Wednesday 20 September 2017

Davy's new Model plan blows the summer wide open

Conor McDonald lifts Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald into the air in celebration of their victory against Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Conor McDonald lifts Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald into the air in celebration of their victory against Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

They back-slapped him out of the cramped, wooden booth with its one-way glass that had been his prison, the South East Radio crew playing courtiers.

Gerry Forde vacated his chair, coaxing Davy Fitz to stand on it so that the people could see him. When he did, the roar shrapnelling the place all but loosened light fittings in the stand. Beside them, Liam Spratt and Tom Dempsey were still in mid-commentary, desperately trying to weave threads of reason into the evening. Wasting their time.

James Breen of Wexford in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
James Breen of Wexford in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Wexford beating Kilkenny in Championship short-circuits people. It distorts reason. He won't have seen it that way on Saturday evening of course, but the pitch invasion, the booming dance music, the sight of sane Wexford men and women losing themselves in the wild, rhythmic joy of it, all of that stood as a murmured tribute to Brian Cody.

Because when we talk of the hold his teams have had on hurling this past two decades, it's little to the psychological tyranny inflicted upon Wexford.

We've almost come to see Kilkenny as representing everything that Wexford couldn't. Cold, nerveless killers. Calculating, unemotional. Their hurling might scorch the grass, but their minds seldom over-heated. Our theory was that Wexford couldn't do that. They couldn't master the distinction between heat and light.

Shifting

That prejudice is dead now.

Diarmuid O’Keeffe of Wexford in action against Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Diarmuid O’Keeffe of Wexford in action against Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Wexford's first Championship victory over the Cats in 13 summers felt like a shifting of tectonic plates in the South East. It rewrote the rules of engagement between these tribes.

And those who see Davy Fitz as just some kind of whirling dervish haven't paid much attention to his CV. His teams play with tactical coherence and, on Saturday, anything less would have cursed them. Because they were better than Kilkenny, but being better than a Cody team is seldom enough to close the deal. You need to push the stake in, then find another and do it again.

This game was, after all, in its 72nd minute when Mark Fanning had to come bolting from the town end goal, denying Chris Bolger with a heroic point-blank save. A Shane Tomkins point had edged Wexford three points clear seconds earlier, the kind of deficit Kilkenny interpret in the way sharks take to blood in the sea.

It was that fine a line here. And it never should have been.

Paul Morris of Wexford in action against Conor Fogarty and Conor O'Shea of Kilkenny, left. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Paul Morris of Wexford in action against Conor Fogarty and Conor O'Shea of Kilkenny, left. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Because Wexford took all the old, familiar haymakers of this rivalry: the concession of a first-minute goal through TJ Reid's penalty; then the concession of two more within a minute of one another midway through the second period; yet kept on hurling as distinct from dying.

Davy's gospel held that there could be no other way.

As Paul Morris averred in the steam of the dressing-room tunnel after wards: "Kilkenny are always going to get a goal or two on you. We talked about it before the game. If we got hit with two goals, it didn't matter."

That rationality had been written all over their response to Reid's early penalty. For, with the wind at their backs, Wexford delivered five unanswered points, the frenzy all Kilkenny's: Cody's men leaked nine wides in a troubled opening half, persuading the manager to replace two of his starting forwards, Padraig Walsh and Ger Aylward.

Still, by the mid-point, Wexford's lead was a brittle four points. And for all that calm adherence to shape and structure, Colin Fennelly's knifing presence on the edge of the square was a constant source of terror to the local congregation.

Diarmuid O’Keeffe of Wexford in action against Colin Fennelly, left, and T.J. Reid of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Diarmuid O’Keeffe of Wexford in action against Colin Fennelly, left, and T.J. Reid of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

With both teams deploying sweepers, the wind would now be Kilkenny's greatest ally, facilitating the high delivery of bombs in over Shaun Murphy's head to where Fennelly was in the edgy care of Liam Ryan.

Both second-half Kilkenny goals came that route, Fennelly's 54th-minute blast from 20 yards arcing into the net off Fanning's hurley before, seconds later, Murphy and Ryan wrestled the Ballyhale man to the ground for Reid's second penalty.

That felt a dagger between the Wexford shoulders but a defining moment loomed.

With banshee shrieks all around, Lee Chin - an essay in magnetic power all night - spectacularly fielded Fanning's puck-out before driving an immense point into the wind. There and then a new story had been written. This was a different Wexford.

Chin reckoned that Wexford's understanding of the salty wind blowing through Wexford Park primed them for seeing out business. As the pressure climbed, they eschewed the seduction of hit and hope, relentlessly working the ball upfield in precise offloads.

"We're here long enough to know how to play that wind," he said.

Still, knowing it and playing it are different stories. When David Redmond bundled home a 39th-minute goal at the Clonard end, Wexford led by eight. Sixteen minutes later, they led by one. Historically, an invitation for collapse.

But they saw it out by dint of faith in Fitzgerald's system and an unrelenting work ethic against opponents for whom, tellingly, neither Reid nor Richie Hogan managed a score from play.

Cody, as ever, cut a composed figure when it was over. "Their response to our goals was very, very strong," he said. "There's no excuses."

Denied access to Michael Fennelly, Kilkenny's midfield never quite dropped anchor and, with neither Hogan nor Walter Walsh seeing out the game, Kilkenny's forward threat was threadbare.

Psychologically then, this was Wexford's night, Davy Fitz taking them a new path that could lead anywhere now. Summer has been blown open.

SCORERS - Wexford: L Chin 0-6 (3fs, 2 '65s'), C McDonald 0-5 (4fs), P Morris 0-3, D Redmond 1-0, L Ryan, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe, S Tomkins, J Guiney, J O'Connor 0-1 each. Kilkenny: TJ Reid 2-7 (2-0 pens, 0-6fs, 0-1 '65'), C Fennelly 1-0, L Ryan 0-2, P Deegan, W Walsh 0-1 each.

WEXFORD - M Fanning 7, W Devereux 7, L Ryan 7, S Donohue 8, J Breen 8, S Murphy 8, M O'Hanlon 8, D O'Keeffe 8, A Nolan 7, J O'Connor 6, C McDonald 7, L Chin 9, P Morris 8, J Guiney 7, H Kehoe 6. Subs: D Redmond 7 for O'Connor (32), S Tomkins 7 for Nolan (58), P Doran 6 for Kehoe (60), K Foley for Morris (66).

KILKENNY - E Murphy 7, P Murphy 7, K Joyce 7, C O'Shea 7, C Fogarty 7, C Buckley 8, R Lennon 7, P Deegan 6, R Hogan 6, L Ryan 7, TJ Reid 6, W Walsh 6, P Walsh 5, G Aylward 5, C Fennelly 8. Subs: L Blanchfield 6 for P Walsh (30), C Bolger 7 for Aylward (33), K Kelly for W Walsh (64), R Reid for Hogan (67).

Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary).

 

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