Codd lands perfect ten as Wexford reach final
THE Wexford hurlers had plenty of fire in their bellies, but they never had to really ignite yesterday
THE Wexford hurlers had plenty of fire in their bellies, but they never had to really ignite yesterday as this rather lifeless Guinness Leinster hurling championship semi-final sauntered to its inevitable conclusion at Croke Park.
It took a disappointing Laois side a full 20 minutes to get their first point and when the score finally came it was greeted more with relief than any real belief that they could proceed to put it up to Wexford.
And while there was always only going to be one winner, the message for Wexford at the finish was clear they must improve considerably if they are to hold a candle to Kilkenny in the Leinster final on July 8.
Even Wexford manager Tony Dempsey was prepared to accept that neither the quality of the hurling or the pace of the contest was up to scratch.
"I know it was not a classic and it was never going to be one, but it's still a relief to be in the final," said Dempsey.
This will be Wexford's first final appearance since beating Kilkenny in the decider four years ago. And considering the sense of despair which existed in the camp after the semi-final defeat by Offaly 12 months ago, it was understandable that it was the result, not the quality, that mattered most for Wexford who are now returning to the big stage and the All-Ireland series.
They will be aware of the fact that 10 of their 17 points came from frees by that most accurate of strikers, Paul Codd. Indeed, Codd might well have bagged a baker's dozen had a couple of shots not taken a wayward route at a time when the urgency had already long gone out of the contest.
But while Codd's free-taking was immense, there were many worrying signs. The Wexford full-forward line was well held for long periods and, with the exception of one ball that came off the woodwork, not a single member of their attack had a direct shot at John Lyons's goal.
"If we took our chances from frees in the first half we would have been right there with them," observed Laois manager Sean Cuddy.
And how right he was. Indeed, it can be said without fear of contradiction that Laois often played the better hurling, but they really only had one forward that looked capable of causing problems for the Wexford defence.
He was full-forward Darren Rooney, who had a really great battle with Wexford full-back Darragh Ryan, in what was one of the few memorable aspects about the game which really needed a Laois goal to bring it to life.
Rooney came close just before half-time, but his shot whizzed a few inches over the crossbar. And they had a better chance in the second half, but Damien Fitzhenry was more than up to the challenge as he handled the ball with all his old authority, confidence and power.
Ryan cleared an amount of ball in the first half when Rooney was often forced to come further afield in search of possession.
And if Ryan played a captain's part, he received some splendid assistance from corner-back Colm Kehoe who gave Fionan O'Sullivan a torrid time of it.
At the other end, Laois had one of the finest players on the field in full-back Seamus Dooley who gave an outstanding display despite having to contend with a rejuvenated Garry Laffan. Laffan scored a lovely point in the early stages, but was well held subsequently.
Barry Goff also slotted an early point for Wexford, but was thereafter well contained by some tidy marking from Robert Delaney.
And while Codd may have been Wexford's saviour, he did not have things his own way in open play against the third member of a solid Laois full-back line, Des Killeen.
It was further out the field that Laois had the problems and they had no answer to the Wexford half-back line who repeatedly turned defence into attack.
Particularly impressive in that department were Declan Ruth on the right and Sean Flood on the left, while the positional sense of Liam Dunne saw him snuff out the considerable threat posed by Declan Conroy.
None of the Laois half-forward line of Cyril Cuddy, Conroy and Ollie Dowling managed to score and that was too heavy a handicap for the Midlanders to bear.
And if the same Wexford line also found scores hard to come by, being limited to a couple of points from Rory McCarthy, they fared much better in general play. McCarthy was always involved, Larry Murphy performed trojan work, while Darren Stamp also caught the eye.
Laois came into this game without their best player, the suspended Niall Rigney, and you just sensed that they needed a good start to make a game of it.
Instead, it was Wexford who settled into their stride the quicker with scores from Codd, Goff, Adrian Fenlon (from a beautiful line ball), Laffan and Ruth giving them a seven point lead before David Cuddy got his free-taking act together.
In the last five minutes of the half, Laois produced some of their best hurling as James Young and David Cuddy began to more than match Fenlon and the free-flowing Michael Jordan at midfield.
Cuddy landed a '65' and this was followed by well taken points from Rooney and Culleton to leave it 0-9 to 0-5 at the break.
Laois made a few changes at half-time, with Joe Phelan and Cyril Cuddy switching positions. And on the resumption, a free from Cuddy and a splendid effort from Phelan had Wexford supporters wondering silently to themselves.
Then came that split second where games are won and lost. Fionan O'Sullivan looked sure to cut the arrears to a single point but, after doing all the hard work, his shot from the 20 metre line flew two feet wide.
You could almost see the Laois heads dropping after that miss. A minute later, a foul on Laffan was punished by Codd. And in the space of about five minutes it was all over as Jordan, McCarthy and Codd, from a couple of frees, made it 0-14 to 0-7. Laois moved Paul Cuddy to centre-forward, Cyril Cuddy to centre-back, but the struggle continued.
They didn't lack for spirit, but they never got any breaks as the Wexford defence closed down every avenue of attack. Wexford did what they had to do to win, but they'll have to do a lot more if they are to strike fear into the hearts of those men in black and amber on July 8.
@@STYL sw,6.3 @@STYL cl,6.4 MAN OF THE MATCH Paul Codd (Wexford).
SCORERS Wexford: P Codd 0-10 (all frees), R McCarthy 0-2, D Ruth, A Fenlon (sideline), M Jordan, B Goff and G Laffan 0-1 each. Laois: D Cuddy 0-4 (3f, 1 '65'), D Rooney 0-2, J Phelan, P Cuddy, J Young and D Culleton 0-1 each.
TEAMS AND RATINGS
WEXFORD D Fitzhenry 8; C Kehoe 8, D Ryan 8, L O'Gorman 6; D Ruth 8, L Dunne 7, S Flood 8; A Fenlon 8, M Jordan 7; R McCarthy 8, L Murphy 8, D Stamp 7; P Codd 9, G Laffan 7, B Goff 7. Subs: K Furlong 7 for O'Gorman (45m). C Byrne for Laffan (63m). T Kelly for Murphy (inj, 68m). Booked: P Codd (32m).
LAOIS J Lyons 8; R Delaney 7, S Dooley 8, D Killeen 7; J Phelan 7, P Cuddy 7, J O'Sullivan 6; J Young 7, D Cuddy 7; C Cuddy 6, D Conroy 6, O Dowling 6; D Culleton 7, D Rooney 8, F O'Sullivan 6. Subs: P Phelan 7 for Dowling (55m), N Lacey for J O'Sullivan (60m). Booked: S Dooley (27m).
WIDES Wexford 14; Laois, 12.
REF A MacSuibhne (Dublin).