Cats get the cream as Wexford run out of steam
Wexford let nine-point lead slip as Kilkenny reach Leinster final
Kilkenny’s Enda Morrissey and Cillian Buckley in action against Lee Chin and Rory O’Connor of Wexford during the Leinster SHC round-robin match at Nowlan Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Kilkenny 0-22 Wexford 1-18
On a broiling night in Kilkenny, the Leinster Championship spoke up for itself at last. A rollicking encounter ended with Brian Cody’s side through to the final against Galway in three weeks’ time, as they came from nine points down to yet again have one to spare. Cody’s bench came through for him - he hooked Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and Conor O’Shea at half-time and saw his substitutes provide five points after the break.
In front of a buzzing 17,516 crowd, Kilkenny mixed some desperately ordinary hurling with that oh-so familiar refusal to be denied. When Paudie Foley - immense all through - and Lee Chin began the second half with a couple of Wexford points to push their lead out to nine, a comeback looked implausible. But led by TJ Reid and Pádraig Walsh, they nipped and tucked away at the lead and actually ran out handier winners than the one-point margin suggests.
For Wexford, this is no disaster. In the cold light of day it might even look like a close to ideal night’s work. They showed that they are every bit the equal of Kilkenny and would have zero fear of meeting them again. On top of which, they avoid Galway in three weeks’ time and instead will play either Westmeath or Carlow a month from now. They ran out of road here - a month’s rest and they will be dangerous opposition for anyone in July.
Because when they were fit here, they were flying. If Wexford were feeling the effects of playing for a fourth weekend in a row, don’t take too seriously anyone who says they know for sure what those effects were. For much of the night, the main one seemed to be a determination to make amends for their wan showing against Galway last Saturday. It certainly wasn’t exhaustion. They were much the sharper side, quicker to the ball and more adventurous with it.
All three of their inside forwards had points from play on the board inside the opening 10 minutes. Rory O’Connor was full of direct running and sweet striking, Lee Chin nailed a couple of phenomenal scores. After 25 minutes they had a 0-10 to 0-5 lead and Kilkenny had no answers.
The Wexford goal came soon after. Chin was a wrecking ball between centre-forward and full-forward and out of one of his intermittent stramashes, the ball popped out to David Dunne 35 metres out. The simple option would have been a snapshot over the bar but Dunne’s pick-up was so perfect - a delicate flick away from the cover and in front of himself - that he was immediately sprinting in on goal.
Instead of trying to beat the advancing Eoin Murphy, he drew him and slipped a pass across goal for Paul Morris to tap home. It was a cleverly stitched-together goal and felt like a statement of intent from Wexford. You don’t put a goal like that together if tiredness is dulling your senses.
Wexford led by 1-11 to 0-7 at half-time and when those points from Foley and Chin went over in the first three minutes after the restart, they looked like kicking on. But gradually, the weeks began to tell on their legs. In that scenario, TJ Reid’s frees are like weights being slipped into your backpack. He was merciless here as Wexford flagged.
The Kilkenny subs did their bit too. Richie Leahy popped up with a couple of points, John Donnelly came on late to throw two into the pot as well. Joey Holden even strode forward for a point, which nobody could remember happening before.
All the while, Wexford started to miss with wearying regularity at the other end. They only scored five more points in the game after Chin’s effort in the 38th minute and racked up a ruinous 10 wides in the second half alone. Only the redoubtable Foley kept them in it - he scored each of his five points in the second half, four of them from long-range frees.
It wasn’t enough.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy (0-1, free); Paul Murphy, Pádraig Walsh (0-1), Paddy Deegan; Conor O’Shea, Cillian Buckley, Enda Morrissey (0-1); Conor Fogarty (0-2), James Maher (0-1); Walter Walsh, TJ Reid (0-11, 0-9 frees, 0-1 65), Colin Fennelly; Bill Sheehan, Richie Hogan, Luke Scanlon. Subs: Richie Leahy (0-2) for Fennelly, half-time; Martin Keoghan for Hogan, half-time; Joey Holden (0-1) for O’Shea, half-time; Liam Blanchfield for Sheehan, 47 mins; John Donnelly (0-2) for Scanlon, 65 mins
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Conor Firman; Paudie Foley (0-5, 0-4 frees), Matthew O’Hanlon, Diarmuid O’Keeffe (0-1); Kevin Foley (0-1), Shaun Murphy; Lee Chin (0-3), Aidan Nolan, David Dunne; Paul Morris (1-1), Rory O’Connor (0-5, 0-2 frees), Conor McDonald (0-2). Subs: Harry Kehoe for K Foley, 54 mins; Jack O’Connor for Dunne, 54 mins; Simon Donoghue for O’Keeffe, 63 mins; Shane Tomkins for Morris, 69 mins
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)