Leinster SHC Semi-Final Preview: Wexford vs. Kilkenny

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All on the line at Innovate Wexford Park

This weekend sees the entrance of a wounded Kilkenny side who will face a Wexford side who will come into the fixture in confident mood. Something has got to give. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

 

Where are Kilkenny at?

 

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Cody out to prove the doubters wrong

The big question entering into this fixture is where are Kilkenny at this season? An indifferent NHL season where Cody’s attempt to blood new charges had mixed results and was forced to rely on the tried and trusted to stave off relegation concerns.

How will Kilkenny cope with the retirement of Eoin Larkin, a half forward whose game management and ability to score a couple of points from play was always pivotal in creating the platform for Kilkenny victories. Michael Fennelly’s Achilles tendon injury as well will mean that the Cats are without one of their inspirational leaders on the pitch.

The question leveled and one which is probably unfair considering the superb talent in the ranks over the past two decades is that the squad depth is not as strong as it was.

There are a couple of questions to answer on Saturday night. Who fills the full back slot, a position where Joey Holden admirably filled two seasons ago but was exposed last season. Padraic Walsh’s name has being bandied around to fill the position but the Tullaroan man personally is better out the field in his favored wing back position.

The center back position will be an intriguing selection poser. Joyce is under huge pressure to keep his spot as Cleere looks in prime position to play the position, a player with huge potential but distinct lack of experience at senior inter-county ranks could be an issue.

Two central defensive positions with uncertainty a key theme, it will be an interesting fixture to see how Kilkenny do and management to react if those personnel decisions do not work out. All other defensive positions look water tight. Paul Murphy and Cillian Buckley who also position in the midfield area superb players and capable of snuffing out opposition threats.

The forward line still contains several potent stars who could win this contest on their own. Richie Hogan will look to set the tempo early hitting scores. A huge onus will be on Walter Walsh to provide primary ball for the forward line; a physically imposing player who is well capable of scoring as well. TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly will provide free taking nous and inside forward line threat to test out Wexford. Aylward’s return from injury will be a huge boost to the team as well; excellent goal threat as well.

Kilkenny have a point to prove this season. Pundits are writing them off at their peril and it will have to be a determined Wexford who will need to be at their very best to have any chance of victory.

Wexford – Moment of Truth

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No Davy on the sideline

Wexford enter this contest with confidence. They professionally dealt with a potential banana skin of Laois in the quarter final and it was a perfect introduction to the championship with some good and some bad parts to this performance.

Without Davy Fitzgerald on the sideline (match officials can breathe a huge sigh of relief), Wexford took time to settle into the contest but once they did, they put Laois to the sword with Kehoe, Chin and McDonald becoming prominent figures in the contest. Goal threat in abundance and more of the same is required from Wexford this weekend.

Mark Fanning’s fitness look like a crucial point for Wexford defensively this weekend as the Laois game saw a couple of defensive errors which led to scores. Fanning’s assurance in the goal should provide stability to a Wexford back line who are led by Ryan and O’Hanlon in the central defensive positions, an area which Wexford have no doubts on personnel.

The midfield area will be an unit which Kilkenny may look to exploit. A disappointing aspect of the Laois game was the number of scores conceded because of midfield runners not being picked up resulting in several scores. 1-17 to Laois was a high score to leak and conceivably could have being more given Laois’ wastefulness with some poor shot selections.

Wexford defensively need to be on point throughout this contest; any lapses will be punished and whether this will have being addressed in two weeks is debatable. The midfield unit will need to vigilant to the threat of Kilkenny and their ability to take scores from out the field.

The attacking unit is where Wexford need to impose their will early. Chin and McDonald need to come to the fore and set the platform for a home victory. With questions over Kilkenny central defense, it is imperative that Chin starts to ask questions of Kilkenny in aerial dominance. McDonald had an excellent outing against Laois and his ability to link play was immense; more of the same is required.

The work rate of the forward line units also needs to be on point. Kilkenny will relish a scenario where Wexford’s tempo / work rate wanes leading to territorial dominance and scoring opportunities. The question for Wexford is has the NHL exertions caught up with this side? Time will tell and Saturday is looming large.

This is a fascinating fixture to call. Kilkenny look to prove a point and set the marker for all others to match. Wexford are the dark horse of the Leinster SHC and a win here would propel themselves into a provincial final and a chance to advance to the All Ireland Semi-Final. The front door looks much more attractive than the back door this season.

Verdict

I have tipped Wexford to win Leinster SHC this season but the performance over Laois was lethargic at times and concerning in parts. Wexford to win will need to score goals and I think there is sufficient goal threat in the side to do this; question is whether the midfield and half back line can win their battles to setup the platform. Wexford midfield defensive responsibility cannot be underestimated here. Hesitantly tipping the home side but I expect a huge performance from Kilkenny who will look to go for the throat early doors with goals.

Wexford’s resiliency under Fitzgerald will be tested hugely on Saturday evening and it will indicate where this side is going. I believe that Wexford are a different proposition this season; their fitness and conditioning are superb and if they can force Kilkenny to call on their bench, then they have a great chance of victory. Wexford to edge a classic by two points. Younger legs will be pivotal on Saturday and Wexford have the advantage.