Wexford run out 21-point winners over Kerry thanks to second-half goals

Conor McDonald, Rory O’Connor and substitute Conor Hearne all on target to set up quarter-final clash with Clare

Kerry 0-18 Wexford 3-30

They put up a real first-half fight but in the end a gutsy 14-man Kerry succumbed to a far superior Wexford side as second-half goals from Conor McDonald, Rory O’Connor, and substitute Conor Hearne ensured Darragh Egan’s charges eased past the Kingdom at Austin Stack Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Slaneysiders already had one foot in the last six of the Liam MacCarthy Cup when they led 0-24 to 0-13 at the three-quarter mark before the three goals put a Wexford gloss on the scoreline as the quick turnaround of two games in seven days began to take its toll on Kerry.

The 21-point victory for Wexford sets up a mouthwatering All-Ireland quarter-final clash with beaten Munster finalists Clare in Thurles next Saturday.

After leading by eight points at half-time, a much more experienced Wexford side pulled away in the second half to secure the comfortable win as Kerry’s efforts in the Joe McDonagh Cup final last weekend began to show. Six of Wexford’s 16 points in the opening 35 minutes were placed balls, with the in-from Lee Chin contributing with six frees. But Wexford, who scored 3-18 from play overall, outscored Kerry by 3-14 to 10 points in the second half.

As expected, Wexford got off to a flying start and after Chin put his side ahead after a minute with a free just inside the Kerry half, the Faythe Harriers man added a second and third in the fifth and sixth minute to put Egan’s men three points ahead.

Kerry’s first point from play came in the 14th minute when Seán Weir slotted over to give Stephen Molumphy’s side a much-needed confidence boost with momentum temporarily swinging in his side’s favour.

Four Kerry points without response – an Eoin Ross effort from out wide and three Podge Boyle frees in-a-row – had the Kingdom to within a point of Wexford in the 20th minute – 0-7 to 0-6 in favour of the visitors.

However, Wexford responded well and scored nine of the next 11 scores to take a double-point lead into half time – 0-16 to 0-8.

Despite the scoreline, Kerry had put in a heroic defensive performance in the face of a Wexford onslaught in the second quarter with Ross, Mikey Boyle and Eric Leen keeping the visitors’ forward line at bay for as long as possible.

It was the first time since February 1892 that both Kerry and Wexford have meet in the All-Ireland SHC Championship when Ballyduff, representing the Kingdom, defeated The Model County in Clonturk Park in Dublin in the 1891 All-Ireland final – Kerry’s only ever senior All-Ireland hurling final triumph.

Both sides have met eight times in the league since with Wexford winning all of those; the most recent being a 3-18 to 0-12 victory for Wexford in Wexford Park in Division 1B in March 2017.

A clear sign of Wexford’s superiority, it wasn’t until the 45th minute that one of Kerry’s six forwards got on the scoreboard when Paudie O’Connor found himself in space after a misplaced pass from Liam Óg McGovern in the middle of the field.

Wexford put the result beyond any doubt with 15 minutes to go after Damien Reck found himself in plenty of space before laying the ball off to Rory O’Connor. The St Martin’s corner forward set up McDonald who raised the green flag for the first of three Wexford goals.

That score put the visitors 1-24 to 0-13 ahead, and it was in that third quarter that Wexford put their foot in next Saturday’s quarter-final tie, with Kerry heads beginning to drop.

Wexford showed no mercy however and their second goal arrived five minutes from time as O’Connor’s made it 2-27 to 0-15 before Hearne tapped in Mikie Dwyer’s assist minutes later after Kerry were reduced to 14 just after the hour mark when Michael Leane saw red for a strike of the hurley.

Speaking after the game, Kerry manager Molumphy said despite the quick turnaround from last Saturday’s Joe McDonagh Cup final and it being a ‘tall order’ to get his side ready for the visit of Wexford to Tralee, he was delighted with his side’s effort.

“It was [a tall order], but I wouldn’t have anything else,” he said. “It was great to have this. It was a great idea from the GAA to allow us this opportunity, especially the home draw.

“To see so many Kerry hurlers out there mixing it with Wexford hurlers … it’s been 130 years since that’s happened last in the Championship, so it is definitely a brilliant thing. Yes, it is tough, but it is still a wonderful opportunity after losing by a point above in Croke Park in the final and then to get this opportunity down here.”

Molumphy admitted Wexford really began to show their experience and class in the second half, adding that Kerry’s experience of playing Liam MacCarthy sides such as Wexford will help them improve and grow hurling in the county.

“It just shows … it is the small little things … it is the quicker hurling,” he said.

“In the first half we hadn’t played well, we were down eight points, but we were still in it. We had the strong wind on our backs then in the second half, but we didn’t come out, we didn’t play particularly well. We stood a bit off them, and we let them come through. But Wexford are a great team, they are just after beating Kilkenny.

“This is where we want to be – Kerry hurling is not going away. We want to stay here, we want to win Tier Two and get up to Tier One because you can see how much it brought on the likes of Laois and Antrim. They are up and down, and that’s where we want to be, and that’s where we want to stay.”

Wexford boss Darragh Egan said he was happy with his side’s second-half performance.

While the scoreline might suggest that Wexford had it easy, Egan admitted that he didn’t relax until the final quarter.

“It was hard-earned despite the fact that we pulled away at the end when ultimately Kerry ran out of gas when playing seven days after playing in the Joe McDonagh final,” he said.

“I am very pleased with how we performed in the second half as there were lots of questions asked of our lads by Kerry and it took us a while to shake them off.

“Ultimately our panel did very well and our subs did very well and once we stretched that pitch in the second half it was definitely beneficial for our lads.”

Egan said that the mental preparation in advance was crucial, and his side never underestimated an ever-improving Kerry side under former Wexford selector Molumphy.

“We were being tested by Kerry,” he added. “But we were absolutely under no illusions all this week in preparing for Kerry, we did an amount of work on Kerry this week because they deserved that respect.

“I had a brilliant vantage point in Croke Park last week and after the 22nd minute Kerry scored 4-20.

“So, we had to get our match-ups right as they carried threats to us.

“We put Damian Reck back on Jordan Conway because he is a really promising player and thankfully that worked.

“Lee Chin kept us in the game in the first 40 minutes and he is a tremendous leader for us. We are glad to have won and are looking forward to Clare next Saturday.”

KERRY: Louis Dee; Conor O’Keeffe, Eoin Ross (0-3, one sideline), Eric Leen; Seán Weir (0-1), Fionán MacKessy (0-1), Mikey Boyle; Michael Leane, Podge Boyle (0-7, seven frees); Colin Walsh, Colum Harty, Paudie O’Connor (0-1); Gavin Dooley, Jordan Conway (0-5, three frees, one 65), Shane Conway.

Subs: Niall Mulcahy for Conway (33 mins, injured), Maurice O’Connor for Walsh (45), Brian Lonergan for Boyle (58), Morgan Madden for Leen (63), Fionan O’Sullivan for Harty (64).

WEXFORD: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohue, Liam Ryan (0-1), Conor Devitt (0-1); Matthew O’Hanlon (0-1), Damien Reck (0-1), Paudie Foley; Cathal Dunbar, Lee Chin (capt) (0-14, 10 frees, one 65); Jack O’Connor, Kevin Foley, Liam Óg McGovern (0-2); Oisín Foley (0-2), Conor McDonald (1-3), Rory O’Connor (1-4, one free).

Subs: Mike Dwyer (0-1) for Dunbar (30 mins, injured), Charlie McGuckin for Jack O’Connor (58), Conor Hearne (1-0) for Foley (59), Shane Reck for Devitt (62), Connal Flood for Chin (69).

Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick).