Leinster SHC: Wonderful Wexford advance
Leinster SHC Semi-Final
Wexford 1-20 Kilkenny 3-11
By John Harrington at Innovate Wexford Park
13 years of hurt were washed away by a tidal wave of joy in Innovate Wexford Park this evening as Wexford defeated Kilkenny in the Leinster Championship for the first time since 2004.
It was heart-stopping stuff. Davy Fitzgerald’s team hurled up a storm as they tried to capsize Kilkenny, but the Cats fought for their lives right to the end.
In the end, though, the home team simply refused to be denied the win as they resisted a dramatic two-goal fight-back from the Cats in the second-half.
Most people would have spent the first few minutes of this match figuring out who was playing where on either team.
Brian Cody pulled a rabbit out of the hat by selecting Padraig Walsh at centre-forward, but the gamble didn’t pay off.
Walsh looked like a man who hadn’t fully recovered from the heel injury that side-lined him for a few weeks before this match, and was subbed after 26 minutes.
The Kilkenny manager also rolled the dice by selecting Ger Aylward at corner-forward. Aylward has played precious little hurling since rupturing a cruciate ligament early last year.
He, too, looked rusty. He got his hands on a good bit of ball early on, but his shooting was wild, and was called ashore shortly after Walsh.
Cody’s other tactical ploy was to use Conor Fogarty as his spare man in defence where he sat deep and effectively played as a full-back while Kieran Joyce and Paul Murphy picked up Wexford’s two inside forwards.
Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford pretty much set up like they had in the League Final with Shaun Murphy the sweeper in defence and James Breen detailed to follow TJ Reid wherever he went.
The packed Wexford defence was immediately pierced in the very first minute of the match though when Colin Fennelly was hauled down in the square, and Reid confidently dispatched the penalty.
Not the start the majority of the 18,467 in attendance at Wexford Park would have wished for, but the home supporters would soon have reason to cheer.
Wexford steadily gained a strangle-hold on the game as their defenders got on top of their men.
Richie Hogan had started brightly in midfield for Kilkenny, but when Diarmuid O’Keeffe was moved onto him he quenched his flame.
Wexford’s growing dominance was being reflected on the scoreboard as O’Keeffe, Liam Ryan, Lee Chin (f), Jack Guiney, and Jack O’Connor threw over points.
Kilkenny briefly rallied and were level at 0-6 to 1-3 by the 22 minute mark, but Wexford finished the half the stronger team.
The Kilkenny backs were conceding frees, and Lee Chin and Conor McDonald were in the mood to punish them.
The home team finished the half with one from play too courtesy of Paul Morris, and took a 0-12 to 1-5 lead into the dressing-room.
It was Morris who got the first point of the second-half too after a hectic few minutes of hurling, and then the roof was rightly blown off Wexford Park when the Slaneysiders struck for a goal.
It wasn’t a classic, substitute David Redmond scuffing home from close-range after a goal-mouth scramble, but it was the substance rather than the style that the home supporters savoured.
Their team were eight points up, and a first win over Kilkenny in the Championship since 2004 was beginning to look like a reality rather than a dream.
Rolling over and dying has never been a trait of Kilkenny teams under Brian Cody though, and once again in the face of adversity they found strength.
They scored the next three points of the match, and when it looked like Wexford had reasserted themselves with three of their own, the game was suddenly turned on its head when Kilkenny scored two goals in quick succession.
Colin Fennelly was the central figure in both of them. For the first, his shot from distance somehow fell into the net via the hurley of Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning.
Then he won his second penalty of the match, and once again TJ Reid stepped up and confidently blasted it to the roof of the net.
So in the space of a couple of minutes what was looking like a procession for Wexford was now anything but.
Kilkenny were trailing by just a point, 1-16 to 3-9, and it looked like they were the team with all the momentum now.
Wexford simply refused to be denied, though. When they needed grit most they proved they had it, and no-one showed more of that quality in the final 15 minutes than Lee Chin.
He hit back with a point immediately for Wexford, and from there until the end hurled up a storm as he won ball after ball and kept driving his team forward.
A Chin ’65 and points from Matthew O’Hanlon and Shane Tompkins had Wexford three ahead as the game ticked into injury-time, but there was one last nerve-shredding moment for their supporters to endure.
Kilkenny engineered one last goal-chance, but Mark Fanning got off his line smartly to smother Chris Bolger’s shot and send it out for a ’65.
Kilkenny floated that into the square as they came looking for an equalising goal again, but Wexford held strong.
When the final whistle eventually blew the place erupted. And then the decibels went even higher when Davy Fitzgerald emerged from the room high in the stand he’d been watching the game from, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy as he fist-pumped the air with joy.
Wexford hurling is back with a bang, and 2017 is starting to look like it will be one of the greatest summers of hurling ever.
*Scorers for Wexford: *Conor McDonald 0-5 (4fs) Lee Chin 0-6 (3fs, 2 ‘65), David Redmond 1-0, Paul Morris 0-3, Jack Guiney 0-1, Diarmuid O’Keeffe 0-1, Jack O’Connor 0-1, Liam Ryan 0-1, Matthew O’Hanlon 0-1, Shane Tomkins 0-1
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 2-7 (2-0 pens, 6fs, 1’65,), Colin Fennelly 1-0, Lester Ryan-0-2, Paddy Deegan 0-1, Walter Walsh 0-1.
*WEXFORD: *Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Willie Devereux; Shaun Murphy, Matthew O’Hanlon, James Breen; Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Aidan Nolan; Conor McDonald, Paul Morris, Lee Chin; Harry Kehoe, Jack Guiney, Jack O’Connor.
Subs: David Redmond for Jack O’Connor (31), Shane Tomkins for Aidan Nolan (57), Podge Doran for Harry Kehoe (63), Kevin Foley for Paul Morris (66).
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Conor Fogarty, Kieran Joyce; Conor O’Shea, Cillian Buckley, Robert Lennon; Paddy Deegan, Richie Hogan; Lester Ryan, Padraig Walsh, TJ Reid; Ger Aylward, Walter Walsh, Colin Fennelly.
Subs: Liam Blanchfield for Padraig Walsh (26), Chris Bolger for Ger Aylward (33), Richie Reid for Richie Hogan (68).
*REFEREE: *Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).