Model win shows Cats on the slide
A FURTHER sign that the legendary Kilkenny conveyor belt is starting to splutter came at Wexford Park last night when the host county dumped the Cats out of this year's Bord Gais Energy Leinster U21 hurling championship at the first hurdle.
Wexford's pulsating 1-16 to 2-12 win -- sealed with a high-pressure Emmet Kent free in the first minute of injury-time -- set up a semi-final date with Laois on June 22.
More significantly, it has thrown the Leinster race wide open with everyone -- including holders Dublin, who open their campaign in Carlow tonight -- now believing they can win the title.
Signs of Kilkenny slippage at senior level have been evident since last September, but the same indicators have also become apparent at underage level.
Between 2003 and 2009, they won six out of seven Leinster U21 titles, with four All-Irelands for good measure; this latest defeat means they'll have failed to reach the last two provincial deciders, after a six-point semi-final defeat at home to Dublin last year.
Last night was a thrilling yet tense affair, with Carlow referee Pat Murphy flashing six yellow cards and two reds during the opening half alone: Wexford's Michael O'Regan departed after 20 minutes and Ger Aylward for Kilkenny six minutes later.
Wexford led 1-11 to 2-4 at the break; Paul Morris crashed home a superb goal for the home side either side of goals from Aylward and Thomas Breen.
The visitors drew level with four unanswered points, and it was then nip-and-tuck to the finish, with Michael Moloney's late Kilkenny leveller opening up the prospect of extra-time before Kent proved the match-winner.