Leinster Hurling Final Preview

Leinster Hurling Final Preview

Written by bandage
Sunday, 13 August 2006
Wexford supporters will travel to Croke Park more in hope than in expectation this coming Sunday as hot favourites Kilkenny defend their Leinster title against the Slaneysiders. In what has arguably been one of the most disappointing championships in years thus far, a high quality game is urgently required to instill some life into a creaking championship. The Munster championship signed off last Sunday in a tense and close encounter between age-old adversaries Cork and Tipperary. The commitment, determination and application of both sides could not be questioned but can any observer assert with real honesty that this game was of a standard such that the game will be deemed a classic in years to come? Sure it was an immense, titanic battle but the urge to retrospectively class every encounter as a standard bearer for the game comes from the Munster mindset where everything is life and death, heart and soul, blood and thunder, and of the highest quality - even when its not. The Munster Final is 2004 was the last great game in the province when 14 man Waterford dethroned Cork but that clash was surpassed in terms of quality by Wexfords shock defeat of Kilkenny earlier that summer through a tactical master plan devised by the players themselves. But at the end of the year which game was considered the game of the season by most journalists? Yes, the Munster Final - it seems that the Munster championship has achieved mythical status at this stage and many Munster folk pour scorn on the state of hurling in Leinster when in fact everybody should be concerned about the general state of hurling around the country as a whole because frankly Munster is not the hot bed of hurling many people would lead you to believe.

However, what is in Munsters favour is that they have 5 potential winners of their title every year whereas Leinster only have 3 (some would say 1 given that Kilkenny have sealed every provincial title since 1997 bar Wexford breaking the trend in 2004 - that is 7 out of the last 8 titles coming into Sunday). The additional numbers add extra competitiveness in Munster but not necessarily more quality. For example Wexford have beaten Limerick on the last 2 occasions they have met in the championship and comfortably saw off Waterford in 2003. The qualifiers will undoubtedly see Galway, Clare, Waterford and then either Offaly or Limerick emerge to join the Leinster and Munster finalists in the last 8 of the championship. It would be a massive shot in the arm for Leinster hurling if Offaly could turn Limerick over in Tullamore on Saturday night and perform impressively in a quarter final but equally losing Limerick so tamely from the championship would be a further blow to hurling in general. Their demise since concluding an impressive League campaign with a respectable final showing against Kilkenny has been astronomical and if they dont reorganise properly this winter then another team may be in danger of falling from hurlings top tier. And that would be a cause for grave concern.

What is also a cause for concern is the overall championship structure and that is another reason why there is a desire, almost a desperate hope, among hurling supporters that Sundays game will be full of quality exchanges and close at the finale. The Cork manager John Allen has suggested that the provincial winners should receive a bye directly into the semi finals. Is it fair that Sundays winners and losers both go directly into the quarter finals? There is the danger that the importance of provincial finals is being diluted. Kilkenny captain, Jackie Tyrell agreed with Allens assertion at yesterdays captains press conference ahead of the final on Sunday. Equally is it fair that a Cork team that has won the Munster title beating Clare and Tipperary along the way can be ambushed by a team who have already lost 2 games in a quarter final match up? Take Waterford for example. They were defeated by Tipperary in Munster. Theyre now in a qualifier group where they have beaten Westmeath already, will beat Laois and if they lose to Galway they will come second in the group thus going on to meet either Cork or the Leinster winners. They would fancy their chances of beating anybody on any given day but their route to the quarter final having lost two games and only beaten Laois and Westmeath is possibly easier than Corks who are unbeaten. Surely the structure needs examining? The step of rewarding provincial winners with an additional bye would seem to be a positive step but then there is the danger of lack of match sharpness with a six week gap before coming up against a quarter final winner . This would help to ensure the provincial championships retain their edge but it doesnt solve the lack of competitiveness that is making somewhat of a farce of many of the qualifier games.

But what of Sundays match and the possibility of a high quality and close encounter? Most neutrals and pundits dont give Wexford any chance whatsoever - Kilkenny have been unbackable favourites to retain their title since before the semi final where Wexford outscored (if thats not an oxymoron) Offaly by 0-09 to 0-08 in one of the lowest scoring games between top 8 or 9 counties ever witnessed. Following this display Wexford have been completely written off - indeed they had been in many quarters before the Offaly game too - but this is nothing new for the Wexford team or supporters. The positives to come out of the semi final were primarily the awesome display of the Wexford defence led by captain, Keith Rossiter, at full back superbly stepping into the shoes of the great Darragh Ryan. Richie Kehoe had a smashing debut at right half back and all the other defenders and talismanic goalkeeper, Damien Fitzhenry, were soundness personified from start to finish. It is from midfield onwards where Wexfords problems arose. Bar an excellent debut from Stephen Doyle at corner forward and some brief moments of class from Rory Jacob, any of the other 4 starting Wexford forwards could have been substituted - indeed all 4 of them were. Wexford also struggled to gain a foothold at midfield with Darren Stamp suffering from a thigh injury and playing despite this. The worry for Wexford is that their best forward last year, Des Mythen (their only forward All Star nominee), is again not expected to start due to a hamstring injury aggravated when coming on against Offaly. Additionally, Paul Codd injured his calf after making his comeback off the bench in that match. Both of these players would have been in line to start the final had they been able to get 3 weeks of training behind them but both only returned to light training during the week and Sunday will probably come too early for them.

This causes difficulties for Wexford given that potential forward replacements who have previously played in Leinster Finals, Barry Lambert and Paul Carley, withdrew from the squad after the League campaign disillusioned by an apparent lack of opportunity. Handball star Barry Goff has returned to the panel and offers another attacking option but it would be too much to ask him to start a Leinster Final against the might of Kilkenny after being only back in the mix for a couple of weeks. One player who could come in to add skill and size to the attack is last years minor star, PJ Nolan, who scored a crucial point when coming off the bench against Offaly and looked very capable during those tension-filled and hectic last 15 minutes. The other perennial concern for Wexford is the diminutive stature of their forwards and a chronic inability to compete in the air in the half forward line. Indeed this was what prompted the players in 2004 to devise their own gamelan to defeat Kilkenny with half forwards racing around the field to receive short, sharp puck outs from Damien Fitzhenry with the rangy Kilkenny half back line left bewildered by Wexfords daring and movement. Paul Codd would have added an option in this area but his absence could see Eoin Quigley move from midfield to centre half forward in order to help Wexford attain a fair share of primary possession. Rory McCarthy disappointed at half forward against Offaly and could return to midfield with Nolan coming in to replace Toms Mahon, who struggled at centre forward the last day. Darren Stamp and Mitch Jordan have shaken off the injuries they had coming into the semi final and Rory Jacob has a slight heel injury that wont affect his participation. Wexford name their team on Thursday night.


Kilkenny have lost the great DJ Carey this year. But his wasn’t the only important defection from the panel. Peter Barry, who has been a most consistent centre back for the past number of years, won’t be featuring on Sunday and nor will Bryan Barry, last year’s midfielder who withdrew from the squad at the conclusion of the League. Just to demonstrate their strength in depth Kilkenny won the League while introducing a number of new players to their starting fifteen. Donncha Cody, son of manager Brian, performed capably at corner back as he had done for James Stephen in the All Ireland club championship last winter. JJ Delaney has been repositioned at full back taking over from the reliable Noel Hickey, who remains injured. Jackie Tyrell moves out from corner to centre back replacing Barry and Michael Rice has impressed in midfield in his debut season so far. Their attack will again be led by Henry Shefflin with support from Eoin Larkin and Richie Power, who has proved his fitness by lining out for the U-21s in their demolition of Wexford last week. Derek Lyng will again drive them on from midfield and the absence of the now retired Adrian Fenlon from the Wexford team might swing the midfield advantage in Kilkenny’s favour. There is some uncertainty as to where Tommy Walsh will play - it would be no surprise were he to line up anywhere from 5 to 12 and keeping him relatively quiet will be one of Wexford’s main priorities.

Despite the odds being stacked against Wexford they have matched up well against Kilkenny in recent years unluckily losing the 2002 final by 0-19 to 0-17, memorably defeating them in 2004 by 2-15 to 1-16 and narrowly losing a tight final encounter last year by 1-22 to 2-16. The secret of Wexford’s ability to always put it up to Kilkenny is the fact that their defence generally matches up well with the dangerous Kilkenny attack. The size and strength of Shefflin and Martin Comerford causes endless problems for many other teams but Wexford have O’Connor and previously Darragh Ryan to combat this. Equally their slighter and speedier forwards are met by tigerish and pacy defenders like Rossiter and Travers and if Wexford can achieve parity at midfield - this will be difficult if Lyng and Walsh are stationed there - they will run Kilkenny close yet again. The absence of Barry and Delaney from the half back line gives hope to Wexford that they will win more possession in this sector but they will have to scrap for every ball they win. The worry for Wexford though is how their forwards will perform on the day after the unacceptable and meagre point tally they achieved against Offaly. They will need to cut down massively on over-ambitious shooting, they will need to pass the ball to better placed colleagues rather than going for scores from silly angles and distances and they will have to work hard to give options to the man in possession. Most of all though they will have to work like demons to prevent the Kilkenny defence from delivering an avalanche of clean possession into their forward line. They will have to literally play like they’re the first line of defence - they must hook, block, hassle and Harry and whip up a whirlwind that will lay down a marker to Kilkenny to let them know they’re in for a game. They must invoke the spirit of 1996, the spirit of Liam Griffin, the spirit of 1798, the spirit of Vinegar Hill, the spirit of the Forth, the spirit of the Bargy, the spirit of Shelmalier, the spirit of Father Murphy, the spirit of Wexford. How dare they patronise and laugh at us. Let’s sew it into them. Wexford by 2.
Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 August 2006 )