BY NIALL SHERRY – SPORTS EDITOR
Headquarters hosts semi-final battle
All roads lead to Croke Park tomorrow for the Leinster Championship Semi-Final meeting of old foes Kilkenny and Wexford. (Throw-in 4:30pm) The Leinster Council gave the go-ahead last Monday for both semi-final’s to take place at headquarters. This will give the teams a chance to cast an eye over their potential final opponents.
No doubt Brian Cody has been planning for Davy Fitz’s men for some time now. In truth it would have been a monumental upset had Cheddar masterminded a Laois victory over Wexford.
It has been widely mooted that this will be the Clare natives last year in charge of the Yellowbellies, and if this is the case his troops came out of the championship traps quickly.
If nothing else, Wexford’s Nowlan Park stroll will have given them a much-needed boost heading into this semi-final clash. The Kilkenny defence, questioned by some quarters this season, will have taken note of the 5-31 total registered by tomorrow’s opponents.
In Championship hurling, 5-31 is a big total to amass, but the most interesting stat from the game was that 5-28 of that total came from play. Padraig Walsh will need to ensure his defence are alert and on-point tomorrow.
As mentioned, some pundits have questioned the solidity of the cat’s defence in recent times. In the final league fixture in Ennis, Cody’s team shipped four goals, and that will have been of great concern to the Kilkenny supremo. Perhaps the cats had one eye on the championship, with top spot in their league division already secured, but more steel will be required against this in-form potent Wexford attack.
The hurling faithful are very aware of the talent of Lee Chin, who made his 100th appearance for Wexford hurlers last weekend at Nowlan Park. Discipline will be key, as any indiscretions will be punished by Chin. It will be interesting to see how the O’Loughlin Gael’s duo of Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan deal with the opposition threat, particularly Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald, who scored 3-11 from play between them against Laois.
Should the black and amber defence come out on top in their battle with the Wexford forwards, this should provide a decent platform for the other players to express themselves and give the opposition plenty to worry about.
Glemmore net-minder Eoin Murphy will be a key component in both defensive and offensive terms. His re-starts will be crucial, and has he has shown during the league campaign, he can be a vital cog in instigating wave after wave of attack.
One thing we have witnessed in the season so far, is Kilkenny’s determination to work the sliotar through all lines of the team at times – no doubt this variation from the longer delivery into the forward line is designed to engineer more goal scoring opportunities, over the course of the 70 plus minutes.
What we do know is that should Kilkenny have to go long, the personnel should be available to exploit this. One such player is Walter Walsh, who returned for his first run-out of the season in the defeat to Clare. The towering forward certainly needed match time ahead of the championship, and despite leaving the field injured, should be available, and his manager will certainly look to use him at some stage of this battle. Obviously the Ballyhale forward duo of TJ Reid and captain Adrian Mullen will be out to wreak havoc amongst the Yellowbellies defenders, and no doubt Tullaroan’s Martin Keoghan will hope to continue his impressive league form on the bigger, more important stage.
The engine room of midfield should see Richie Reid re-united with Dicksboro’s Cillian Buckley, and they will look to come out on top in this vital sector, again providing the basis for the attack to flourish.
Again, the introduction of players from the bench could prove crucial and if push comes to shove, our strength in depth should see the Nore-siders progress to the provincial decider.
Cody’s charges to march on
>> SHERRY SAYS….
Since Fitzgerald took control of the Slaney-siders, matches with Kilkenny have generally been close affairs, and the sometimes-controversial figure has enjoyed success at provincial level against the cat’s, notably the 2017 semi-final win, Davy would go one better and claim the Leinster title in 2019.
Cody will be hoping that defeating Wexford will set up a tilt at securing the 17th O’Keefe Cup of his reign, possibly against Galway, in a match that will also act as the league final decider.
Expect tomorrow’s encounter to be a little tighter that this year’s league meeting. The Black & Amber should be ready to meet the challenge and rise above whatever Davy’s boys throw at them.
Safe to say that Tullaroan’s Padraig Walsh and Ballyhale’s TJ Reid will bring bigger performances to Portlaoise than last time out in Ennis.
Both teams and their respective supporters will be acutely aware that failure to get over the line at Croke Park will result in their team dropping into the qualifiers, very much on the back foot.
For now, defeat in not contemplated. Time for the Cats to purr.