The bloody reign is surely now over after Saturday’s classic...
Plan A, B and C to isolate Colin Fennelly produced three goals, two yellow cards and a number of frees, but it was a pyrrhic victory for Kilkenny. Because just like Tipperary building their game plan around a Seamus Callanan hat-trick in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final, it came at a cost of losing so many battles elsewhere that the result slipped away.
Kilkenny have been a tyrannical presence in the province for almost two decades now. Wexford had been cowed for years, Offaly lowering themselves to a state of Stockholm Syndrome where they now praise the Cats as if a sycophantic underling of Brian Cody, Dublin have risen and fallen, while Galway landed some blows but routinely bent a knee too.
The bloody reign is surely now over after Saturday’s classic. The Cats will likely strike another blow to a big team in the next year or two — and that could be the inevitable qualifier clash with Tipp, which we all know will be drawn — but TJ Reid (29) and Richie Hogan (28) are nearing 30, while their most important player, Michael Fennelly (32), continues to be dogged by injuries.
Cody no longer has a panel he can trust. Or, more pertinently, one that he feels he can trust. The evidence bears this out. Jonjo Farrell was the 2016 Leinster player of the year, but sat on the bench all game. Conor Martin, former Under-21 captain, didn’t even make the 26. Richie Reid, previously a forward for the Under-21s, has been pushing for a goalkeeping spot but was brought on before either.
The fact that Ger Aylward was thrown into action after just one club game with Glenmore tells a tale. Full-back throughout the league, Padraig Walsh, hadn’t featured in a single training match for ten weeks but was thrust into the forward line. Liam Blanchfield and Chris Bolger replaced both and neither scored; they missed two good goal chances. There’s a feeling in Kilkenny that they would’ve been better off persisting with Aylward who had been troubling his man if not the posts.
Cody has disassembled his half-back line. Kieran Joyce has been riding the pine as often as he’s started, Padraig Walsh has been full-back and then centre-forward, while Cillian Buckley has largely been at midfield since Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh troubled him in last year’s semi-finals and this year’s league opener. No surprise then that Wexford had such joy with puck outs, seen in how Conor McDonald snapped one in the first half to point, and how Jack Guiney and Lee Chin catches led to key scores.
There are few tacticians more interesting to watch in hurling than Cody. We’ve long since dispelled the notion that he doesn’t partake in them, and the league quarter-final informed him that sweeper Shaun Murphy had to be taken out of the game. Model County selector JJ Doyle said afterwards: "We had a fair idea they would try to go seven on seven up front and we had a plan for that as well.”
Source: Inpho/James Crombie
No doubt Davy Fitzgerald likes to cover his bases and the result, of course, means that everything Wexford did is considered 100% right, and Cody 100% wrong. Yet just two of 12 scoring chances from play in the opening half were converted by the Cats, thereby rendering any tactic futile. That’s on the players, not the manager. Michael Fennelly — who hasn’t been a starter on the losing side for Kilkenny since the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork — absence added hugely to Cody’s issues.
Should Wexford and Clare both win their next two games, Davy Fitz will be managing in an All-Ireland final against his native county. Just as Eamon Cregan did with Offaly against Limerick in 1994.
Has any manager ever led more than one county to an All-Ireland? John O’Mahony lost a final with Mayo before winning a couple with Galway. As a consequence of that 1998 win, then Kildare’s boss Mick O’Dwyer was denied this double-county feat.
It’s a stretch, but perhaps Michael ‘Babs’ Keating could claim his sheep in a heap completed a personal double, again during that same season. The former All-Ireland winning Tipperary boss began that season as Offaly boss but after a sullen parting of ways, Michael Bond led the Faithful over the line in ‘98.
Apropos of nothing, ten players have won All-Irelands with more than one county: Bobby Beggs (SF: Galway 1938; Dublin 1942), Caleb Crones (SF: Dublin 1942; Cork 1945), Jack Flavin (SF: Kerry 1937; Galway 1938), Oliver Gough (SH: Wexford 1955; Kilkenny 1963), Larry Stanley (SF: Kildare 1919; Dublin 1923), Mattie Power (SH: Kilkenny 1922-32-33-35; Dublin 1927), Garrett Howard (SH: Limerick 1921-34-36; Dublin 1924-27), Pierce Grace (SF: Dublin 1906-07. SH: Kilkenny 1911-12-13), William Guiry (SF: Limerick 1896; Dublin 1897), William Spain (SF Limerick 1887. SH: Dublin 1889).
Source: Inpho/Tommy Greally
Of course this is all a little premature but, just to momentarily add to the hype, Fitzgerald would also be leading a third county in a September decider, after his 2008 exploits with Waterford. What chances does he have though? Well, Galway are likely to beat Offaly in third gear and there could even be few hairy moments in the first half of that semi-final. Thereafter, it’s likely to be the usual plain sailing. Should the Tribe produce what they showed against Tipp in last year’s semi-final and this year’s league final, the Slaneysiders are unlikely to prevail in the Leinster final.
Yet you could make the argument that Fitzgerald is in better shape to win an All-Ireland with Wexford than if he had stayed with Clare. Since winning the All-Ireland in 2013 — and yes, without beating Tipp or Kilkenny — the Banner have been poor. Sixty percent of Davy’s wins with the county came during that one season. Why didn’t they push on? Perhaps because they didn’t have enough ball-winners in a short-handed forward line and their most recent sweeper, Cian Dillon, isn’t best suited to the role.
Wexford’s forward line may not have Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, Podge Collins or Shane O’Donnell, but they have more than one man playing the role of John Conlon as battering ram. Chin, Guiney and McDonald all win their own ball, while Harry Kehoe showed in outmuscling Paul Murphy that he has evolved.
Shaun Murphy was an unknown quantity to most before this season but his poise on the ball has often been seen in an Oulart-The Ballagh shirt, most notably in the 2015 Leinster club final win. In terms of hurling ability, Fitzgerald has found an upgrade. Combine that with pace all over the field and it’s a team brimming with potential. One that has averaged 26 points across its last seven games. Davy’s system might well have found the ideal Model in Wexford.
In saying that, they only just clambered over a Kilkenny team with all of the problems outlined above. Then that’s the beauty of these upstarts: flawed brilliance.
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