Just when Wexford hurling needed a boost, up stepped the u20 Wexford hurling team…
The Keith Rossiter managed Wexford u-20 hurling team had a brilliant win over Kilkenny on Wednesday evening. It was made all the more difficult with the game being hosted in Nowlan Park, but Wexford emerged victorious on a score-line of 1-18 to 2-13.
Not many were giving Wexford a chance going into the game, given the fact that Kilkenny were without three of their star Senior men in the group stages of the competition. In that game, Wexford only narrowly defeated the Cats and many thought that they return of Kilkenny’s main men would prove to be the difference.
Here, we’ll look at some of the major talking points following the game:
While a lot of attention often goes towards forwards in the post-match analysis, Wexford’s defence definitely deserves a lot of praise. The backs were led by corner back, Simon Roche, who was tenacious with his defending, getting flicks, blocks, and coming out with a lot of ball, especially in the first-half. The Yellowbellies only conceded five points in the first-half, and a lot of that is testament to the Wexford defence. Despite being strong in the tackle, they weren’t giving away frees.
Roche’s right-hand man, his full-back, Eoin Whelan, also delivered an excellent performance. Although his striking does need to quicken up somewhat, the big full back had an equally large presence on the pitch and held the back line well, with his catch on the edge of his own square, when Wexford were under pressure and a point down in stoppage time being particularly important.
In the other corner of the field, Kilkenny’s Jeff Neary is also wroth a mention. Under attack from a lot of Wexford ball, Neary’s first-half performance, with his excellent touches and flicks in particular to stop Wexford’s attack, is what corner-backs dram of.
Other than his missed free on the 39th minute mark, Cian Byrne had an almost perfect day with the free-taking. Watching previous Wexford teams over the years, and even with the Wexford Senior team, we have longed for a free-taker with the confidence and composure to slot them over the bar consistently. With Cian Byrne on the field, Wexford offer that threat to the opposition; give us a free in scoring distance, and the white flag is likely being raised. With Byrne standing over the 65‘ to put Wexford in front on the 63rd minute, it was only going one place – and there never really seemed to be a doubt. In modern times, the good teams typically have a brilliant free-taker too – and that is the case for the current Wexford u-20s.
Fast and direct:
Wexford’s style of play was probably one of the biggest talking points following yesterday’s game. Wexford supporters over the years have become somewhat accustomed to seeing a somewhat negative brand of hurling. That was not the case for Keith Rossiter’s u20 team though. The ball was delivered excellently, and always fast and direct. When the direct ball wasn’t on, Wexford worked the ball through the lines, and typically played the right ball. The tempo of the game, for both sides, was high and it was exciting, bearing some similarities to the Munster Senior Hurling Championship. Although Wexford did some times play a weeper through Glynn-Barntown’s Darragh Carley, it showed that – despite the sweeper – a quick brand of hurling can still be played when the delivery is fast and direct, with the inside forwards constantly moving.
While it’s all well-and-good delivering quick ball, the forwards do need to perform too. That was the case last night. Both Cian Byrne and Corey Byrne-Dunbar were Wexford’s best attackers. Corey Byrne Dunbar’s point on the 27th minute mark, whereby he side-stepped the Kilkenny defender and then calmly slotted the ball over the bar was almost worth the entry fee alone. Likewise, Cian Byrne’s two identical first half points from the side-line on the run were magnificent too. The two Wexford lads in the half-forward line never stopped the whole game, and their running game proved difficult for the Kilkenny defence to manage. Byrne finished with a tally of 9 points, with 6 from frees, while Corey slotted 3 points over the bar, one of which was to put Wexford level in the dying moments under pressure.
To be fair, Wexford’s goalkeeper, Derry Mahon, did not have to do an awful lot for the whole game. But, when he was called upon in the dying moments, he pulled off a brilliant save to stop Kilkenny going 3-11 to 1-15 up. It was a huge turning point in the game; while Kilkenny did respond quite well after the save by slotting a ball over the bar, the game could have been dead and buried if the green flag was raised. The Bunclody clubman will be delighted that he was able to make such an important save in the game to keep Wexford’s confidence high and arguably, it was a moment which sparked a rise in Wexford’s momentum.
JJ Twamley’s goal:
After the game, Keith Rossiter said one of the stories of the game is JJ Twamley. The Naomh Eanna attacker was dropped for the Westmeath and Kilkenny game. He was called upon in as a second-half substitute during yesterday evening’s game. Down by a point on the 55th minute mark, Twamley picked up a ball in the corner and ran directly towards the Kilkenny goal before burying the ball off the hurl into the roof of the net. He’ll be delighted that he was able to produce the goods when needed, stepping up and scoring a decisive goal. With such an important goal and winning a free for Wexford in the 64th minute to help seal the game, he’ll be pushing close for a starting place next week.
Offaly in the final:
The final vs Offaly has been fixed for Dr Cullen Park, Carlow, next Wednesday (May 17th) at 7.30 p.m. As it’s such a novel pairing, with both teams craving more success, a large crowd is expected to attend the game. Leinster GAA have already confirmed that there are no stand tickets available anymore, while Wexford GAA are encouraging Wexford supporters to book early if they’re considering going to Dr Cullen Park to cheer on the Yellowbellies. Offaly brought over 6,000 to their respective semi-final against the Dubs, and with a thirst for more silverware, it’s expected that they’ll bring another big crowd and that Dr Cullen Park could be sold out for the clash.
For hurling supporters in the know, they would not be surprised to see Offaly reach this final. Last year, Offaly won the Leinster Minor hurling Championship and they lost by just a single point to Tipperary in the All-Ireland hurling final. With some of those successful minor players now in the u-20 set up, it’s no surprise to see that Offaly hurling is going well – and that there’s a bit of a Renaissance happening there at the moment. In the u20 Championship this year, they’ve defeated Galway and Dublin. In their semi-final clash against Dublin, they were also without one of their talisman -Adam Screeney – and the Faithful will be hopeful of his return for the final, as he recovers from a concussion.
Wexford’s win against Kilkenny cannot be undermined either though; Wexford fans must remember that Kilkenny are not only the Leinster Champions in this age group, but that they were All-Ireland Champions too. While Malachy Travers pinpointed that the Wexford Senior hurlers were overly-anxious, this definitely was not the case for the Wexford u-20 team who kept calm and composed in the dying moments when they needed scores. It was an exciting game, but they’re not done just yet.
Although both Wexford and Offaly will be pushing for silverware next Wednesday, more will be on the line: a place in the All-Ireland final against the Munster Champions if they win.
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