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Pride restored as Wexford hurlers bounce back in fine style with win over Kilkenny

Brendan Furlong


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Conor Delaney of Kilkenny in action against Conor McDonald of Wexford during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 5 match between Kilkenny and Wexford at UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Delaney of Kilkenny in action against Conor McDonald of Wexford during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 5 match between Kilkenny and Wexford at UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Delaney of Kilkenny in action against Conor McDonald of Wexford during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 5 match between Kilkenny and Wexford at UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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WEXFORD’S PRIDE was hurt following the Westmeath debacle, there’s no doubt about that.

But the following week they addressed the issues that had left their championship aspirations on a cliff edge.

Last week I queried if Wexford had the bottle for a battle, to inflict defeat on Kilkenny in a championship game in UPMC Nowlan Park for the first time.

Wexford had to turn their final round robin game into a battle. Not alone did they do that, they also managed to outhurl their arch-rivals during different periods of the game. It was a game where Wexford restored our faith in their more renowned purple and gold jerseys.

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As Wexford sifted through the debris of that Westmeath draw, many fingers were being pointed in different directions. But credit to management as they came up with a plan, and not alone got their man-to-man tussles right, but played an attractive brand of open hurling moving forward.

This was in stark contrast to the opposition whose ploy of peppering the visitors with high ball was mopped up by a dominant Wexford back line.

Turning the game into a real battle could also have come back to haunt them. It may not be in the pages of many modern coaching manuals, but the manner in which Wexford mixed up their game paid dividends. It also brought back memories of games where Wexford may not be as skilful as the opposition, but those battling qualities have got them over the line on so many occasions in the past.

Yes, Wexford had the heart for a battle, and it won out on the day.

They had some outstanding individual displays. Many of the starting 15 were in the running for the man of the match, while the substitutes introduced also played a key role in the victory.

Lee Chin, having had such a mixed season, showed a welcome return to form with an outstanding display, but for me Damien Reck was Wexford’s leading player. It was fitting that he played such a key role in this victory as he has been the team’s outstanding player through the round-robin series.

What about that late goal-line block, especially the manner in which he kept his composure as the drama unfolded to rise to his knees, roll the ball into hand, and dart for the safety of the side.

It was a marvellous piece of defending given that a Kilkenny goal at that late stage could have signalled the end for Wexford. That said, it must not be forgotten that he held the opposition’s ace marksman Eoin Cody scoreless – yet another massive contribution to this victory effort.

Matthew O’Hanlon was another leading player for the manner in which he kept T.J. Reid so quiet in general play, while both Paudie Foley and Liam Ryan turned in superb second-half displays. One must mention the massive contributions of the St. Anne’s pair, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Liam Óg McGovern.

The introduction of players off the bench was always going to be pivotal. Cathal Dunbar contributed a hugely important point while Mikie Dwyer showed his class with that mazy run of his.

It left one Kilkenny player sitting on his rear end, with a second getting his navigation signals all wrong as the Fethard player waltzed through for the point of the game.

But for me it was Damien Reck who led by example and, not for the first time this season, he showed his class and proved inspirational.

While the hurlers enjoyed their moment of glory, the Wexford footballers were unable to get the job done against Offaly in their preliminary round Tailteann Cup game in Bellefield on Sunday.

There were many who doubted Wexford’s ability to bounce back following their championship defeat to Dublin, which came on the back of an opening round victory over Offaly.

Wexford’s predicament was coming back off that Dublin defeat, while this was not helped by the inability of Croke Park to have a set fixture plan and format from an early stage for the initial playing of the Tailteann Cup.

Shane Roche and his management team overcame the many hiccups regarding the draw, particularly the manner of the preliminary round format, as they showed real quality despite failing to repeat their championship victory, going down by one point to a much-strengthened Offaly outfit.

For Wexford it has brought their summer to an end, with inter-county football put to bed again until January 2023.


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