BGE Leinster U20 Final: Kilkenny claim silverware
Bord Gais Energy Leinster Under 20 Hurling Championship Final
KILKENNY 1-17 WEXFORD 0-18
By Ronan Fagan at Innovate Wexford Park
Evan Shefflin emerged as captain fantastic after his opportunistic first-half goal ultimately proved the difference for DJ Carey's charges against Wexford in Wednesday's Bord Gais Energy Leinster Under-20 hurling decider at Innovate Wexford Park.
There was little to choose between the neighbours throughout, and Wexford were unfortunate with a series of late raids, and they are left to face the Munster champions (Cork or Tipperary) in the All-Ireland semi-final, where Kilkenny will play the Munster runners-up.
The 6,612 attendance at Wexford Park were surprised when Kilkenny opted to rest senior star Adrian Mullen, with James Bergin stepping in for one of the main figures in Kilkenny's semi-final dismissal of Galway.
Excitement quickly built amid greasy conditions as the sides shared the first six points, before Kilkenny snatched their first taste of the lead courtesy of a Niall Brassil free after 16 minutes (0-4 to 0-3).
The black-and-amber then stung Wexford for the game-defining goal, with Shefflin left unmarked at the back post to sweep home a rebound from an outstanding save by 'keeper James Lawlor (1-4 to 0-3).
But Wexford remained resolute, and a couple of closing Seán O'Connor points had MJ Reck's crew firmly in the mix when trailing by just 0-8 to 1-7 at half-time.
Wexford hopes increased as the home-side drew level on 0-12 to 1-9 after 38 minutes courtesy of Charlie McGuckin, Ross Banville (2 frees) and Cian Fitzhenry - a nephew of former goalkeeper Damien.
Kilkenny threatened to seize the initiative though when defender David Blanchfield, Seán Ryan, Eoin Cody and Eoin O'Shea powered them clear by 1-13 to 0-12 midway through the second-half.
But determined responses from Ross Banville, Conor Scallan, Cian Fitzhenry and Chris Turner meant that Wexford were never without hope of completing a first Model County clean-sweep of Leinster hurling titles since 1970.
Kilkenny held out under unrelenting pressure in the closing stages – including five minutes of added-time – to deservedly celebrate a first Leinster title in the grade since 2017.
Scorers for Kilkenny: Niall Brassil 0-5 (4fs), Evan Shefflin 1-2, Seán Ryan, Eoin Cody, David Blanchfield 0-2 each, James Brennan, Stephen Donnelly, Eoin O'Shea, Michael Carey 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: Ross Banville 0-7 (7fs), Seán O'Connor 0-3, Charlie McGuckin, Cian Fitzhenry, Chris Turner (1f) 0-2 each, Jack Reck, Conor Scallan 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: Dean Mason; James Brennan, Conor Flynn, Mikey Butler; Conor Heary, Michael Carey, David Blanchfield; Eoin O'Shea, Evan Shefflin; Stephen Donnelly, Niall Brassil, Aaron Brennan; James Bergin, Seán Ryan, Eoin Cody.
Subs: Ciarán Brennan for Bergin (41); Jack Kelly for Donnelly (54); John Dowd for O'Shea (59); Jim Ryan for A Brennan (60+5).
WEXFORD: James Lawlor; Cathal O'Connor, Eoin Molloy, Eoin O'Leary; Niall Murphy, Mike Kelly, Conor Scallan; Charlie McGuckin, Ross Banville; Seán Keane-Carroll, Connall Clancy, Jack Reck; Seán O'Connor, Diarmuid Doyle, Eoin Murphy.
Subs: Cian Fitzhenry for Keane-Carroll (5); Oran Carthy for Doyle (HT); Chris Turner for S O'Connor (54); Ben Maddock for Banville (58).
Referee: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath).