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Murphy's Model Army prepares for big guns with solid display

WEXFORD 0-24 LAOIS 1-10 Leinster SHC semi-final THEY were brushed aside with consummate ease by Kilkenny and Clare in the National League campaign, but Wexford suggested yesterday they may have something tangible to offer in the Guinness Hurling Championship.

Laois provided little in the way of a meaningful test in this painfully one-sided Leinster semi-final at Croke Park. But Wexford performed with such a degree of flair and hunger to hint that Kilkenny will certainly not take them for granted in the provincial final showdown on July 3.

Such was the extent of Wexford's superiority in almost all areas of the field from the 10th minute onwards that they would not have been flattered if they had won by another five or six points.

Laois, who must have been boosted by their four-goal victory over Dublin in the first round, could scarcely have hoped for a better start, Damien Culleton's fifth-minute goal helping them to a 1-3 to 0-2 lead after 10 minutes.

But from that point on, the wheels came off the wagon in a big way for the Midland outfit, who had wind advantage in the first half. In fact, Paudie Butler's charges added only one point in the remainder of the first half.

And that score was sandwiched by five points on the trot and eight successive points by their opponents, meaning that the game was virtually over as a contest by half-time, with Wexford leading by 0-15 to 1-4.

On the restart, Wexford took their foot off the pedal, but they still managed to outscore their adversaries by nine points to six.

Left-corner-forward Culleton took his goal splendidly, grabbing possession of a crossfield ball from Tommy Fitzgerald on the right side of goal, before lashing a low delivery past Damien Fitzhenry.

But that score proved to be just the wake-up call that the Leinster champions needed, with Séamus Murphy's charges rapidly upping their performance level.

Particularly welcome for Murphy will have been the five-star display of Darragh Ryan, who showed remarkable sharpness and assurance for a player having his first competitive match since the interprovincial Cup last November.

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Ryan, whose knee problems are well documented, was virtually unbeatable in the air, and his command of the area in front of the Wexford goal must have been demoralising for Laois.

On his right, David O'Connor gradually got to grips with Culleton, and Diarmuid Lyng made a very impressive championship debut in the half-back line.

Adrian Fenlon did well at midfield on his return, and up front the searing pace, exquisite ball control and excellent cohesion displayed by Rory McCarthy, Des Mythen and Rory Jacob frequently left the Laois defence chasing shadows.

"It was a reasonably encouraging performance," reflected Seamus Murphy afterwards. "Perhaps we over-elaborated a bit too much at times, but I couldn't fault our work rate and commitment.

"Laois got off to a great start, but we never showed any signs of panicking, and that's a healthy sign."

After their initial flurry, Laois quickly discovered that Wexford had a sweeter touch and superior pace in most positions. As well, invariably, the Midlanders' defenders experienced major difficulty in avoiding having their clearances blocked by the hardworking Wexford forwards. As well, they gifted a number of scores by ill-advisedly hand-passing the ball to colleagues who were marked.

"We had a perfect start, but we were left playing catch-up once Wexford got into their stride," said Paudie Butler. "We turned over far too much of our own ball, and the game certainly showed that we are not yet mentally tough enough, as we wilted far too easily."

In the second half, Laois, for whom Patrick Mullaney, Joe Fitzpatrick, James Young and Fitzgerald arguably made the most impact, had a goal disallowed when Liam Tynan was penalised for over-carrying.

As well, sub Mark Rooney failed to get enough power into his shot when placed by Fitzgerald.

In the first half, Culleton missed a chance of a second goal when his first-time shot from the right side sailed wide of the left post.

At the other end of the field, goalkeeper Mullaney showed great bravery when advancing smartly off his line to save late in the game.

SCORERS - Wexford: R Jacob 0-7 (5f), D Ruth 0-4 (3f, 1'65'), D Mythen 0-3, R McCarthy, E Quigley, M Jordan, N Higgins 0-2 each, A Fenlon, P Carley 0-1 each. Laois: J Young 0-7 (3f, 2'65'), D Culleton 1-0, T Fitzgerald 0-1.

WEXFORD - D Fitzhenry 7, D O'Connor 7, D Ryan 9, K Rossiter 6, M Travis 6, D Ruth 7, D Lyng 8, R Barry 7, A Fenlon 8, R McCarthy 8, E Quigley 7, M Jacob 6, D Mythen 8, M Jordan 7, R Jacob 8. Subs: N Higgins 7 for Jordan 49, P Carley for Barry 64, T Mahon for McCarthy 67, D Stamp for Quigley 68, B Lambert for Mythen 70. Yellow cards: D O'Connor (ht), M Travis (47).

LAOIS - P Mullaney 7, B Campion 5, P Cuddy 5, M McEvoy 5, J Fitzpatrick 6, D Rooney 6, S Dwyer 5, E Meagher 5, J Walsh 6, J Phelan 6, J Young 7, C Healy 5, T Fitzgerald 7, L Tynan 5, D Culleton 6. Subs: M Rooney 5 for Meagher 42, R Jones 5 for Phelan 49, C Coonan for Healy 63, C Brophy for Walsh 70. Yellow card: D Rooney (38).

REF - J Sexton (Limerick).

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