Kilkenny breeze into hurling final

Kilkenny 0-23 Wexford 1-10

It was a veritable stroll for Kilkenny at Croke Park this afternoon as they eased through to their eighth All-Ireland SHC final in ten seasons.

Henry Shefflin scored a mammoth 0-14 as the Cats remained on course to retain the Liam McCarthy Cup.

Wexford led initially 0-3 to 0-0 as they put it up to their Leinster rivals, but captain Shefflin helped the champions to a 0-11 to 0-6 half-time lead.

The second half was a procession for Kilkenny until Michael Jacob nabbed a 68th-minute consolation goal for John Meyler's Wexford side.

So Kilkenny are back in the All-Ireland final, four games played this summer and four relatively facile wins with an average winning margin of 12 points.

Brian Cody's men need a serious challenge and it is disheartening to note that despite Galway's best efforts last week, the Cats will have to wait until the Liam McCarthy Cup decider on September 2 for their first real test of the 2007 championship.

There was an eerie atmosphere at Croke Park today for this semi-final, a sense of pessimism and foreboding as it was largely felt that no matter how well Wexford played, even a half-interested Kilkenny side would still win out.

And so it proved as after a minor fracas, midway through the first half, involving Keith Rossiter and Martin Comerford, had sparked Kilkenny's players into life, Cody's charges went on to dominate with alarming ease.

The bookmakers had it right when they made Kilkenny the 1/20 favourites to progress. The Leinster kingpins cruised home in the second half and built the foundations for this victory when they scored seven points in a row, either side of half-time.

Cody made one change to the side that ended Galway's summer seven days ago with Richie Power preferred to Aidan Fogarty in attack.

Wexford also made a single alteration to the team that helped them shock Tipperary last weekend as Stephen Nolan made way for David 'Doc' O'Connor at wing forward.

Two early goals caught Wexford out in the sides' Leinster final tussle last month and Damien Fitzhenry and company were certainly on their toes to prevent a repeat this afternoon.

Meyler's men did get off to an encouraging start with two Barry Lambert strikes sandwiching a fine effort from 'Doc' O'Connor who was picked out by a great pass from Rory McCarthy.

0-3 to 0-0 in arrears, Kilkenny lived off a bounty of Shefflin frees before they upped the ante in the closing minutes of the first half.

Wexford hopes grew slightly when 'King Henry' flung his first attempt at the posts to the right and wide but he soon found his range, posting three frees to add to a Comerford point and level the tie at 0-4 apiece after 14 minutes.

Wexford were giving away far too many easy frees but they almost grabbed a goal on the quarter-hour when O'Connor was suddenly one-on-one with Kilkenny 'keeper PJ Ryan, competing for a high ball. Nonetheless, Ryan got the better of this particular duel to clear the danger.

Kilkenny went in front for the first time when Eoin Larkin used his strength and pace to land a 16th-minute point and after things had calmed down following the Rossiter-Comerford incident, the Cats began to stretch their lead.

Two poor wides from Lambert and McCarthy saw Wexford waver, although Lambert did regain his poise to draw the sides level at 0-5 apiece in the 25th-minute.

Lambert landed his fourth point of the day, two minutes before the break, but by that time Kilkenny were hitting ominous form.

Shefflin ended the half with 0-6, while substitute Aidan Fogarty, Willie O'Dwyer and Richie Power scored three on the trot in the dying embers of the half to push Kilkenny five points clear.

O'Dwyer had missed a decent goal chance in the 28th-minute when he fizzed a shot inches wide of Fitzhenry's far left post, but Kilkenny were content to take their points and they continued to do so in heartbreaking fashion for the Wexford supporters.

They opened the second half with four white flags in quick succession from Shefflin (0-3) and Comerford. Remarkably, in between those scores Wexford could have pilfered two goals.

Substitute Paul Carley just failed to connect with a Rory Jacob centre when a goal looked on the cards, and minutes later it took a superb block from Brian Hogan to prevent Lambert, who had sped away from Jackie Tyrrell, from testing net-minder Ryan.

Lambert missed the resulting '65' and although he did tap over a free in the 49th-minute for Wexford's first point of the second half, the Models were soon ten points behind.

Shefflin struck two points in as many minutes for a 0-17 to 0-7 buffer and Wexford's resistance was waning. It was effectively target practice for the Cats as James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick and Larkin helped themselves to points.

Wexford did come with a late burst as substitute PJ Nolan pointed and Michael Jacob did likewise before he scored what was a highly questionable goal.

Big Stephen Nolan, another player that Meyler had thrown into the fray, went for goal from a 20-metre free and the sliotar rebounded out for Jacob to hammer a ground shot towards the net.

Television replays show that Tyrrell, last year's Kilkenny captain, got down brilliantly to block Jacob's shot before it worked its way over the goal line, but one of the umpires thought otherwise and raised the green flag.

It was all too late however for a comeback bid from Wexford, whose last semi-final win was against Galway in 1996.

Shefflin dangled a late '65' over the crossbar for his 14th point to bring a disappointingly one-sided affair to a close and move his county one step closer to All-Ireland title number 30.

KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; D Lyng, J Fitzpatrick (0-2); R Power (0-1), H Shefflin (capt) (0-14, 0-9f, 1 65), E Larkin (0-2); E Brennan, M Comerford (0-2), W ODwyer (0-1).

Subs used: A Fogarty (0-1) for Comerford (22-23 mins, blood sub), Fogarty for Larkin (26-35, blood sub), J Tennyson for Hickey (40), R Mullally for Lyng (49), Fogarty for Brennan (52), J Dalton for Kavanagh (59), E Reid for Comerford (65)

WEXFORD: D Fitzhenry (capt); M Travers, K Rossiter, P Roche; R Kehoe, D Ruth, D Lyng; R McCarthy (0-1), D Stamp (0-1); E Quigley, M Jordan, D O'Connor (0-1); B Lambert (0-5, 0-2f), M Jacob (1-1), R Jacob.

Subs used: P Carley for Jordan (27 mins), C Kenny for Rossiter (half-time), S Nolan for OConnor, P White for R Jacob (both 53), PJ Nolan (0-1) for Carley (56)

Referee: Michael Haverty (Galway)

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