BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
No quarter given as neighbours give it all ahead of National League
Walsh Cup Review
Chadwick’s Wexford Park, Saturday January 22nd 2022
The large crowd in attendance at Chadwick’s Wexford Park last Saturday, were treated to an exhilarating contest between two sides that love to put it up to each other. While honours were shared, Walsh Cup holders Wexford advanced to these years final on scoring difference, and will face-off against Mattie Kenny’s Dublin.
New Wexford manager, Darragh Eagan named a strong starting XV following their 12-point victory away to Laois in the competition opener. Tipp native Eagan, continues to build a strong backroom team to support him, and the talk around the terraces before the match with their beloved neighbours, was the appointment of former Ireland rugby union international Gordon D’Arcy. The Fern’s man will join former boxing coach Billy Walsh in assisting Eagan as they look to build a much more competitive Yellowbellies panel.
Eagan’s opposite number, Brian Cody decided to mix things up a little from last week’s win over Cheddar’s men in Callan. O’Loughlin Gaels duo Mikey Butler and Eoin O’Shea started, along with The Village’s Cian Kenny, who would be one of the star performers for the Noresiders on the day.
Conahy Shamrocks attacking star James Bergin registered the first score of the day from the placed ball, before Wexford’s strong running game kicked in and began to cause problems for the visitors defence. Attacking from deep positions allowed win-backs Matthew O’Hanlon and Connal Flood to hit early points when the space opened up for them. Crossabeg-Ballymurn dangerman Oisin Flood then extended his sides lead when he slotted over a fine point from play, one of five that would be registered by the Wexford No.10 who would prove to be a constant thorn in the side of the black and amber defence.
Further Model County scores from Foley and star-man Conor McDonald and a reply from Cian Kenny left the home side 0-5 to 0-2 up after the opening exchanges, as the more seasoned Wexford team showed their worth.
Kilkenny had St Lachtains netminder, Darren Brennan to thank shortly after, when he pulled off a tremendous save to thwart Rathnure’s Rory Higgins goal-bound effort. James Bergin then added a brace of free’s to leave just one between the neighbours, but three quick-fire Wexford scores from McDonald, corner-forward Cian Byrne and the marauding No.5 Connal Flood saw Darragh Eagan’s team race into a 4-point lead with just under 12 minutes on the clock.
Naomh Eanna’s McDonald and Rory Higgins tagged on another two points for the hosts, before Brian Cody’s team upped the ante a little, in advance of the first water break. Scores from Eoin O’Shea, our own No.5, James Maher, Thomastown’s John Donnelly and two others from Mossy Keoghan and Chris Bolger mean that the cats only trailed by one at an briseadh uisce, 0-10 to 0-9.
The Yellowbellies then hit a little bit of a purple patch in the second quarter, as they raised their intensity to over-power the opposition. They registered 1-4 without reply as Kilkenny struggled to contain the growing threat posed by the home side.
Dublin Whistler, Thomas Gleeson awarded the hosts a penalty after some interference on Rory Higgins’s hurl. Wexford keeper Mark Fanning stepped up and fired his penalty beyond his opposite number in the cats goal. McDonald, Flood and Foley all notched points to put the home side firmly in control ahead of the short whistle. James Bergin and Cian Kenny kept the score board ticking over for the visitors, and the final action of the half saw Shelmaliers Conor Hearne pointed from a difficult angle to leave Wexford 1-16 to 0-12 ahead at the interval.
While Cody’s charges performed at a better level during the second period, it was Cian Byrne that struck the first point after the break, from a placed ball. James Bergin did likewise for the away side, before a key moment in the game arrived. To all in attendance, it appeared that the impressive Chris Bolger’s shot was destined for the Wexford net, but net minder Mark Fanning had other ideas, and somehow, he managed to deny the Clara attackers effort.
Cian Byrne and James Bergin then swapped free’s before Bolger gained revenge and rifled his low shot past Fanning into the net. The gap was down to 5 points. Could the scene be set for another Kilkenny revival against a post Davy Fitz Wexford? Kilkenny manager Cody then replaced James Bergin with the more seasoned Walter Walsh. This substitution signaled a change in free-taking duties, with Cian Kenny taking on the responsibility. Indeed, the Village clubman pointed his first two place ball opportunities, sandwiched between one from Wexford sub, Paul Morris.
The Kilkenny comeback was shunted back a little when Cathal Dunbar struck a fierce shot that nestled in the top corner of Darren Brennan’s net. Wexford had restored their 7-point lead by the second of the day’s water breaks.
To their credit, Kilkenny put a serious shift in during the final quarter. Their more experienced ‘heads’ began to chip away at the home sides lead. Scores from Walter, Mossy, subs Davind Blanchfield and Colm Prenderville along with a lovely long-range one from Padraig Walsh, left the home crowd a little less raucous as they feared the comeback! Cian Kenny hit a couple of frees to leave his side just 3 points in arrears by the 65th minute. The home supporter’s worst fears were realised moments later, when following lovely play from Messrs. Padraig and Walter Walsh, Graigue/Ballycallan’s Colm Prenderville somehow managed to breach the Wexford goal line. The game was now all square!
Kenny and Prenderville then pointed to put the Noresiders two up, but Darragh Eagans side responded with scores from Flood and Morris to tie matters up as the teams entered additional time. James Stephen’s Cian Kenny then slotted over a free, much to the delight of the travelling Gaels, but there was to be one more score registered, and that came when Conor McDonald struck a lovely point to halt the Kilkenny faithful’s celebrations. We were all sqaure again. Tullaroan’s Mossy Keoghan almost snatched it in the dying seconds, but he saw his effort hit the woodwork. Level pegging it was to finish, 2-25 apiece.
Wexford: M Fanning (1-0 pen); S Donohoe, L Ryan, C Devitt; C Flood (0-4), P Foley, M O’Hanlon (0-1); K Foley, J O’Connor; O Foley (0-5), C McGuckin (0-1), C Hearne (0-1); C Byrne (0-3, 2f), C McDonald (0-6), R Higgins (0-1).
Subs: M Dwyer for Hearne (ht), H Kehoe (0-1) for Byrne (46), P Morris (0-2, 1f) for Higgins (46), C Dunbar (1-0) for O’Connor (50), D Dunne for O Foley (55), A Doyle for McGuckin (61), B Edwards for P Foley (67).
Kilkenny: D Brennan; C Wallace, T Walsh, M Butler; J Maher, H Lawlor, C Buckley; C Kenny (0-4 frees), M Carey; P Walsh, E O’Shea (0-3), J Donnelly (0-4); J Bergin (0-7 frees), M Keoghan (0-3), C Bolger (1-1).
Subs: W Walsh (0-2) for Bergin (42), R Buckley (0-1), for Carey (47), D Blanchfield for C Buckley (53), C Prenderville (1-0) for O’Shea (55).
Referee: T Gleeson (Dublin).
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
For a pre-season game in January, this game certainly belied its billing. The way this match went, I was half expecting to see Gordon D’Arcy come on after the hour marker to try and see the Model County home!!!
Brian Cody made multiple changes to his starting XV as he looks to assemble a panel to tackle this seasons Allianz League campaign. It was great to see Cian Kenny in the black & amber – he put in a shift and no doubt will have pleased his manager with his performance.
Young James Bergin also did well from the placed ball. Mossy never lets anyone down and puts himself about with great effect, and almost snatch victory for us at the end! Chris Bolger has been in a couple of lively performances, and took his goal well.
The defence did struggle, especially in the 1st half, as Wexford’s potent and experienced attack caused our back six all sorts of problems. The management will have noted this, but will also know that there are many ‘regulars’ due to return in late February and early March.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.