Saturday 16 December 2017

Cyril Farrell: Wexford stood up to Cats - and Lee Chin stood tallest

Lee Chin of Wexford celebrates near the end of the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Wexford and Kilkenny at Wexford Park in Wexford. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Lee Chin of Wexford celebrates near the end of the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Wexford and Kilkenny at Wexford Park in Wexford. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
'Shaun Murphy was brilliant again as the sweeper.' Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Last summer I was refereeing the annual charity hurling match between Jim Bolger and Davy Russell for the Irish Cancer Society and Davy Fitz was managing the side which Lee Chin was playing on.

He was going alright at No 6, but I'll never forget Fitzy decided to push him up to centre-forward and told him to use his pace every chance he got. It was a totally different ball game.

He was a million miles away from being Wexford manager, but it's gas that he's used him in that attacking role since taking charge.

It just stuck into his head - 'he's usually in the backs, but I'm going to use him up front and he's going to be the main man' - and while lads stood up all over the pitch on Saturday night, Chin stood tallest and was an absolute powerhouse. He had the game of his life.

I was surprised Cillian Buckley wasn't detailed to track him everywhere because he picked up an amount of ball when he went out the field and I was amazed that the game was allowed to be played on Davy's terms.

Kilkenny could have scored more goals only for Mark Fanning, but the tempo was set by Wexford. It was played at their pace and with their fitness they were able to keep it going the whole way to the finish and outlast Kilkenny - we haven't said that too many times before.

They had controlled aggression and have upped it another gear since the league. With the game that they play you have to be up and down, running off the shoulder, using the short ball and carrying through tackles. Diarmuid O'Keeffe was like an Energizer bunny, he never stopped going forward.

Shaun Murphy was brilliant again as the sweeper. You know what way Wexford are going to play; they'll drop at least one man back and while Pádraig Walsh pushed up on him for a while, Wexford were quite happy with that and brought other lads back to choke the middle third and they certainly won that battle.

Something I've never witnessed is the corner-backs attacking without the ball and at one stage Liam Ryan cleared a ball and Simon Donohoe burst forward and actually ended up in the full-forward line. There were lads loose inside even when they scored and it was a bit like football. They were attacking from the back, attacking in waves at pace.

The transformation in 12 months is remarkable and Fitzy will have been drilling that game plan into them from day one. They played a lot of challenge games even before the Walsh Cup and I've watched him with LIT - he'd be preaching that message every single night.

Supporters often find it hard and I remember at the Walsh Cup final in New Ross, things were going wrong on a wet day and people were roaring, but he'd be immune to that.

They kept working on Saturday night; using the sweeper, playing intelligent ball and not ballooning it; popping passes to the runners and lads driving up past midfield. They're used to breaking tackles and now they're breaking teams' hearts.

The momentum is with them now for the Leinster final. They came down to Pearse Stadium in the league against Galway and were a good few points down against the breeze and came back from the dead, so that could be a mouth-watering final, providing Galway beat Offaly.

Wexford are slipping in under the radar with regards to the All-Ireland and Fitzy is playing down their chances. He did the same with Clare (and they won), but they're serious All-Ireland contenders because they've beaten the benchmark - twice.

With all the Health and Safety regulations and red tape, you'd never have such scenes in Croke Park, but it was crazy on the field after, with thousands coming out with pure enjoyment and they'll outnumber anyone in GAA HQ the next day out.

Kilkenny didn't release their team until very late before the game (we barely get the teams at all now) and it shows they weren't going to let Fitzy know what was happening. However, he's dictating the terms now.

Kilkenny aren't the force of old, but then how could they be when you're replacing a handful of the best players to play the game? They are in a new position now heading into the qualifiers, but if they can get Michael Fennelly back fit, likewise Pádraig Walsh, and get more match sharpness into Ger Aylward, no one will fancy meeting them.

When all was said and done they still had chances to win and it was typical to see Kilkenny fighting until the bitter end. They'll be hard to beat and they'll still believe they can win an All-Ireland. What odds on Kilkenny and Tipp meeting in the qualifiers?

What a summer we have ahead.


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