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Kilkenny devour Wexford in game of cat and mouse

KILKENNY 2-19; WEXFORD 0-12 NEVER in its long history has the Guinness Leinster hurling championship been so depressing.

It now lacks the basic ingredient of serious competition as Kilkenny have powered so far ahead of the rest that they look like strapping seniors who have somehow managed to sneak unnoticed into the minor grade.

Kilkenny's overwhelming ten and eleven point wins over Offaly in the previous two Leinster finals didn't augur particularly well for yesterday's clash being a thrill-a-minute classic, but the hurling public still turned up, hoping that Wexford would locate a defiant streak which would at least keep the game alive for most of the way.

Instead, it was all but over at half-time, by which stage Kilkenny were six points clear (1-10 to 0-7) and heading comfortably for their 58th Leinster title.

A six point interval lead wouldn't normally be regarded as sufficient to guarantee victory in a hurling game, but we're talking reality here and the grim truth for Wexford was that they had used massive amounts of energy to stay within touching distance of Kilkenny.

Even their most avid fans were preparing for the very worst at half-time and while they got a brief injection of hope seven minutes after the re-start when Kilkenny centre-for ward John Hoyne was sent off for a second bookable offence, it merely goaded the champions into moving up a gear.

They accelerated so far clear of Wexford in the next 15 minutes that the exit gates were doing a thriving business long before the finish.

Frankly, spectators would be forgiven had they called into the counting room to demand a refund, or at least some token of compensation under the "poor value for money" heading.

To add to Wexford's misery, their minors were also beaten by 13 points by Kilkenny, which suggests that the future in Leinster is very much black and amber. It really does put the pressure on Wexford U-21's to salvage something when they meet Kilkenny in the Leinster final at Wexford Park on Wednesday evening.

It was all so thoroughly disappointing for Wexford who had planned meticulously for their first Leinster final since 1997, only to find that the exam questions they had studied for were no longer even on the curriculum.

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Kilkenny were reading from a much more advanced syllabus and while Wexford stood their ground for the first half hour, it always looked as if they were bluffing and would eventually be caught out.

They needed every lucky break but, as so often happens in these circumstances, they discovered that good fortune tends to side with the favourites. Two examples stand out.

Damien Fitzhenry made a fine save from Henry Shefflin after nine minutes only to see the ball spin to DJ Carey who whipped it to the Wexford net. Nine minutes later, a scorching run by Larry Murphy presented Paul Codd with a great goal chance, but Kilkenny 'keeper James McGarry advanced to smother his effort.

Murphy, who was bothering Eamonn Kennedy with his strong, forceful running had to go off with an injured toe before half-time (he returned in the 50th minute), while Wexford's bad luck continued when they lost Colm Kehoe with a collar bone injury, sustained in the incident which led to Hoyne's dismissal.

Kehoe's tidiness was badly missed. True, he had been having difficulty with Charlie Carter, just as Sean Flood had earlier on, but Kehoe never lost his work ethic and got in some fine interceptions and clearances.

However, he couldn't prevent Carter from delivering another remarkable performance, but then it's doubtful if any other corner-back in the country could either.

Carter, who scored 0-7 yesterday to add to the 0-6 he pilfered against Offaly in the semi-final, was like a snipe on an adrenaline rush as he swept around the margins. He saw angles quicker than anybody else, his first touch was consistently good while his finishing was unerring.

Indeed, he would have added a goal to his tally, were in not for a superb block by Fitzhenry in the 41st minute.

But six minutes later the Wexford 'keeper was picking the ball out his net after a defensive lapse had allowed substi tute Eddie Brennan in for a match-killing goal. It put Kilkenny nine points clear and while they were a man down, it made absolutely no difference.

DJ Carey left his post on the edge of the square to bring his own special brand of mayhem towards midfield and, in the space of eight minutes, Kilkenny fired over six unanswered points.

Brian McEvoy was back to his best after a long battle with injury and his speed and anticipation got him into good positions which yielded four points on a very satisfactory day for the James Stephens' man.

Wexford didn't score between the 38th and 59th minutes and were forced to start driving for goals at the three-quarter stage. Even that didn't work. Paul Codd's effort from a free in the 52nd minute was beaten out by the Kilkenny defence as was his second attempt in the 62nd minute.

The pace dropped considerably in the closing 15 minutes which was understandable, given that Kilkenny were already safely through to the All-Ireland semi-final, while Wexford were mentally and physically wrecked.

They had given it their very best shot and, when the game was alive in the first half, played with real fire and passion, but the gulf in class was simply too wide to be bridged by energy and effort alone.

Wexford now head into the All-Ireland quarter-final draw next Sunday night and while it will take all of Tony Dempsey's motivational qualities to resurrect their spirits, they can take some consolation from the fact that many other teams would have suffered a similar fate against Kilkenny yesterday.

Kilkenny have such a variety of options that their status as hot All-Ireland favourites is richly deserved.

Preventing complacency is now one of the biggest challenges facing their manager Brian Cody, while preventing depression from swamping their season is the prime task awaiting Wexford.

As for the Leinster Council, they have a serious crisis on their hands as the gap between Kilkenny and the rest isn't just wide it's embarrassing.

MAN OF THE MATCH Charlie Carter

SCORERS Kilkenny: C Carter 0-7, B McEvoy 0-4, H Shefflin 0-4 (3f, 1'65'), DJ Carey, E Brennan 1-0 each, C Brennan 0-2, S Grehan, J Hoyne 0-1 each. Wexford: P Codd 0-5 (4f), D Stamp 0-2, R Quigley, L Murphy, B Goff, M Jordan, T Kelly 0-1 each.

TEAMS AND RATINGS:

KILKENNY J McGarry 8; M Kavanagh 8, N Hickey 8, JJ Delaney 7; P Larkin 8, E Kennedy 7, S Dowling 6; A Comerford 7, C Brennan 8; D Byrne 6, J Hoyne 6, B McEvoy 9; C Carter 9, DJ Carey 8, H Shefflin 8. Subs: E Brennan 8 for Byrne (44), S Grehan 7 for Carter (63). Yellow card: John Hoyne (11 & 42). Red card: John Hoyne

WEXFORD D Fitzhenry 8, C Kehoe 7, D Ryan 8, S Flood 6; D Ruth 7, L Dunne 7, L O'Gorman 8; A Fenlon 7, M Jordan 7; D Stamp 7, L Murphy 8, R Quigley 6; R McCarthy 7, P Codd 7, B Goff 6. Subs: M Byrne 7 for Murphy (32), R Mallon 6 for Kehoe (43), L Murphy for Quigley (50), G Laffan 6 for Goff (58), T Kelly 7 for Fenlon (62). Yellow card: Gary Laffan (71)

WIDES Kilkenny 8; Wexford 12.

FREES Kilkenny 11; Wexford 12.

REF P O'Connor (Limerick).

ATTENDANCE 41,146


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