Wexford 3-30 Kerry 0-18
THE ROUTINE win anticipated by the vast majority unfolded with the minimum of fuss in Austin Stack Park on Saturday, as the Wexford Senior hurlers advanced to a mouth-watering All-Ireland championship quarter-final clash against Clare with a comfortable 21 points to spare.
In truth, the novelty of the pairing and the Tralee venue, along with the warm welcome afforded to the visitors by friendly Kerry folk, will be remembered long after the ins and outs of the on-field action are forgotten.
The constant tooting of referee Johnny Murphy’s whistle rapidly developed from a minor irritant into the soundtrack for a frustrating afternoon, with entertainment in short supply if truth be told.
We know what to expect from the Limerick official at this stage and, while nobody apart from the assessors seem enamoured by it, the clear evidence from Saturday is that the man himself won’t be changing his ways any time soon.
After a first-half free count of 23 (14 for Kerry), I made it 39 in total by the finish, including 17 for the convincing winners.
And with six players already booked by the interval, three apiece, even though there wasn’t a dirty stroke to be seen, the danger was that somebody would pick up a cheap second yellow.
That didn’t happen as it transpired, but the losers still finished a man down after the harsh dismissal of Michael Leane on a straight red card in the 63rd minute.
He may have nicked Rory O’Connor on the side of the helmet while contesting a head-high delivery down the right flank, but there didn’t appear to be any intent and the Kerry man was simply caught out by the swift movement of his opponent.
Lee Chin added the second-last of his 14 points from the free that followed, making it 1-27 to 0-15. And the extra space afforded to the hot favourites saw them hit another brace of goals after a second-half that was much more productive than the first – when the failure to test Kerry netminder Louis Dee was a notable feature.
There was some surprise when a Wexford team official confirmed to me beforehand that late withdrawal Diarmuid O’Keeffe wasn’t injured, with the St. Anne’s man still togged out and among the substitutes.
And it was a most annoying afternoon for his replacement, Cathal Dunbar, as he was forced off in the 29th minute with an injury to his left hamstring that will rule him out of the Clare game.
While it would be foolish to read too much into such an uneven contest, by the same token the performance of Dunbar’s replacement, Mikie Dwyer, was one of the stand-out aspects of the Wexford win.
The Fethard flyer buzzed around the attack, winning three frees that Lee Chin converted, and providing three assists for points from Chin, Rory O’Connor and Damien Reck, along with scoring one himself.
In addition, his clever short stick pass into space for Matthew O’Hanlon split the Kerry defence wide open and led to the first goal that Conor McDonald finished in the 54th minute to make it 1-24 to 0-13.
Dwyer left the fray in additional time after the five substitutes had been used, but it seemed to be just a minor ailment and his continued development can only be a good thing as Wexford strive towards adding as much depth as possible to their panel.
In that regard too, the appearance of Shane Reck in the 62nd minute was another timely boost, particularly as nobody has done a better marking job on Tony Kelly in recent years than the Oylegate-Glenbrien man.
And while a lack of match practice may result in him being kept in reserve next Saturday, with that tough assignment likely to fall on his brother Damien instead, hopefully the mentors won’t hang about if the defence is struggling because a fully-fit Shane Reck is one of our best backs.
Wexford started with a two-man inside attacking line of Lee Chin and Conor McDonald on Saturday, with Fionán Mackessy dropping back to engage with our captain after the throw-in which led to Seán Weir moving out to keep tabs on Kevin Foley at midfield.
McDonald was faced by Conor O’Keeffe, with Eoin Ross up against Oisín Foley on the same left flank, while Rory O’Connor started at right half-forward and was opposed by Michael Leane.
Cathal Dunbar drifted out to assist Kevin Foley and Liam Óg McGovern around midfield, while Damien Reck was assigned the task of stopping Jordan Conway. Conor Devitt was at left half-back on Shane Conway, with Matthew O’Hanlon facing Pádraig Boyle in the middle, but it turned into quite a comfortable outing for the Wexford defence as Colin Walsh and Gavin Dooley both dropped back a line on the left to facilitate the sweeping role filled by Mikey Boyle.
The extra space and time resulted in four of our six defenders picking off easy points, and Mark Fanning didn’t have a shot to deal with throughout.
The importance of starting well, and not giving Kerry even the sniff of a potential upset, had been emphasised, and it certainly went to plan early on as Lee Chin (four, three frees) and Conor McDonald left Wexford 0-5 to nil clear by the eleventh minute.
It was 7-2 after further efforts from Chin and Rory O’Connor, in between Kerry’s first and second scores from free-taker Pádraig Boyle and Seán Weir respectively.
Kerry did have one significant purple patch, between the 16th and 20th minutes, when the impressive Eoin Ross surged forward from right half-back for a point from play before Boyle nailed three frees.
That left Wexford with a mere one-point gap (0-7 to 0-6), but normal service was quickly resumed as Chin (two frees), Liam Ryan, Conor Devitt, Mikie Dwyer, Oisín Foley and Matthew O’Hanlon hit seven scores on the bounce.
The stand-out finish came directly off the stick after a solo run by Foley who, along with big brother Pádraig, offered a direct link to the counties’ sole previous championship meeting in the final of 1891 when Wexford were represented by their native parish of Crossabeg (not Castlebridge as inadvertently stated last week).
It was 0-16 to 0-8 by half-time, after the last four points were shared. Fionán Mackessy had stopped the rot for Kerry with their seventh, with Conor McDonald responding after a clever flick over his marker’s head before Pádraig Boyle and Lee Chin swapped scores from frees.
Wexford hadn’t been able to trouble rival netminder Louis Dee, with defenders performing a double block on Rory O’Connor shots in the 27th minute, and Liam Óg McGovern later losing possession in a good position as a result of a strong tackle.
Pádraig Foley produced a well-timed hook to deny Gavin Dooley in the 34th minute, and it was ominous for Kerry when Wexford stepped it up again on the restart – after three wides at the outset from an overall haul of ten – with the first three points from Rory O’Connor and Chin (free and play).
Although Wexford were in cruise control, with Liam Óg McGovern (two), Oisín Foley, Chin (free) and Rory O’Connor adding their next five points, Kerry also had some bright moments, notably when Eoin Ross grabbed his second score from play before drilling a line ball over the bar.
It was 0-24 to 0-13 when the opening goal arrived in the 54th minute. Mikie Dwyer ripped the defence apart with an astute pass into space for Matthew O’Hanlon. He had fellow defender Damien Reck on his shoulder, and the Oylegate-Glenbrien man parted for Conor McDonald to turn and rattle Louis Dee’s net.
It was challenge match fare thereafter, even more so after the unfortunate Michael Leane saw red in the 63rd minute.
A super first-time crossfield pass off the hurl by Oisín Foley picked out Rory O’Connor for a coolly-taken second goal.
And three substitutes combined for the third, with Conor Hearne and Charlie McGuckin making inroads before Mikie Dwyer miscued his shot. However, Hearne was following up and netted from close range before Damien Reck and Rory O’Connor (free) completed Wexford’s winning tally.
Wexford: Mark Fanning (Glynn-Barntown); Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers), Liam Ryan (Rapparees, 0-1), Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-1); Pádraig Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn), Matthew O’Hanlon (St. James’, 0-1), Conor Devitt (Tara Rocks, 0-1); Kevin Foley (Rapparees), Liam Óg McGovern (St. Anne’s, 0-2); Rory O’Connor (St. Martin’s, 1-4, 0-1 free), Jack O’Connor (St. Martin’s), Oisín Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 0-2); Cathal Dunbar (Naomh Éanna), Lee Chin (Faythe Harriers, 0-14, 10 frees, 1 ’65), Conor McDonald (Naomh Éanna, 1-3). Subs. – Mikie Dwyer (Fethard, 0-1) for Dunbar, inj. (29), Charlie McGuckin (Naomh Éanna) for J. O’Connor (58), Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers, 1-0) for K. Foley (59), Shane Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien) for Devitt (62), Connal Flood (Cloughbawn) for Chin (69), also James Lawlor (Ferns St. Aidan’s), Diarmuid O’Keeffe (St. Anne’s), David Clarke (Glynn-Barntown), Richie Lawlor (Faythe Harriers), Paul Morris (Ferns St. Aidan’s), Kyle Scallan (Faythe Harriers).
Kerry: Louis Dee; Conor O’Keeffe, Seán Weir (0-1), Eric Leen; Eoin Ross (0-3, 1 line ball), Mikey Boyle, Michael Leane; Fionán Mackessy (0-1), Paudie O’Connor (capt., 0-1); Shane Conway, Pádraig Boyle (0-7 frees), Colin Walsh; Jordan Conway (0-5, 3 frees, 1 ’65), Colum Harty, Gavin Dooley. Subs. – Niall Mulcahy for S. Conway, inj. (32), Maurice O’Connor for Walsh (44), Brian Lonergan for Dooley, temp. (48-49), Lonergan for P. Boyle (59), Morgan Madden for Leen (62), Fionán O’Sullivan for Harty (65).
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick).