Murphy's law condemns wasteful Wexford
Kilkenny 0-15 Wexford 0-14
Defeats in pre-season tournaments don't have a lasting impact but Wexford supporters were still feeling little stones in their shoes as they left O'Kennedy Park, New Ross yesterday.
The manner of the defeat was irritating as Davy Fitzgerald's men had a chance to win the game deep in stoppage time when substitute Cathal Dunbar went one-on-one with Kilkenny goalkeeper Richie Reid.
A goal would have put Wexford two points ahead but unfortunately for them, his shot was much too close to Reid, who made a good save, diverting the sliotar out for a '65.
It left Lee Chin with a chance to send the game into extra-time but his shot drifted wide, after which referee Brian Gavin signalled the end. Chin had earlier pointed eight frees but had missed a few long-range efforts too.
Kilkenny free-taker, newcomer Alan Murphy had missed some scoreable frees too but found the target 10 times, which represented two thirds of Kilkenny's total return. His match-winning point came in the 73rd minute after sub Michael Malone had been pulled down as he tried to manoeuvre into a scoring position.
And so Kilkenny booked a place in the final against Galway next Sunday while Wexford were left to regret missing the opportunity to have one more test before beginning their Division 1B campaign at home to Limerick on Sunday week.
The Fitzy factor helped swell the attendance to more than 3,000 on a miserable afternoon, with the majority supporting the home side who set about putting down an early marker against their long-time tormentors.
The bad weather conditions left the pitch heavy and not remotely conducive to slick hurling. Instead, it was all about slogging through in difficult circumstances, a challenge which drew a genuine response from both teams.
Even then, there were times when it looked more like rugby than hurling as groups of players joined in rucks, desperately trying to move the ball to more open ground. The referee usually gave them as much time as they wanted to indulge in unedifying spectacles.
In fairness, there was little else the players could do in the awful conditions. To their credit, they improvised impressively, serving up an entertaining contest, in which Kilkenny were never led.
They were ahead by 0-7 to 0-4 at half-time, with five of their points coming from Murphy's frees while wing-forward Pat Lyng added two more from play. Wexford had the half's only goal opportunity when Podge Doran powered in from the left wing before seeing his shot whizz wide in the 24th minute.
He played in a one-man full-forward line for much of the way but didn't get anything like as many possession opportunities as he would have liked due to the clogged arteries further out.
Kilkenny extended their lead early in the second half, presenting Wexford with a real test of their resolve. The response was very positive as they scored four unanswered points to draw level after 41 minutes.
Kilkenny raised their game again and were three points ahead on the hour mark, before Wexford enjoyed a second surge, during which they outscored their rivals 0-4 to 0-1 over the next seven minutes to level it up at 0-14 each.
Doran missed two chances to put them ahead before Murphy's late strike proved the tie-breaker. Victory would have been a real morale booster for Wexford but once it wasn't achieved it became a matter of looking for positives.
They could find quite a few too, including the performances of Matthew O'Hanlon, Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Eoin Moore, Lee Chin and Jack O'Connor in the first half.
There was also clear evidence that Fitzgerald's style is working its way into the players' psyche, although whether the supporters buy into it remains to be seen. The longer term reaction will, of course, be influenced by results.
Yesterday certainly wasn't an occasion for short passing but it's part of the new Wexford way so there could be no deviation, especially since the squad are in the early stages of acclimatising to Fitzgerald's methods.
They appear to be adapting well, as they will need to if they are to have a chance of winning promotion from 1B. The draw could not have been tougher on Wexford, handing them Limerick (home) and Galway (away) in the first two games.
Wexford would have benefited from games against Kerry, Offaly and Laois early on, in order to get fine-tune their new approach prior to taking on the two promotion favourites in their opening games.
"The pressure is all on Limerick and Galway. They're the favourites," said Fitzgerald, who hopes to have a stronger squad to choose from for the League opener.
As for Kilkenny, it was business as usual. Brian Cody's men for all seasons may have been fortunate in the end but then they have won tight games so often in the past that there's clearly a lot more than coincidence involved.
Cody continued to experiment, naming Padraig Walsh at left corner-back (Wexford's game-plan took him out to more familiar half-back territory most of the time) and Paul Murphy at centre-back, flanked by Cillian Murphy and Conor Fogarty.
Scorers - Kilkenny: A Murphy 0-10 (10fs), P Lyng 0-2, C Martin, C Buckley, P Deegan 0-1 each. Wexford: L Chin 0-9 (8f), J O'Connor 0-2 (1 s/l), E Moore, M O'Hanlon, P Doran 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - R Reid; J Holden, R Lennon, P Walsh; C Buckley, P Murphy, C Fogarty; P Walsh, P Deegan; P Lyng, C Martin, J Maher; A Murphy, JJ Farrell, R Leahy. Subs: S Morrissey for Maher (ht), L Ryan for Walsh (51), M Malone for Martin (64).
Wexford - M Fanning; S Donohue, L Ryan, E Moore; S O'Gorman, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; S Murphy, J O'Connor; A Maddock, D Redmond, K Foley; N Kirwan, L Chin, P Doran.
Subs: D Dunne for O'Connor (48), C Dunbar for Kirwan (59), A Nolan for Foley (64), H Kehoe for Redmond (64).
Ref - B Gavin (Offaly).