Davy Fitzgerald thrilled as plucky Wexford end Galway’s league reign
McDonald’s goal proves the difference as Model County advance to meet Kilkenny
David Fitzgerald: “I’m delighted with the win. We won it when it was in the melting pot.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Davy Fitzgerald hailed the brilliance of his young midfield pairing of Rory O’Connor and Kevin Foley who helped fire Wexford to a dramatic victory over Galway in a thrilling Division 1A quarter-final at Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday afternoon.
Twenty-year-old O’Connor, who assumed the role of freetaker after Lee Chin had fired two successive easy frees wide, stood up to the responsibility, while also producing a tremendous all-round display.
O’Connor’s run and shot eventually led to the game’s only goal while Rapparees’ clubman, Foley, continued his sparkling league form with yet another cameo that caught the eye.
“Both players stood up for us, even when Joe Canning was switched into a midfield role. Both are just phenomenal players and add so much to the team from last year,” said Fitzgerald.
With the same teams due to meet on June 2nd in the round robin of the Leinster championship, also at Innovate Wexford Park, it was Wexford who drew first blood – a factor not lost on the Wexford manager.
“We are the first team to knock them out of a competition since August 2016. So we set that thing in our heads. Did we know we had to play them in the championship in a few months’ time? We did, but today was about today and winning. I won’t use the exact same formation in the championship.”
Jack Coyne’s red card midway through the second half helped Wexford’s cause, he conceded.
“Sometimes when you get a player sent off, and you saw it with Galway, they actual lifted themselves. And they came really strong. They are going to be right up there, I can promise you, when it comes to it.
“I’m delighted with the win. We won it when it was in the melting pot but I think we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position. Galway will be a different proposition in two months’ time, they will be a lot different, but I would hope that we will be a lot different as well.”
Fitzgerald is now looking forward to a semi-final clash with arch-rivals Kilkenny next Saturday afternoon. Despite losing to Kilkenny in the last round of the league, he’s happy to face them again before another summer meeting.
“I don’t care. I just want to be in the competition. I value the competition. It’s a national competition. There will be an unbelievable atmosphere in Wexford Park. You’ve seen the atmosphere today – why wouldn’t you want it?’
Galway manager Michael Donohoe claimed it was a game they could have won.
“Our shooting was erratic at times, but the sending off had a real bearing, although we did create sufficient chances in the closing stages. We will now have to regroup for the championship and look forward to another visit to Wexford.”
In excellent conditions, the sun shining and no breeze, the scene was ideally set following the snowed-off event seven days earlier, and neither side held back through the opening exchanges as they tried to leave an imprint on the game.
Within 30 seconds Johnny Coen had the visitors in front with a fine point, but Wexford pressed hard on the puck-out as Jack O’Connor fetched a high ball only to be fouled with Lee Chin bringing the sides level from the resulting free.
A Canning pointed free that restored Galway’s lead, Wexford’s Lee Chin was uncharacteristically wide with two 35m frees, before a a great Kevin Foley point from f midfield brought the sides level, 0-2 each after nine minutes.
The accuracy of both sides was suffering in the slipper underfoot conditions as Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Conor Whelan exchanged points. Rory O’Connor, who had assumed the free-taking duties, struck over two fine points, one after a foul on brother, Jack, who had caught a huge Mark Fanning puck-out out under the stands leaving the home side with a 0-6 to 0-5 lead.
A huge Diarmuid O’Keeffe point from out on the sideline extended the Wexford lead to 0-8 to 0-5 after 21 minutes.
Galway gradually edged their way back into the game, responding with four unanswered points through Coen, Conor Whelan, David Burke and Jack Coyne to edge 0-9 to 0-8 in front.
Wexford responded and three minutes before the break Rory O’Connor surged through the centre. Though his effort for goal was brilliantly saved by James Skehill, the lurking Conor McDonald pounced to fire the rebound low to the net. Chin extended his side’s lead to 1-9 to 0-8 but Galway finished off the half with two Caning points, one free and one a 65, to leave Wexford with the minimum lead, 1-9 0-11 at the interval.
Galway opened the second half with a flourish, points from Cathal Mannion and two Canning frees moving them one in front but with Paudie Foley pointing two huge frees in response, Wexford regained the lead through Kevin Foley’s excellent long-range score.
There was little separating the side as they strove for important scores, but Wexford were were the more clinical as Jack O’Connor and Liam Ryan fired over efforts from distance. Galway received a real blow when forward Jack Coyne was straight red-carded following an off the ball incident.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Galway, through the accuracy of Canning and sub Jason Flynn, were still level, 1-17 to 0-20, entering the closing ten minutes. But with the respective attacks battling for scores it was Chin and a Rory O’Connor free that had Wexford leading 1-19 to 0-20, entering the closing five minutes. Then a Canning pointed free left the minimum separating the sides.
Both teams were giving it everything in a pulsating finish but Wexford finished strongest with two superb Conor McDonald points to secure another date against the Cats on Saturday next in Innovate Wexford Park.
WEXFORD: M. Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan (0-1), S Donohoe; S Murphy; P Foley (0-4, 3 frees), M O’Hanlon, D O’Keeffe (0-3); K Foley (0-2), R O’Connor (0-5, 4 frees); J O’Connor (0-1), C McDonald (1-3), L Chin (0-3, 1 free); P Morris, D Dunne. Subs: W Devereux for Reck (inj. 14); A Nolan for Dunne (53); H Kehoe (0-1) for J O’Connor (68); C Dunbar for Morris (68).
GALWAY: J Skehill; A Tuohey, J Hanbury, P Mannion; J Grealish, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen (0-2), D Burke (0-1); C Mannion (0-1), J Canning (0-12, 0-9 frees, 0-1, ‘65), J Cooney (0-1); C Whelan (0-4), C Cooney, J Coyne (0-1). Subs: S Loftus for Grealish (HT); J Flynn (0-1) for Burke (57); B Concannon for Cooney (67).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).