MATCH REPORT BY Mateo Hernandez-Power
The rain clouds finally cleared and the sun beat down on UPMC Nowlan Park last Sunday when the Cats met the Model county after a few uncertain weeks caused by Covid chaos
Kilkenny versus Wexford, Brian Cody versus Davy Fitzgerald, TJ Reid versus Lee Chin. All these battles have been hotly contested in the last five years since Davy Fitzgerald took over the Wexford managerial role. Brian Cody had come off second best in this rivalry, before last Sundays rescheduled Allianz Hurling League 1B Round 3 clash, the Yellowbellies had come out on top in eight of the last 13 encounters in the Walsh Cup, League and Championship. Challenge matches don’t exist between these two sides and fans expected no different last Sunday afternoon in UPMC Nowlan Park. With 11 mins gone Kilkenny were 1-5 to 0-5 up, the two teams separated by a well taken goal from Billy Ryan, who was a late replacement for Martin Keoghan. He drilled the sliotar into the bottom right-hand corner of the Wexford net. An animated Davy Fitzgerald and team selector Seoirse Bulfin hopped around on the sideline trying to motivate their team but to no avail as Kilkenny scored six unanswered points in the next 16 minutes.
All Kilkenny players were in brilliant form. The Kilkenny backs drove forward some perfect balls, bypassing Wexford sweeper Liam Óg McGovern, allowing the forwards to isolate the Wexford full back line into one-on-one situations. This 16-minute spell ended with Lee Chin getting Wexford on the scoreboard again with a well worked point before a scramble at the other end. This saw the ball falling to TJ Reid who was able to strike the ball off the ground and into the net from close range. The goal move started with a beautiful first-time flick by the Ballyhale Shamrocks talisman on the left-hand side of the pitch, bringing the score to 2-11 to 0-6. Lee Chin’s frustration really started to show when he dragged down Tulloroan man Padraig Walsh resulting in a yellow card and an easy free in front of the post for TJ Reid bringing an end to the first half; Kilkenny 2-15 to Wexford 0-07.
Both sides were quick into their respective dressing rooms, Kilkenny for a well deserved break after a satisfying first half while Wexford were looking for answers after a less than satisfactory performance. Brian Cody and his selectors paused for a few minutes outside the dressing room, looking like The Three Wise Men, taking a moment to bask in their first half success. Davy lagged behind his team on the way into the dressing rooms at the old stand, glaring over at his rivals, clearly disappointed with the realisation that this might not be Wexford’s day.
The sun was blazing even brighter by the second half and Wexford came back with a strong burst of energy, clearly stern words had been said. The damage had already been done however and Kilkenny motored on nicely. In the 44th minute Lee Chin was in on goal and struck a bullet of a shot, low towards the left hand corner of the net which prompted a brilliant save by Kilkenny goal keeper Eoin Murphy. TJ Reid scored his first point from play in the 60th minute. This was followed closely with another brilliant score where he dodged several opponents and hopped the sliotar of the ground to get it back into his hand and over the bar. It was clear Wexford were not going to be allowed make much progress and Kilkenny’s confidence only grew. A final score of Kilkenny 2-27 to Wexford 0-23 gave Kilkenny a comfortable 10 point win.
It is likely there could have been elements of shadow boxing at play. Davy was possibly keen to keep any tactics under wraps ahead of a likely meeting between the two sides in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship semi-final in five weeks time. Wexford looked heavy legged; maybe overtrained. There was a vague air of disinterest which could have been down to exhaustion or possibly the uncertainty caused by Covid that impacted training sessions ahead of the rescheduled match. There will surely be another chapter between these two sides before this year is out.