Day of high emotion is all about Wexford and Limerick
Davy’s men deliver in Leinster thriller while champions avenge defeat to Tipp in style
Lee Chin celebrates with manager Davy Fitzgerald after the Leinster final victory over Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
After it was over, the usual handshakes dutifully carried out, Davy Fitzgerald took off running. He covered the ground as quickly as any of his players had done, the ground churning beneath him.
Out to the middle and into the chest-of-drawers embrace of Lee Chin, who he didn’t so much hug as scale. He hung out of his joint-captain like a supporter hanging out of a lamp-post at a victory parade.
While the Wexford players thronged to the middle as though a sink plug had been pulled between the 65s, goalkeeper Mark Fanning broke off and tipped down towards the Davin end into which he’d planted the game’s only goal from a 63rd-minute penalty.
There on the ground around the 20-metre line lay the sliotar, as if somebody had left a priceless jewel lying on the floor after a party. Fanning picked it up and tucked it into his shorts before heading back up for the presentation. One for the sideboard.
And over it all, Davy Fitz. By rights, it shouldn’t work
They are the boys of Wexford who fought with heart and hand. They are Leinster champions for the first time in 15 years, beating Kilkenny 1-23 to 0-23 in a game in which both sides were soldered together pretty much throughout. Fanning’s penalty was the only score Wexford managed that Kilkenny couldn’t match. It was enough.
Most unlike Kilkenny was the finish, it which they started trying for goals even with the clock still in the 60s. Eoin Murphy turned down point opportunities from a long-range free and a 65 in favour of dropping balls into the Wexford square in search of a lucky pull.
They are usually precision big-game hunters in those circumstances but in that closing few minutes, they seemed like weekend tourists on a scattershot mission. Wexford were only too happy to withstand it.
No matter. This was Wexford’s win. Rory O’Connor was given Man of the Match but he had plenty of company, his four points from play were matched by Conor McDonald.
Liam Óg McGovern, who ruptured his cruciate for the second time in a year the week before Wexford beat Kilkenny in 2017, finally got to play them and was an adornment to the game. Chin was Chin, monstrous in the tackle, explosive on the run, near perfection in front of goal.
And over it all, Davy Fitz. By rights, it shouldn’t work. The travel should be too much hassle. The players should be worn down. Other managers should have worked him out.
Yet here he is, the first ever manager to win an All-Ireland, a Munster title, a Leinster title and a National League. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that again. Who would even try it?
“I remember a lot of people told me when I was coming to Wexford – ‘Don’t bother going, you haven’t a chance of doing anything. They’re not going to do anything’. I fucking loved when that final whistle went. There is nothing that can’t be achieved in life or nothing that can’t be done.
“If you look back, probably to 2015, Kilkenny beat Wexford by 20-something points. I don’t think anyone was saying that day that Wexford would beat them within four years. I’m just delighted that they showed they could bridge a gap and come back into it.”
Maybe this was Wexford’s All-Ireland, who knows?
Certainly, it will be celebrated with equivalent vigour. Where they’ll be in four weeks, it’s hard to say. Afterwards, when it was put to Davy that they’re the only unbeaten team in Leinster, he had his answer ready.
“I think we’re the only unbeaten team in Ireland, aren’t we?”
That they are, since the only other team who carried that tag into the weekend got their hinds tanned for them in the Munster final. Tipperary were blitzed by a Limerick team who turned it right up to 11 in the Gaelic Grounds, finishing up 2-26 to 2-14 winners and catapulting into outright favouritism for the All-Ireland.
On a day when goalkeeper Brian Hogan was Tipperary’s best player, it would only have taken a smidgen more accuracy for Limerick to have put up 40 points.
John Kiely’s side were right back in 2018 mode, hunting their opposition for sport and sacking them at every turn. Peter Casey was in thundering form inside, eventually plundering 1-5 from play. Tom Morrissey, Kyle Hayes and Gearóid Hegarty were lions in the wild. Tipp were savaged.
“When you’re chasing and being outmuscled and outworked, they seemed to get in several blocks,” said Liam Sheedy. “We just didn’t seem to have a flow, we were blocked down a lot today and a lot of those blocks led to individual scores. The time we nearly had the ball gone in the first half, it ended up in the back of the net.
“Look, they’re a very good side but we are better than what we showed today. We’re delighted with the fact we’ll get a chance to rectify that. And when they start to get away on you, the crowd and there’s a green wave coming at you in Limerick; it’s a hard tide to stem.”