Leinster SHC, round 5: Wexford 4-23 Kilkenny 5-18
Wexford out of the Leinster championship – what were we thinking? Before nearly 10,000 delirious supporters, this most traditional of fixtures provided a madcap throwback to old days of gushing scores and letting the ball do the work and a match constantly swinging one way and then the other.
It was back to bygone times of big full forwards and aerial contests and goals galore. Lee Chin played his heart out, converting frees and a penalty and winning low-percentage ball – raising the spirit of Rackard in Chadwicks Wexford Park.
How do you parse and analyse a contest where the scores were exchanged like shots in a tennis match? It was all so outcome dependent. Realistically, Wexford needed something out of the match, even a draw. Kilkenny already qualified for the provincial final may have created an imbalance of motivation but you wouldn’t have noticed.
The visitors looked to have it bagged in the first quarter, as Wexford’s poor form showed no sign of recovery.
Then they rallied and in the second half romped free before the visitors wrecked the good vibes by going goal crazy and even at the very end, spilt seconds after referee Colm Lyons had given a last relieving free out, Alan Murphy was clipping in what would have been a sixth goal to plunge Wexford into next year’s McDonagh Cup.
So, Wexford survive after an ill-starred season had threatened disaster.
Manager Darragh Egan was keen afterwards to point out the value of cool heads. “We still need to build further and a big learning for me in my first managerial stint is that you just have to hold your nerve. Lots of people were losing their nerve here over the last few weeks and I felt that the players and the management team held their nerve.
“We stuck to our task and blocked out all the outside noise and I’m just delighted that the boys got their just rewards today.”
The stage was set beforehand when, with the match delayed because of traffic hold-ups, Wexford tenor Anthony Kearns belted out a battle-cry Boolavogue to the appreciative punctual.
Unfortunately for wound-up home support, the visitors took a brisk Kilkenny-like approach to the occasion and within five minutes, had struck for two goals. An early Wexford flurry yielded a free for Lee Chin but within a minute, John Donnelly’s ball to Eoin Cody was precisely finished to the net.
Chin had reduced the margin to two, 0-2 to 1-1, when Martin Keoghan ran on to Walter Walsh’s pass for a second goal. From then there was a tale of traditional Kilkenny virtues: economical use of the ball, fluent touch and a demoralisingly clicking scoreboard.
Tom Phelan eased over a couple of points and Kilkenny led by seven, 2-4 to 0-3.
The crowd were aware of events in Mullingar, knowing that an Antrim victory would require Wexford to salvage something from the match. But Kilkenny were slick and merciless, posting just five wides all afternoon and two in the first half.
The fightback began in the 24th minute when Jack O’Connor won a penalty and Lee Chin converted it. A free from TJ Reid settled Kilkenny but a sudden break by Rory O’Connor sent in Kevin Foley for a well-finished goal and now there were just three points, 2-6 to 2-9, in it.
From then on, a shootout was on the cards and so it happened. News from Mullingar suggested a Westmeath comeback, a positive for Wexford but by now they were doing it for themselves.
Conor McDonald, a Chin free and a bumper strike by Rory O’Connor from 60 metres out on the right levelled it and by half-time they led 2-11 to 2-10. Kilkenny were now at sixes and sevens and struggling to hold back the tide.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, the match had swung completely. On 40 minutes Chin managed to pop a pass into Liam Óg McGovern and he drilled to the net.
Chin added a 65 after he and McGovern and Jack O’Connor led a raid on the goal that was scrambled clear. McGovern did it again a minute later after McDonald and Kevin Foley combined to tee up a chance on advantage after a penalty had been awarded.
It was now seven points the other way, 4-13 to 2-12. But goals kept coming despite Wexford keeping Diarmuid O’Keeffe in a withdrawn, sweeping role. Eoin Cody started the comeback after a move that originated in an attack being turned over. Points by Pádraig Walsh and a TJ Reid free cut the margin to two.
There was little point in Wexford taking part in a rip-roaring classic that ended in honourable defeat. Westmeath were clearly going down against Antrim and only a win would do to preserve their senior status.
They put in a super second half. Liam Ryan burst out of defence to hit a point off the hurl. The bench added value. Conor Hearne was energetic and involved and Cathal Dunbar swept over a lineball and added another.
But goals arrived like sheriff’s letters to disrupt the prosperity. Phelan was in for a fourth in the 58th minute and Cody completed a hat-trick three minutes later. Two down, Wexford made the final burst, outscoring Kilkenny 0-5 to 0-1, a couple of uncharacteristic wides not helping the visitors’ cause.
It ended with Wexford still in the top tier, but with regret at a wasted season beginning to dawn as the relief settled, and Kilkenny on course for another Leinster final with Galway.
WEXFORD: James Lawlor; Conor Devitt, Matthew O’Hanlon, Simon Donohoe; Joe O’Connor, Liam Ryan (0-1), Damien Reck; Diarmuid O’Keeffe (0-1), Kevin Foley (1-1); Oisín Foley (0-2), Jack O’Connor, Liam Óg McGovern (2-1); Rory O’Connor (0-4), Conor McDonald (0-1), Lee Chin (capt; 1-10, 1-0p, 0-6f, 0-1 65). Subs: Conor Foley for Joe O’Connor (19 mins), Cathal Dunbar (0-2, 0-1s) for J O’Connor (55 mins), Conor Hearne for K Foley (65 mins), Mikie Dwyer for McGovern (68 mins).
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; David Blanchfield, Pádraig Walsh (0-1), Darragh Corcoran; Adrian Mullen (0-1), Walter Walsh (0-1); Tom Phelan (1-4), Eoin Cody (3-1) John Donnelly; Martin Keoghan (1-0), Billy Drennan, TJ Reid (0-7, 0-4f, 0-1 65). Subs: Conor Delaney (0-1) for Butler (13 mins), Billy Ryan (0-1) for Keoghan (14 mins), Conor Fogarty for Mullen (25 mins), Alan Murphy (0-1) for Drennan (49 mins), Cillian Buckley for W Walsh (66 mins).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).