herald

Tuesday 15 October 2019

A change of luck for Model and they could have a cut off the Cats

Leinster SHC final, Kilkenny v Wexford, Croke Pk, Tom (4.0, Live RTÉ2)

Rory O’Connor celebrates a goal against Carlow
Rory O’Connor celebrates a goal against Carlow
Wexford’s Conor McDonald, in action against Kilkenny’s Huw Lawlor, could be an out ball if the Model county go more direct

In keeping with the general elevation of the province and its primary hurling competition this year, it's hard to recall a Leinster hurling final that seems so important to the well-being of both participants.

It's 15 years since Wexford won a Leinster title so their need and want is more obvious.

Win tomorrow and they'll make like it's 1996 all over again with dancing at the crossroads and other selected venues.

And despite the fact that Kilkenny won one as recently as 2016, it would be a notable landmark in Brian Cody's latest rebuilding work should TJ Reid lift the Bob O'Keeffe Cup tomorrow.

At worst, Kilkenny's season will end in an All-Ireland quarter-final, which means that the season can be classed as one of consolidation.

Beat Wexford tomorrow and it'll be deemed a year of progress.

For all they seem to be lagging behind Tipperary and Limerick just now, would you be shocked if Kilkenny, given a direct pathway to the last four, won an All-Ireland?

Galway's heavy-handed mini-dominance of the province in the past two years didn't do much for the spectacle of either of the last two finals, although the 60,032 who came to Croke Park for the 2017 decider against Wexford is a record for the event.

Bloomed

Then, in Davy Fitzgerald's first season in charge, Wexford were completely undercooked, despite the heady expectation that greeted his arrival and which bloomed with their immediate improvement.

Now? Well, they could be anything.

Wexford have only beaten Carlow so far this summer but by the same token, they finished their round-robin campaign as the only side other than Tipperary not to lose a game in either province.

And for all the million variables that go into determining the result of a hurling match, there was a feeling after both of their away matches that Wexford had more bad luck than good.

If Cathal Dunbar had the same chance again as he did in the closing minutes of the draw in Salthill, you would back him to take it ten times out of ten.

If Seán Moran had another 20 cracks at that 75th-minute free in Parnell Park, what's the likelihood that he would score a single one?

Or if, say, Matthew O'Hanlon hadn't received a second yellow card with more than three minutes of injury time to play against Kilkenny in Wexford Park?

As it happens, none of that mattered and here Wexford are, more fancied for a Leinster title than they have been at any stage since they last won one.

Two years ago, they were savaged in the air by Galway.

Now they have the physicality to at least match Kilkenny in the physical interaction and the game plan to force them to think a little bit more about their own movement.

In theory, Croke Park should suit their running game. Wexford run smart support lines at angles, which are tricky to track.

They use their own sweeper to create an immediate overlap and attempt to work a score.

In practice, and particularly in the heat expected in Croke Park tomorrow, it may be wiser to let the ball do a bit more of the work.

And in Conor McDonald and Jack and Rory O'Connor, Fitzgerald has enough able targets to play that way too, even if Pádraig Walsh's form as the 'sitting' centre-back is imperious just now.

If anything in Wexford Park a couple of weeks back, Walsh played as an auxiliary second full-back, unwilling to follow anyone beyond the Kilkenny 65, but ready and able to charge up the pitch in possession and have a pop.

Kilkenny's shooting needs better calibration than in Wexford Park that dramatic Saturday evening. But for Adrian Mullen's goal, Kilkenny's three-point half-time deficit might have been fatal.

Reid failed to score from play. Colin Fennelly got just 0-2.

On a bigger pitch on a calmer day, their inherent class should be amplified.

By the same token, Croke Park can do funny things to free-takers and if Wexford are to be successful here, Lee Chin's percentages need to be well above 80.

It's only a few years since there was a muted reaction from Kilkenny supporters to yet another All-Ireland win. They'd celebrate a victory tomorrow like the second coming.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News