The first Leinster SHC finalist was revealed at the weekend with Wexford dethroning current provincial kingpins Kilkenny by three points at Innovate Park. Hawkeye Sidekick pinpoints five main talking points coming from the contest.
Davy Fitzgerald Effect
Davy Fitzgerald may have being perched up in his own corporate box at the weekend but no-one can argue about the positive impact the Clare man has had on this Wexford setup. Let us be quite frank, Wexford hurling was in a dark place twelve months ago. A poor league campaign and then a mauling at the hands of Dublin early doors in the Leinster SHC. There was a revival of sorts with a win over Cork in the qualifiers but it was short lived and an exit from the championship before August (business end of the season).
Davy and Wexford were a perfect match; both looking for redemption and success. Davy’s tenure with Clare ended on a massive sour note, an underwhelming performance in the championship last season after NHL honors cost the Sixmilebridge native his role as manager. Kudos to Wexford County board for stepping in and approaching the Clare man, a couple of counties potentially missed a trick (not looking at you Dublin).
The marked up improvement in fitness, conditioning and team work has being seen from early in the season. Resiliency was asked in abundance last weekend when Kilkenny threatened to take the game away from Wexford’s reach but the home side finished the stronger and deservedly won. A fantastic win for Wexford as a whole; time to refocus for the Leinster SHC final and a fixture with Galway.
Hail Hail Lee Chin
A performance which was nothing short of sublime. Lee Chin was a player of note heading into this season but his performance against Kilkenny last weekend has put pundits and fans on notice that this player is a serious contender for hurler of the year honors.
Chin is all action and his ability to win the aerial battle for Wexford at key stages of this contest proved vital in the final outcome. Several catches caught the eye; the catch in the opening period (baseball style catch) was sublime but most importantly his catch immediately after Kilkenny had scored their third goal in the second half was massive. Another score for Kilkenny and Wexford may have hit the panic button. His catch was sensational and his distribution to Tomkins to dispatch over the bar was a massive moment in the contest.
His cameo in midfield was a masterstroke from Fitzgerald and Wexford management. He completely nullified Kilkenny’s midfield threat where Deegan was snuffed out after a promising opening period. The effect of this battle inspired others around him. A performance standard marker for others to follow; do not think you are going to find a more comprehensive display all season.
Kilkenny misfire in all facets of play
It is a bizarre statement to start with. Kilkenny are forever a team which is so consistently high in performance levels but last Saturday night exposed several massive issues at both ends of the park. This blog last week asked whether Kilkenny defensively were solid enough down the middle of the park. The answer was an emphatic no and was an area that Wexford exploited throughout.
The Wexford goal was a disappointing concession. Lack of defensive cover resulting in a melee in front of goal. Could Eoin Murphy have done better in his ability to clear the danger? No decisive leadership in the Kilkenny full back line to clear the danger either. Kilkenny with a Noel Hickey, JJ Delaney figure would have put bodies on the line to prevent the score; the same commitment was lacking in this occasion.
The half back line was consistently under pressure. The aerial battle, usually such a source of attacking platform for Kilkenny was non-existent at times with Chin spectacularly winning the battle single handed. Credit to Wexford half-forward line who worked tirelessly with or without the ball but Kilkenny lacked authority in this area of the pitch and it spread to the half-forward and full-forward line.
The shot selection and squandered opportunities in that opening period was another pivotal turning point of the contest. Kilkenny were so wasteful in front of goal. Padraic Walsh and Ger Aylward were hauled off for their attempted scoring contributions; Cody was clinical in his substitutions but the lack of squad depth was in full effect; minimal impact off the bench and the decision to bring on Richie Reid (backup keeper) for Richie Hogan was all you needed to know about the options that Cody felt he had at his disposal. The squad depth issues have being there for a while; Saturday night exposed the issue into a crisis.
The lack of scoring return from play was pretty abysmal. Take away the excellent contributions of Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid out of the KK scoreline, four points came from the rest of the side. Richie Hogan struggled to establish tempo or influence on the fixture. Walter Walsh was a peripheral figure; his aerial ability negated by a dominant Wexford back line performance where O’Hanlon and Ryan stood out magnificently. Walsh and Aylward had opportunities but squandered badly to the ire of Brian Cody.
The absence of the likes of Eoin Larkin were in full effect; going to be extremely hard for Kilkenny to regroup and the fact that Michael Fennelly did not line out for the side exposed further squad personnel issues. How Cody arrests the slide will be fascinating but his switches last weekend indicated that he has no serious confidence in certain fringe players.
Shark Infested Hurling Qualifier Series
There will be plenty of interested onlookers when the full hurling qualifier series draw is made next Monday. With Kilkenny now joining Tipperary in the qualifier draw, it means that the back door this season will be the most intriguing since 2013. When you add that one of Cork or Waterford and Galway or Offaly will be in the back door come next weekend, the qualifier draw could throw up some potentially explosive ties. No disrespect to Carlow and Laois who kick off this phase of the competition this weekend but the qualifiers proper will be thereafter. Roll on Monday week for the main draw!
Wide Open Senior Hurling Championship
The lure of provincial final glory looks more enticing given the teams in the back door already. The arrival of Waterford to the championship this weekend will shed more clues on who will be competing for Liam McCarthy honors this season. Galway and Wexford will be a massive contest; the key question is how both teams deal with the hype and excitement leading up to this final. Wexford’s celebrations were sublime but nothing has being won. Galway’s fanbase are increasingly getting confident in their outlook for their sides’ fortunes. It is a 50/50 contest for me; both sides have several threats and defensive leaders to edge the fixture. My Leinster SHC tips have held; not like Munster where Clare and Waterford / Cork will face off. I am fascinated to see what Waterford we get this season? Hoping for a more attacking focused Waterford but no habits may die hard with the sweeper system. Austin Gleeson’s positioning will be intriguing. Does he lead the side from half-forward / midfield or half-back? Cork should be in good confidence heading into this semi-final tussle; a magnificent hurling performance to beat Tipperary but that question of consistency comes into the equation this weekend? Several questions to be answered next weekend and I cannot wait. Given that the big two (KK and Tipperary) are under pressure to even get to the QF stage, it is a massive opportunity for the teams still left in the provincial championship. Roll on June 18th.