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Nolan's goal leads to big win against Kilkenny

Bord na Mona Walsh Cup Senior Hurling Semi-final: WEXFORD2-18 KILKENNy1-9

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Jack O’Connor, who captained the side, on a solo run away from Kilkenny duo Conor Hennessy and Tom Kenny

Jack O’Connor, who captained the side, on a solo run away from Kilkenny duo Conor Hennessy and Tom Kenny

SPORTSFILE

Jack O’Connor, who captained the side, on a solo run away from Kilkenny duo Conor Hennessy and Tom Kenny

Two of the more experienced players produced the goods when they were needed most in sunny John Locke Park, Callan, on Sunday as the Wexford Senior hurlers marched on to a third successive Bord na Móna Walsh Cup final with a decisive twelve-point win over depleted Kilkenny.

The visitors were full value for an interval lead of 1-8 to 0-5, but their dominance came under threat for the only time in a sluggish 14-minute spell on the re-start when they conceded 1-2 without reply.

An Eoin Murphy penalty goal had given home supporters about the only thing they could cheer about, and for a brief period it looked like Kilkenny were gathering momentum as substitute Eoin O'Shea made it a one-point game.

That was the cue for midfielder Aidan Nolan to step forward and take the game by the scruff of the neck, settling Wexford with a telling contribution of 1-2 in a six-minute burst.

His first point came after James Maher spilled an Eoin Murphy clearance that he should have gathered, and he followed up with another attempt that dropped short before Aidan Rochford's run set him up to make it 1-10 to 1-7.

Those scores were a nice prelude to the coup de grace that was delivered in considerable style in the 56th minute, and it was created by the vision of the second man so influential in quelling the Cats' comeback.

Paul Morris was introduced at left half-forward after Nolan left three points between the sides, and his handpass to the HWH-Bunclody man resulted in the goal that made sure of success.

It was a brilliant finish from the number eleven who partnered newcomer Aidan Rochford at midfield, as he swivelled on to his left side after gathering possession and then struck low from inside the 'D' to the left corner of Eoin Murphy's net.

And just to underline his value to the cause, Morris also popped off passes for the next two points, with an excellent Jack O'Connor effort from close to the left sideline followed by another from Gavin Bailey, one of seven debutants given game-time.

Two footballers of long standing and high regard, Michael Furlong and Kevin O'Grady, were contacted last Tuesday to attend that night's training session, and just five days later they joined the ranks of dual players to have featured at the top level with the county in both codes.

Tigerish corner-back Furlong was familiar with Ger Aylward from their Good Counsel school days, and he restricted him to one point on an afternoon when the Wexford defensive unit gave little away.

The victory was in the bag by the time O'Grady was introduced with five minutes left for fellow newcomer Mikie Dwyer, with the Fethard flyer capping an encouraging show with a well-taken first-half goal.

There was a first start in goal for last year's Under-20 netminder, James Lawlor, while Gavin Bailey and Ross Donohoe also made their debuts in the half-back line after being unused panel members in 2019.

Aidan Rochford was deservedly rewarded for his club exploits in the St. Anne's colours with a first outing at midfield, while the sole previous playing experience for corner-back Gary Molloy was gained in a couple of Walsh Cup outings two years ago.

County final man of the match Joe O'Connor gave a generally assured performance, apart from one slip from a short puck-out by Lawlor that Ger Aylward didn't punish in the second-half.

And one of the biggest talking points among curious Wexford onlookers in a decent crowd was the return of Andrew Shore for the first time since Davy Fitzgerald took over from Liam Dunne.

The last of his 53 appearances had arrived as a substitute in the league quarter-final loss to Waterford in 2016, and he had a spell overseas since before returning to the Davidstown-Courtnacuddy colours at Junior level last summer.

The placing of Shore at full-forward was certainly interesting, given he was used predominantly in the half-backs or half-forwards in the past, and a two-point haul suggests the experiment might be persisted with next weekend.

Wexford had the luxury of introducing four established regulars off the bench, whereas a Kilkenny side minus the Shamrocks and Tullaroan contingent were particularly threadbare up front.

As a result, the game offered absolutely no pointers towards what might happen when they meet again in the league in Chadwicks Wexford Park on February 16.

However, the prize is significant - not necessarily the chance to wrest the title back from Galway after last year's final loss in Bellefield, but rather the fact that it will take place next Saturday in Portlaoise, which is also the venue for the league opener against Laois seven nights later.

Jack O'Connor captained the side on Sunday, and his free-taking yielded a return of five points from seven attempts, starting after 65 seconds when Aidan Rochford was fouled on the left sideline.

The formation was familiar, with Kevin Foley darting back from left half-forward to sweep once the ball was thrown in.

Harry Kehoe moved out to the left flank, leaving a two-man inside line of Dwyer and Shore who were policed by Ciarán Wallace and Conor Delaney respectively, with Paddy Deegan in the loose role.

Paul Holden (free) and James Maher gave Kilkenny the lead for the sole time before David Dunne - who was full of energy on the '40 - emerged from a scrum after a Lawlor puck-out down the middle to equalise in the 14th minute.

And he was also the main man in the first Wexford goal which quickly followed, darting in from the right after latching on to the ball when Conor Delaney blocked Andrew Shore.

Dunne handpassed across to Mikie Dwyer who got the type of confidence boost any new arrival craves by stitching the ball in the roof of the net, a strike so emphatic that the scoreboard operator actually gave him 1-1 for it!

It was an error that continued right up to half-time when referee Seán Stack - son of the former stylish Clare centre-back of the same name - corrected it and confirmed that Wexford were leading by 1-8 to 0-5.

Pádraig Foley had broken away from a throw-in to point from distance, while Jack O'Connor punished a high tackle on David Dunne before Andrew Shore finished off a long centre from Aidan Nolan.

Dunne's second point came after good work by Gavin Bailey and Harry Kehoe, with the latter then catching a crossfield free from Pádraig Foley to open his account.

Ger Aylward had darted clear of Michael Furlong once after an Eoin Murphy free to register his sole point, and free-taker Paul Holden hit the target twice before Dwyer picked out Kehoe to make it 1-8 to 0-5 close to the break.

A cut forced Pádraig Foley off for 20 minutes in the second-half, being replaced by Simon Donohoe before coming back on himself for Michael Furlong.

And while Kilkenny hit 1-2 without reply in the third quarter to briefly make a game of it, Wexford were also close to grabbing a spectacular second goal in that same period.

It arrived in the 42nd minute, when an astute crossfield pass by Mikie Dwyer found Shaun Murphy - a first-half replacement at centre-back for the injured Ross Donohoe.

He wasn't interested in a handy point, trying instead to go for the jugular and forcing Eoin Murphy into a magnificent diving save, high to his left.

The rebound dropped kindly for Harry Kehoe, but he didn't get a decent connection and it went right and wide.

James Maher had pulled back a point from distance, and Murphy then came forward to leave James Lawlor rooted to the spot from a timely penalty for Kilkenny.

It was awarded after referee Stack blew for a foul by Joe O'Connor on Ger Aylward that I didn't see as they contested a free from distance by the Kilkenny netminder, with the full-back also booked for his troubles.

Eoin O'Shea then made it 1-8 to 1-7, but Aidan Nolan's 1-2, and a similar figure in assists from Paul Morris, removed all doubt regarding the outcome before additional late points from Jack O'Connor (four, three frees), substitute Conor McDonald (free), and Andrew Shore.

Wexford: James Lawlor (Ferns St. Aidan's); Michael Furlong (Adamstown), Joe O'Connor (St. Martin's), Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna); Pádraig Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 0-1), Ross Donohoe (Buffers Alley), Gavin Bailey (Ferns St. Aidan's, 0-1); Aidan Rochford (St. Anne's), Aidan Nolan (HWH-Bunclody, 1-2); Jack O'Connor (St. Martin's, capt., 0-7, 5 frees), David Dunne (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, 0-2), Kevin Foley (Rapparees); Harry Kehoe (Cloughbawn, 0-2), Andrew Shore (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, 0-2), Mikie Dwyer (Fethard, 1-0). Subs. - Shaun Murphy (Oulart-The Ballagh) for Donohoe, inj. (29), Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers) for P. Foley, blood (39), Paul Morris (Ferns St. Aidan's) for K. Foley (54), Conor McDonald (Naomh Eanna, 0-1 free) for Kehoe (54), Pádraig Foley for Furlong (59), Kevin O'Grady (St. James') for Dwyer (65).

Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy (1-0 pen.); Ciarán Wallace, Paddy Deegan, Conor Delaney; David Blanchfield, Conor Fogarty (capt.), Tom Kenny; Pat O'Carroll, James Maher (0-2); Aidan Nolan, Shane Murphy, Paul Holden (0-3 frees); Conor Hennessy, Billy Ryan, Ger Aylward (0-1). Subs. - Stephen Donnelly for Hennessy (HT), James Burke for O'Carroll (HT), Eoin O'Shea (0-3, 2 frees) for S. Murphy (40), Mikey Butler for Holden (55).

Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin).

Wexford People