exceptional over the 60 minutes.

As a result of this victory Wexford have set up a repeat clash with Dublin in the provincial final on July 8. When the sides met in an earlier round of the campaign, Wexford turned in a big performance in Parnell Park to get the better of the reigning provincial titleholders. Now they can look forward to meeting their old rivals once again in what is a most appealing final.

When Wexford emerged from that victory over Dublin their confidence increased. Now that they have taken the scalp of a Laois side that had pushed Kilkenny to the final whistle, they will go into the decider confident that they can deliver. But they will still realise that some improvement is needed in several areas of the team, particularly in defence where discipline let them down on a number of occasions, as the point-taking of P.J. Scully from frees kept Laois in contention far longer than they deserved.

It's an area of their game that Wexford will be working on over the coming weeks, while the attack, while showing excellent skills in striking over points, will also need more penetration in front of the posts, as goals are crucial when it comes to this stage of the title race.

But the game revealed this is a well-balanced and skilful Wexford side. Seán Doyle, Liam Ryan and Andrew Kenny played excellently in defence, while Colm Heffernan and Conor Devitt provided a quality supply of ball to the attack as they edged the midfield battle. Full-forward Conor McDonald was a revelation with his excellent first touch, ball control and finishing skills, which was supplemented by top-class support play from Kevin Foley, Seán Kenny, Tony French, Jack O'Connor and Jordan Broaders, as they combined effectively to pick off excellent points. Twenty-four points is a huge haul in any game but it demonstrates the skill levels of this side.

Laois opened the game trying to impose themselves on the home side, particularly during the opening exchanges which saw them take a fourth-minute lead through Ben Conroy, after they had two previous attempts wide of the target. It did not take Wexford long to get back level as in what was their first real attack of the game they forced a free which Tony French pointed, a score that helped to settle the home side.

Thirty seconds later Wexford took the lead for the first time. Andrew Kenny sent in a great delivery that was superbly fielded by Conor McDonald who swivelled around his marker to send over a delightful point. Within 30 seconds it was McDonald once again who swung over a great point, extending his side into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead. Laois responded with a P.J. Scully pointed free but it was Wexford who were now playing real quality hurling with their direct approach beginning to reap its rewards.

This time it was the turn of Anthony Roche who sent in a great ball that full-forward McDonald once again fielded superbly but on this occasion he was fouled, leaving Tony French to point the resulting free. Seán Kenny followed with a neat point, before Tony French from a free after Jack O'Connor had been fouled extended his side into a 0-6 to 0-2 lead after 13 minutes.

Wexford were playing with great pace to their game so it was no surprise when they scored the opening goal after 14 minutes. Liam Ryan once again chose the direct route, with his high delivery being pulled down superbly from the air by full-forward McDonald who this time found the net with a terrific low shot, giving 'keeper Enda Rowland no chance.

Now leading by 1-7 to 0-2, after Andrew Kenny pointed a '65, Wexford took their foot off the pedal briefly, allowing Laois back into contention. P.J. Scully pointed a free, while on 17 minutes full-forward Joe Campion knifed through the defence before handpassing inside, leaving Aaron Moore to apply the goal finish.

Suddenly the deficit was reduced to five points, 1-8 to 1-3, but Wexford responded with a McDonald point, possibly the best score of the game, before Laois finished the half strongly with two pointed frees from corner-forward P.J. Scully to leave the home side leading by 1-9 to 1-5 at the interval.

Tactically Wexford looked better equipped as Conor Devitt extended his side's lead inside 30 seconds of the re-start. Following this bright start Wexford had to show their defensive qualities in denying the visitors a goal, before Scully landed two pointed frees, leaving just three points (1-10 to 1-7) separating the sides after 35 minutes.

But Wexford were working hard as they responded with points from Jack O'Connor and Jordan Broaders, while P.J. Scully and Tony French went on to exchange pointed frees.

But it was in the final quarter that Wexford's superior hurling skills came very much to the forefront as they went on to outscore the visitors by 0-6 to 0-1, securing their provincial final spot with another hugelyimpressive performance.

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