Bonnar's battlers make Cats scrap for the spoils
Allianz Hurling League Div 1
Colm Bonnar eyed the stats sheet being pressed into his grip just a couple of minutes after this league clash had ended and pursed his lips at a revealing indicator that allowed him to leave Nowlan Park with a spring in his step.
'Wexford 0-11, Kilkenny 0-7,' the second-half scoreline read. They hadn't just survived in the bear pit, they had competed. Quite manfully, too, in fact.
From the position they had found themselves in after their opening-round trip to Pearse Stadium, that will be more than a small comfort to them. The plight they faced into in the second half puts this result into perspective.
Nine points down after a couple of defensive calamities, you could have chalked down the usual synopsis for these fixtures: another one for the haze of routine Kilkenny victories against opposition that could once send shivers down black-and-amber spines.
Those days are no more. In fact, had Kilkenny approached with their usual ruthless efficiency -- something they haven't really done in any of their league games to date, including last weekend's Walsh Cup final it must be said -- the gap would have been much greater. But right now, winning games and mixing it with a training regime that clearly has more emphasis on dates later in the year is their priority. And maybe their eye was just off the ball here.
But that shouldn't dismiss what Wexford achieved. It wasn't the panacea to all their ills but, in the context of Galway, the last two matches have at least brought stability. Two years spent in Division 2 clearly demands adjustments.
"Nine points down at half-time wasn't a fair indication. Man for man, we matched them," said Bonnar. "They opened us up for the first goal, but the second goal was just a pure fluke.
"In fairness to our lads, they could have dropped the head, but they knew they were going man to man and they were hurling with them, up against one of the greatest teams that have played in the last 10 years; it's a learning curve. We knew we needed to go out in the second half and continue. The most pleasing thing is that we hit 11 points in the second half to Kilkenny's seven. We did work them and work them very hard."
It wasn't Kilkenny's best effort. It's a long time since Tommy Walsh was as quiet as he was in his customary wing-back berth, his usual fleet-footedness absent as Stephen Banville economically picked three points off him.
Elsewhere, the Cats relied on their guile and great experience. Michael Fennelly had moments of dominance at midfield and Colin Fennelly looks like he will break into the championship 15 on a permanent basis by summer.
For other stalwarts, there are more worrying times ahead. Eddie Brennan eventually pinched two points off his 19-year-old opponent Matthew O'Hanlon, who is developing into a commanding full-back. 'Cha' Fitzpatrick's second coming as a corner-forward also yielded two points, but Richie Hogan's substitution didn't bode well for him.
The only other substituted Kilkenny player was Michael Rice, who was injured. Brian Cody saw two more points secured and little to trouble him.
"We created more chances than we put away, for sure, we had opportunities for more scores but look at this time of year everything doesn't flow as you would like. It brings us on, three wins from three games, we'll settle for it."
For the opening nine minutes, Wexford coped through the defensive stability of O'Hanlon, Ciaran Kenny and the clever reading of centre-back Darren Stamp. But once Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin combined to set up TJ Reid for the opening goal and a 1-1 to 0-0 lead, the dynamic shifted. From defending admirably, they were four points down and vulnerable.
They could scarcely get a ball past a Kilkenny half-back line that had the comfort of a dominant Fennelly, backed up by John Dalton and Jackie Tyrrell behind him. And that put inevitable pressure on their defence. That second Kilkenny goal was fortuitous, goalkeeper Noel Carton's attempt to swat away a loose ball ricocheted off Colin Fennelly and spun back over Carton for a 2-8 to 0-5 lead on 31 minutes.
Other chances went abegging. Carton saved a half volley from Brennan, while Hogan blazed wide on 14 minutes. Wexford survived on scraps with only Jim Berry piercing the cover. By the break, Kilkenny were comfortable, 2-9 to 0-6 clear. And when 'Cha' knocked over a quick score, a sustained run on the Wexford goals looked inevitable. But Stamp, Prendergast, Michael Jacob, Berry, Banville and replacements Eoin Quigley and PJ Nolan all rose to it. After 61 minutes they were still nine points adrift (2-15 to 0-12) but warming to the task.
Bonnar knows the benefit of what survival can bring Wexford hurling. "It's a vicious circle. Wexford need to be there (Division 1), need to be competing, they can hurl at this level and they can learn so much more from these games."
Man of the match: M Fennelly (Kilkenny)
Scorers -- Kilkenny: C Fennelly, TJ Reid (2f) 1-3 each, R Hogan 0-6 (5f), E Brennan, J Fitzpatrick 0-2 each. Wexford: J Berry 0-9 (7f), S Banville 0-3, PJ Nolan 0-2, M Jacob, E Quigley, D Redmond 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan 8; PJ Delaney 7, N Hickey 6, J Tyrrell 7; T Walsh 6, J Dalton 7, P Murphy 6; M Rice 5, M Fennelly 8; C Fennelly 8, TJ Reid 7, E Larkin 6; J Fitzpatrick 6, E Brennan 6, R Hogan 6. Subs: P Hartley 6 for Rice 6 (27), E Guinan 5 for Hogan 6 (54).
Wexford -- N Carton 7; P Roche 7, M O'Hanlon 8, C Kenny 7; L Prendergast 7, D Stamp 8, C Farrell 4; M Jacob 6, D Redmond 7; T Waters 5, H Kehoe 6, S Banville 7; E Martin 5, G Sinnott 6, J Berry 7. Subs: E Quigley 6 for Farrell 6 (h-t), PJ Nolan 7 for Waters 6 (46), B Doyle 5 for Martin 6 (54), B Hobbs for Redmond (67).
Ref --T Carroll (Offaly).