Tuesday 16 July 2019

'It will be an interesting year... actually, I mightn't say too much' - Davy Fitzgerald and Brian Cody give little away as Wexford edge spoils

Wexford 0-16 Kilkenny 0-13

Wexford and Kilkenny players tussle at yesterday’s clash. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Wexford and Kilkenny players tussle at yesterday’s clash. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

If it's a case of starting as you mean to go then it looks like the much-publicised sweeper system is here to stay for Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford for a third successive season.

It may have only been pre-season fare but Kevin Foley slipped into the role as an extra defender from the off - usual sweeper Shaun Murphy played wing-back - and an understrength Kilkenny side couldn't break them down.

Former GAA president Nickey Brennan interviews Davy Fitzgerald for Community Radio Kilkenny afterwards. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Former GAA president Nickey Brennan interviews Davy Fitzgerald for Community Radio Kilkenny afterwards. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

The tactic has attracted much criticism, with many believing such a style - playing with just five forwards - won't suffice to claim All-Ireland honours.

It wasn't pretty viewing for a sizeable crowd in Bellefield yesterday, with neither side threatening the opposition goalkeeper in meaningful fashion.

It's clear that a cryptic Fitzgerald intends to keep his cards firmly by his chest at this early stage of the season with League and championship ties against the Cats around the corner.

"It's nice to have a few (lads that can play sweeper). All I'll say is it will be an interesting year... actually, I mightn't say too much. But it will be interesting, as the year goes on, that's all I will say," Fitzgerald said.

David Dunne of Wexford in action against Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
David Dunne of Wexford in action against Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Evident

"You don't want to be meeting teams too often if you're playing them in the championship. We have Kilkenny three times this year, maybe a fourth, so it will be an interesting year ahead."

The shadow boxing from both sides was evident but Kilkenny were always likely to struggle minus a host of regulars and the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent. The Cats were "missing a whole team", as Fitzgerald observed, but that didn't stop Brian Cody's side leading at the break, 0-8 to 0-6.

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Conor Fogarty and Luke Scanlon had them on the mark in the opening minutes but it was generally tit-for-tat in a lack-lustre first half where distribution was a major issue for both sides in their first outing of the season.

Having struggled with Foley's positioning in the opening exchanges, Kilkenny played the flanks more with decent success but both sides had a nightmare afternoon from placed balls.

Referee John Keenan shows a red card to Jack O'Connor of Wexford and Liam Blanchfield of Kilkenny. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Referee John Keenan shows a red card to Jack O'Connor of Wexford and Liam Blanchfield of Kilkenny. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Wexford tried six different free-takers and could have been in a much stronger position were it not for a host of misses, but centre-back Paudie Foley was always a steadying influence with six frees from a variety of distances and angles.

Wexford's Jack O'Connor - just four minutes after his half-time introduction - and Kilkenny's Liam Blanchfield were both given their marching orders early in the second half as things regularly boiled over.

The home side made best use of the extra space, however, with Diarmuid O'Keeffe and Aidan Nolan firing over to go three ahead on 59 minutes, 0-14 to 0-11, and it was a lead they wouldn't relinquish as Foley and substitute Seamus Casey added frees to close things out.

Martin Keoghan was the only Kilkenny forward offering any resistance while the introduction of former Hurler of the Year Richie Hogan - who missed two routine frees - couldn't turn the tide as they struggled for traction in attack.

Kevin Kelly of Kilkenny in action against Shaun Murphy of Wexford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Kevin Kelly of Kilkenny in action against Shaun Murphy of Wexford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Foley and Liam Ryan, in particular, were strong at the heart of the Wexford defence but it is up front where Fitzgerald will worry ahead of next week's Walsh Cup final against Galway, as 12 of their 16 points came from placed balls.

After sticking with his tried and tested 18-19 players throughout last year's League, Fitzgerald intends to experiment this spring, with 25 or more expected to feature in an attempt to strengthen his championship squad.

His counterpart Cody has regularly spoken of the need to scrap competitions like the Walsh Cup, and the 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager lamented the fact that a decent cohort of his squad are bracing themselves for a "crazy" schedule with games at every corner as the Fitzgibbon Cup kicks off.

"It's crazy stuff with a load of fixtures coming up and it's still only early in January. I mean the whole fixtures thing is a bit mad at the moment. Fellas played today, the winners play in the Walsh Cup next Sunday," he said.

"The Fitzgibbon starts next Sunday, Fitzgibbon is on the following Wednesday and the League starts the following Sunday. (Then) Fitzgibbon is on the following Sunday, (and) the League is on again the following Sunday.

"I don't know; I don't understand it. It's just going to be very difficult on players and third level college students trying to marry both. It's going to be really difficult."

The defending League champions will also be without last year's captain Cillian Buckley for the foreseeable future after the Dicksboro defender recently underwent knee surgery to correct a long-standing injury.

In better news, Ger Aylward will "soon be back in action" while Pádraig Walsh is back in training and could feature during their opening League clash with Cork in Nowlan Park on January 27.

SCORERS - Wexford: P Foley 0-7 (6f), H Kehoe 0-3f, I Byrne, A Nolan J O'Connor (f), C McDonald (f), S Casey (f), D O'Keeffe 0-1 each; Kilkenny: K Kelly 0-5 (4f), M Keoghan 0-2, C Delaney, C Fogarty, L Scanlon, R Hogan (f), G Malone, P Deegan 0-1 each.

WEXFORD - E Martin; S Reck, L Ryan, C Firman; S Donohoe, P Foley, S Murphy; A Nolan, D O'Keeffe; H Kehoe, K Foley, I Byrne; D Dunne, C Dunbar, C McDonald. Subs: L Óg McGovern for Kehoe and J O'Connor for Byrne (both half-time), S Casey for Murphy (50 blood), Murphy for Casey (blood 51), Casey for Dunne (59), D Byrne for Murphy (63).

KILKENNY - D Brennan; R Lennon, H Lawlor, T Walsh; C Delaney, P Deegan, E Morrissey; J Cleere, C Fogarty; G Malone, M Keoghan, L Blanchfield; K Kelly, J Donnelly, L Scanlon. Subs: P Murphy for Cleere (half-time), R Hogan for Kelly (46), N Brassil for Scanlon (65).

REF - J Keenan (Wicklow).

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