Saturday 24 March 2018

Wexford win hurling semi-final

PAUDGE DORAN'S well-taken goal 14 minutes into the second-half put Wexford firmly on the road to a convincing victory over the Kilkenny Development Squad in the Walsh Cup Senior hurling semi-final in Blackwater on Sunday last, setting up the first of three guaranteed clashes with Dublin this season in the process.

The sides were deadlocked (1-10 to 0-13) when a long-range Richie Kehoe free was batted out by netminder Aaron Duggan, and the rangy Oylegate-Glenbrien attacker was on hand to fire a low shot to the net with a swift strike. Michael O'Regan set up the impressive P.J. Nolan for a point from the resultant puck-out, and the home side never looked back after another stand-out performer, Eoin Doyle, then availed of a break off the Glynn-Barntown man to make it 2-12 to 0-13 midway through the half.

While that goal from Doran, who had moved from left corner-forward to the edge of the square, broke the resolve of a youthful Kilkenny side, the happenings in the last five minutes of the opening half were just as important in determining the outcome. Kilkenny had first use of the strong wind blowing towards the road end at this well-prepared venue, and their accuracy was impressive as they moved into a 0-9 to 0-4 lead before striking their sole wide prior to the break in the 28th minute from midfielder Tom Breen.

Gary Moore (free) and Matthew Ruth went on to exchange points before Wexford concluded the half on a promising note and left themselves in a much better position. A Paul Morris handpass resulted in a P.J. Nolan point after 32 minutes before Moore was impeded and tapped over from the resultant placed ball.

Then came the key moment when a Lee Chin delivery was caught by Michael O'Regan who was taken down by full-back Pádraig Keating as he advanced on goal, with Moore following the example set by his Glynn-Barntown clubmate, Mark Fanning, one week earlier as he planted the penalty in the net.

As a result the sides were level at the break (1-7 to 0-10), and the advantage was definitely with Wexford given the strength of the wind. Andrew Shore was given the full 70 minutes at full-back on this occasion after moving there in the first-half against Offaly, while teenager Andrew Kenny was handed his first start on the right flank of the defence having made his debut as a quarter-final substitute. The goalkeepers were alternated too as Niall Breen was selected with Mark Fanning kept in reserve, but the Tara Rocks man wasn't called upon to make a single save of note due to the collective strength of the backs.

It took just 33 seconds for Kilkenny centre-forward Rory Hickey to convert the first of his nine frees, although Wexford levelled as P.J. Nolan fired over a neat point after moving from the left wing to the right.

Hickey restored the visitors' lead in the fifth minute, with Gary Moore responding from a free before a run of three Kilkenny points from another Hickey placed ball and two fine efforts from play by Mark Bergin (0-5 to 0-2).

Wexford were staying in contention though, with Paudge Doran picking off a fine solo point and Paul Morris also hitting the target, although Ger Aylward hit the target in between at the other end. Free-taking was a tricky exercise into the wind, and four of the first five wides were from Gary Moore (two), Richie Kehoe and Morris with chances they would normally expect to convert. Paudge Doran and Eoin Doyle also had misses from play before the interval, but Kilkenny were reeled in after enjoying their biggest lead (0-9 to 0-4) after 18 minutes thanks to three points on the trot from Rory Hickey (play and free) plus an excellent Ger Aylward line ball from the left.

The Cats had two half-chances for goals which came to nothing in the 23rd and 24th minutes, with Shane Maher's effort smothered by a vigilant defence before Matthew Ruth was penalised for over-carrying as he seemed set to score. Frees were plentiful throughout, with 21 of the 38 awarded going to Wexford.

The first six points of the new half were shared equally before that Doran goal changed the course of the game. Significantly, Kilkenny's three efforts were from Rory Hickey frees as their attack was well marshalled by a tight back line whose tackling was very impressive and quite disciplined for the most part. The Wexford replies in that period came from Eoin Doyle and Harry Kehoe, both created by P.J. Nolan handpasses, and a long-range effort by Richie Kehoe in the 45th minute which saw an umpire over-ruled by referee David Hughes after he initially waved it wide.

Gary Moore and the team captain (two) also struck wides from placed balls from an overall second-half tally of eight, but the move of Michael O'Regan to centre-forward and Paudge Doran to the edge of the square had a significant impact. Within five minutes the Kilkenny net was bulging and Wexford were on the way to a victory which will give them another valuable test against the Dubs in advance of their National League opener against Carlow on February 24.

Although Rory Hickey pulled back a pointed free in the 54th minute, Wexford motored on as David Redmond and Garrett Sinnott were introduced and Gary Moore split the posts after being impeded to make it 2-13 to 0-14. Another Hickey effort was met with an emphatic response as Liam Dunne's charges finally put the issue well and truly beyond doubt with a run of five scores on the trot between the 62nd and 69th minutes.

Paudge Doran scooped over rather than under the bar with a goal at his mercy when Lee Chin's effort was batted away, with Garrett Sinnott on target from the left flank before a lovely passing movement involving Chin and Gary Moore was finished off by Paul Morris. P.J. Nolan capped a fine display with his fourth point before Sinnott was fouled and Moore did the needful, with Kilkenny's sole second-half point from play not arriving until added time courtesy of Matthew Ruth who gave Andrew Shore a good test after his move to full-forward.

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