It won’t count for much in the grand scheme of things, but Kildare footballers got off to a very satisfactory start to 2023 with a ten-point win over Wexford in Group A of the O’Byrne Cup in St Patrick’s Park, Enniscorthy last Wednesday night.

Not for the first time in this competition, Jack Robinson’s name was the one on the lips of a decent attendance, particularly at half-time after the Clogherinkoe forward had marked his first outing for the county team since the covid shutdown in 2020 with an outstanding display of point-taking.

Robinson weighed in with six points, all bar one from play, and Wexford simply couldn’t handle him in that opening period. Three years ago, in only his second start at senior level, Robinson reeled off six against Wicklow in Aughrim.

We all know the immense talent that he has, his underage and club career have left that in no doubt, and the economy with which he registered his half-dozen scores here was mesmerising for those watching and the poor Wexford defenders designated to curtail him.

The questions though are around his fitness and conditioning, in particular his hamstrings, which have been susceptible to letting him down in the past, and whether he has the appetite for the physical slog that goes with the territory in inter-county football these days.

In that light, you could understand Ryan applauding one particular sprint back to help the defence in the second half in front of equally appreciative Kildare supporters in the small stand.

Robinson’s points were a joy. For his first he took a short free from Woodgate, turned Jim Rossiter inside out and despite being tugged struck from 20 metres with his right foot. His second, with the same foot saw him gather a Jack Sargent free out of defence towards the left sideline, skin Rossiter once more with consummate ease and fire over from a little further out.

Barry Coffey, a belated debutant at this level due to his own injury turmoil, was incisive in the playmaker role in the first half, and it was he who provided Robinson’s third although his pass into the left corner gave the Clogherinkoe man plenty to do. Again, though, he collected, swatted Rossiter aside and with minimal effort hit the mark again.

Paddy McDermott was next to present him with an opportunity, again the ball giving Robinson some work to do in the corner. This time Rossiter resorted to fouling and from a tight enough angle Jack nonchalantly planted the free for his fourth point inside twenty minutes.

Number five was a different variant. The hard-working Shane O’Sullivan put him away in the right corner this time and from another difficult angle the right boot did it’s duty once more. A minute before the break Darragh Kirwan sent Robinson through to register the first with his left from close range.

His influence did wane a little as Wexford tightened up in the second half before leaving the fray after 47 minutes but with his full-forward colleagues Kirwan and Woodgate weighing in with 0-6 and 1-3 respectively, the Lilywhites possessed the greater forward power than their opponents, for whom the outstanding Mark Rossiter registered nine of their eleven points.

It had taken a while for a hard-working Kildare to settle into a pattern at the start of the game and by the quarter-hour mark, they were level at four points apiece (two each from Kirwan and Robinson for the away side) but they took command in the run-up to half-time. Kirwan had three by the interval and Woodgate weighed in with two more as Kildare led by 0-11 to 0-6.

Kildare’s dominance continued early in the second-half and after points from Woodgate (free) and Kirwan, their quick-thinking gave rise to the game’s only goal. Wexford defender Glen Malone over-carried coming out from defence and O’Sullivan’s quick free sent Woodgate in on goal. A neat side-step of goalkeeper Craig McCabe gave the Raheens man the room to finish to the net.

That gave the visitors a ten-point advantage and the remainder of the game was relatively even, with Kildare still working ferociously defensively. David Hyland adopted a sweeping role, holding the centre of defence with the quietly effective Jack Sargent while O’Sullivan and Beirne were others to impress with their work-rate out the field.

The full back line did struggle to contain Rossiter at times and Wexford might have brought the lead back to four points in the 55th minute when Eoghan Nolan’s high ball drifted over debutant Jack Quinn into Conor Kinsella, but his finish was just too high.

Kildare finished the game the stronger, helped by good cameos from debutants Cein McMonagle and Brendan Gibbons. Beirne with a mark from a fine ball in from Gibbons, McMonagle and corner back Darragh Malone with a booming kick rounded off the scoring.

KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Jack Quinn, Michael Joyce, Darragh Malone 0-1; Paddy McDermott, Jack Sargent, Kevin Flynn; Aaron Masterson, Alex Beirne 0-1 (m); David Hyland, Barry Coffey, Shane O’Sullivan; Jack Robinson 0-6 (1f), Darragh Kirwan 0-6, Paddy Woodgate 1-3 (0-2fs). SUBS: Jimmy Hyland for Robinson 47, Brendan Gibbons for Masterson 54, Cein McMonagle 0-1 for Coffey 54, Tony Archbold for O’Sullivan 60.

WEXFORD: Craig McCabe; Jim Rossiter, Eoin Porter, Rioghan Crosbie; Glen Malone, Dylan Furlong, Brian Cushe; Eoghan Nolan, Darragh Lyons; Liam Doyle, Dean O’Toole, Conor Kinsella 0-1; Kevin O’Grady 0-1, Ben Brosnan, Mark Rossiter 0-9 (5fs, 1 ’45, 1m). SUBS: Cathal Stokes for Furlong 27, Robbie Brooks for M Rossiter 62, Liam O’Connor for J Rossiter 62, Gavin Sheehan for Crosbie 62, Cormac Cooney for Kinsella 66.

REFEREE: James Foley (Carlow)

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