BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
Cats Croker bound for provincial decider
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship
Chadwicks Wexford Park
Wexford 4-23 Kilkenny 5-18
It’s hard to know where to begin. This contest had a little bit of everything, a delayed start, goals galore, injuries, points, Eoin Cody at the treble, the enigmatic Lee Chin hitting 1-10 and a result which meant Kilkenny will face-off against Galway in the Leinster final next week while Wexford secured their senior hurling status for 2024. All in the space of 70-odd minutes in a sunny and packed Chadwicks Wexford Park.
Just under 9,800 witnessed the spectacle that had social media going into overdrive on Sunday evening. Gaels asked “How could Westmeath beat Wexford but Kilkenny couldn’t?” That was probably a watered-down version of many comments.
Derek Lyng made three changes to the starting team named in advance of the final group game clash. Padraig Walsh, Walter Walsh and Billy Drennan came in for Richie Reid, Paddy Deegan and Billy Ryan respectively. Interestingly, Mikey Carey and Richie Hogan were also added to the sub’s bench.
The game started at a hectic pace with the home side getting the scoreboard moving courtesy of a Lee Chin free in the opening minute. Kilkenny’s response in the sunshine was emphatic. Thomastown’s John Donnelly went on one of his marauding runs as the gap opened up in front of him. The centre-forward found his captain with a lovely hand pass and the Shamrocks Ballyhale man rifled the sliotar beyond James Lawlor in the Wexford goal.
Adrian Mullen and Lee Chin exchanged points from play, before the second green flag of the day was raised. Walter Walsh took possession and once again made straight for the danger zone. The Yellowbellies defence parted like the red sea and the Tullogher Rosbercon man said thank you very much. Walter popped a pass to his left where Martin Keoghan was lurking and Mossy did what Mossy does – Goal! A 5-point lead after just 5 minutes, 2 majors already – crazy stuff!
Rapparees Kevin Foley then pointed to try and settle the home crowd’s undoubted nerves, but the Cats hit the next three score, all from play via Eoin Cody and Conahy Shamrocks Tom Phelan with a lovely brace. The first of three enforced Kilkenny substitutions then arrived in the 11th minute with Erins Own’s Conor Delaney replacing O’Loughlin’s Mikey Butler. Wexford got the next two points, thanks to efforts from Rory O’Connor and Chin while the second sub appeared for the visitors as Billy Ryan replaced Tullaroan’s Mossy Keoghan on 13 minutes.
The Noresiders reeled off the next three scores, again, all from play. TJ Reid with two and Walter Walsh with one to leave the men in black and amber 8-points up after 16 minutes of end to end action. Darragh Eagan then made a change to the home side’s XV, with Horeswood’s Conor Foley replacing St Martin’s Joe O’Connor in the full-back line as they sought to shore things up a little. Rory O’Connor and Tom Phelan swapped points before the Slaneysiders first major arrived.
A long searching ball was claimed by Jack O’Connor and as the St Martin’s man tried to progress, it appeared the Cats defence had held him up, but Cork Whistler Colm Lyons signaled for a penalty, much to the confusion of the Huw Lawlor and Co. Lee Chin stepped forward and rifled the dead ball past the diving Eoin Murphy and reduced the deficit for the home side to 5 points. Kilkenny were then forced to make their 3rd change of the opening period when Adrian Mullen picked up a rather nasty looking hand injury. The Shamrocks Ballyhale man was replaced by Erin’s Own’s Conor Fogarty with about 10 minutes remaining of the first half.
TJ Reid then popped over a point from the placed ball before the home crowd were treated to their sides second major of the game. Oisin Foley went on a run before spotting the clever run of his midfielder Kevin Foley. Oisin popped the pass to Kevin who drove the sliotar past the helpless Eoin Murphy in the Kilkenny goal. The crowd went wild. We now had a game on our hands, the gap was just 3 points.
The Yellowbellies tails were up – another three points followed, Conor McDonald and Rory O’Connor from play and a free from Lee Chin. 31 minutes played and the game was level. TJ Reid briefly fired the Cats back into the lead but further points from Lee Chin and Diarmuid O’Keefe saw Darragh Eagan’s side surprisingly go into the interval one point to the good on a scoreline of Wexford 2-11, Kilkenny 2-10.
When play resumed in sun drenched Chadwicks Wexford Park, Kilkenny drew level early on, thanks to a lovely ‘65 from TJ Reid. The home sides version of TJ, Lee Chin then dispatched another free before Graigue Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan fired over a fine point. Then came major number five. Again, Faythe Harriers Lee Chin was at the heart of the move. With his back to goal Chin managed to scoop a hand pass into the path of the on running Liam Og McGovern. The Rathangan player took aim and once again left Cats netminder with no chance, Wexford now led by 3.
Wexford’s blistering start to the second period continued with vigor. Chin popped over a ‘65, before McGovern turned goal-getter again. Billy Ryan got turned over in defence and Conor McDonald found Kevin Foley with a nicely weighted pass. The Rapparees man skillfully flicked the sliotar into the path of McGovern who was halted illegally by Padraig Walsh. Referee Lyons was playing the advantage, but Liam Og had the presence of mind to bat the ball to the net. The Slaneysiders were seven points up and flying.
Derek Lyng then threw on Glenmore’s Alan Murphy in place of Billy Drennan as he looked to wrestle back control of the game. Kilkenny needed to respond and fast. Tullaroan’s Padraig Walsh then split the posts with a quality effort. Another couple of minutes passed, then another goal. Eoin Cody picked up possession around the Wexford ‘45. The captain turned on the afterburners and sprinted towards goal. The Shamrocks man had only one thing on his mind – goal and that was the inevitable outcome.
TJ & Lee exchanged free’s before the recently introduced Alan Murphy split the posts with a quality point. Wexford full-back Liam Ryan then got on the scoresheet before Tom Phelan took over. The Conahy Shamrocks player fired over a fine point before he got in on the goal act. Phelan like his captain minutes earlier had tunnel vision and accelerated towards home netminder James Lawlor. Tom showed great skill and balance before rifling his shot beyond Lawlor to leave just the bare minimum between the sides with about 22 minutes played in the second half.
Conor Delaney and the impressive Oisin Foley swapped points before goal number nine arrived. Eoin Cody burst onto the loose ball and cut in from the left as once again huge gaps appeared in the home defence. Goalkeeper James Lawlor came out to try and narrow the angle, but the Cats skipper shortened his grip on the hurl and finished to the net. The Cats had the regained the lead, but in this game nothing was certain. Lee Chin fired over a brace of points to deadlock matters again before two quick scores from sub Cathal Dunbar and Oisin Foley put The Yellowbellies two up. TJ sent over a placed ball but the final score of the game came from lively sub Dunbar who secured the victory and ensured a seat at the top table for the Slaneysiders on a final scoreline of Wexford 4-23, Kilkenny 5-18.
Scorers for Wexford: L Chin (0-10, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ‘65’); L Og McGovern (2-1); K Foley (1-1); R O’Connor (0-4); Jack O’Connor (1-0 penalty); C Dunbar (0-2, 0-1 sideline); O Foley (0-2); L Ryan, D O’Keeffe, C McDonald (all 0-1).
Scorers for Kilkenny: E Cody (3-1): TJ Reid (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘65’); T Phelan (1-4); M Keoghan (1-0); P Walsh, A Mullen, W Walsh, A Murphy, C Delaney and B Ryan (all 0-1).
WEXFORD: J Lawlor; Joe O’Connor, L Ryan, C Devitt; S Donohoe, M O’Hanlon, I Carty; D O’Keeffe, K Foley; Jack O’Connor, L Og McGovern, O Foley; R O’Connor, C McDonald, L Chin.
Subs: C Foley for Joe O’Connor (19); C Dunbar for Jack O’Connor (55); C Hearne for Foley (65); M Dwyer for McGovern (69).
KILKENNY: E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, T Walsh; D Blanchfield, P Walsh, D Corcoran; A Mullen, W Walsh; T Phelan, J Donnelly, B Drennan; M Keoghan, TJ Reid, E Cody.
Subs: C Delaney for Butler (13); B Ryan for Keoghan (14); C Fogarty for Mullen (25); A Murphy for Drennan (49); C Buckley for Walsh (66)
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).
>> SHERRY SAYS…
Hard to know where to start. Kilkenny are through to the Leinster final where they will once again tackle to challenge of Henry’s Galway. Chadwick Wexford Park provided the backdrop to an insane game of hurling.
NINE goals, 41 points, A hat-trick for captain Eoin Cody, Lee Chin superb, an eye-catching performance from Top Phelan and Derek Lyng forced into 3 first-half changes as injuries claimed Mikey Butler, Mossy Keoghan and the influential Adrian Mullen. Time is a great healer, but in such a condensed season, the Emeralds man will be a little worried at the number of his players on the treatment table at present.
Worth mentioning (this is not sour grapes!!) What appeared to be a lovely point from Padraig Walsh that wasn’t given and Alan Murphy’s goal that was chalked-off for an innocuous infringement. Anyway, some days you get the rub of the green, some you don’t.
On a crazy last day in Leinster, Westmeath exited the senior ranks having lost heavily to Antrim. Galway made the provincial final and produced a high-octane 2nd half to claim a share of the spoils in the Captial.
This was a chance to pull the rug from under Wexford’s feet, but to Darragh Eagan’s men’s credit, they did what they needed to do. That’s their business. Now let’s plan for another meeting with Henry.