Kilkenny 1-18 Wexford 1-22
It has always been in their nature to rage against the dying of the light. This time, Wexford produced their best hurling of the season and right when they needed it most.
Who knows if it was fear or desire which ultimately pulled them through: fear of exiting the championship on the third Saturday in May, or desire to prove they were better than recent results.
Either way Kilkenny felt the brunt of it, their first ever championship loss to Wexford on home ground. Had things gone differently elsewhere they would have been the ones exiting.
For the climax of a round-robin series it was played at proper knock-out pace, as it should. In the end it didn’t change things for Kilkenny, who still press on to the Leinster final on Saturday week to face a Galway team managed by you-know-who; if Dublin had beaten Galway at the same time on Saturday evening Kilkenny were gone.
Wexford needed to win here to keep their summer alive. A three-way tie for second and third, on six points, they skip ahead of Dublin on scoring difference, who ended up fourth. For Wexford manager Darragh Egan it was the one standalone result he knew would matter most.
“There’s great character in this team, they’ve shown that over the last few years, every time they get knocked back they always come out fighting and swinging,” Egan said, the Tipp man in his first season.
“I can say without any hesitation our training performance over the last three or four weeks have been absolutely top notch. We were so wasteful up in Mullingar last Saturday evening (drawing with Westmeath), and it hurt us ultimately, 21 wides, and ultimately the performance here is what we’ve been doing on the training pitch over last few weeks.
“Lots of journalists and papers and lots of Wexford people were probably a bit sore over it, but we knew coming in we’d get a bounce off the boys, not let the emotion or rivalry with Kilkenny take over. We needed to be calculated, to get the win.”
Indeed, Lee Chin spoke afterwards of a different mentality and attitude change from the previous rounds, that no doubt driven by a combo of fear and desire. Chin produced a masterful display that finished with nine scores, two from play, inspiring plenty around him too.
Wexford finished with 12 different scorers, late points from replacements Conal Flood, Mikie Dwyer and Cathal Dunbar also ensuring they won pulling away – hitting six to Kilkenny’s two in the endgame. The hit 1-15 from play.
“Disappointed with the display, disappointed with the result, we didn’t come here to think about results anywhere else,” said Brian Cody. “We’d prefer to be going in on our own terms, rather than going in depending on another result. But two weeks’ time, Galway, Leinster final, Croke Park, massive game. We need to improve, certainly, on tonight’s performance.”
Wexford are out next the second weekend in June against the runners-up of the Joe McDonagh Cup, Kerry or Antrim. Egan won’t be complacent about that after what happened against Westmeath, still Wexford are clearly coming into to form.
They held Kilkenny to four points from play in the second half, fairly lording the high ball with Diarmuid O’Keeffe leading the way there. After building a three-point cushion at half-time, Wexford made sure they kept themselves on form throughout the second half too, even after Kilkenny drew ominously level again on the hour mark thanks to the free-taking of TJ Reid.
That end game included Damien Reck’s incredible goal-line interception on 68 minutes, Reid and then Eoin Cody seemingly through in front of goal, and there was no let up even with four minutes of added-time, Wexford simply refusing to back down.
Pádraig Walsh came off the bench for Kilkenny to bring it back to a three-point game in added-time, before Dunbar had the last say with a terrific point down through the middle – another of the many wow points of the second half.
Early on Wexford looked in some danger. In the eighth minute, taking full advantage of a free called on Cian Kenny, Reid kept the ball alive to feed the ball out to Martin Keoghan, who smashed the net – promptly adding to the 2-1 he hit against Dublin last weekend. Keoghan then scored from play, and with that Wexford were five points down after 10 minutes.
They promptly fought back with that abundant verve and spirit, Chin scoring his first free, quickly followed by the trademark long-range point from O’Keeffe, deep inside his own half. Keoghan then set up a neat score for Adrian Mullen, bringing Kilkenny to 1-5; they wouldn’t score for another 15 minutes.
Simon Donohoe hit the first of two from considerable distance, O’Keeffe bringing them level on 23 minutes. Invigorated, Wexford started hunting for goals, and on 34 minutes, latching straight on to a long puck-out, Oisín Foley drove it home with considerable style, into the top right of Eoin Murphy’s goal from close range.
In the two minutes of added-time, Conor McDonald also latched on to a long ball from Rory O’Connor, close to Murphy’s goal, and it seemed he’d have no say in that either, only Murphy did, brilliantly saving this time.
No stopping Wexford on the night though.
KILKENNY: 1 E Murphy; 4 T Walsh, 3 C Delaney, 7 P Deegan; 5 M Carey (0-2), 6 R Reid, 2 M Butler; 8 A Murphy, 9 A Mullen (0-2); 23 W Walsh (0-1), 11 TJ Reid (0-10, eight frees, one 65), 26 T Phelan; 13 C Kenny, 15 E Cody, 14 M Keoghan (1-1).
Subs: 24 B Ryan (0-1, a sideline) for Phelan (45 mins), 22 James Maher for Murphy (54), 12 P Walsh (0-1) for Kenny, 10 J Donnelly for Keoghan (both 69).
WEXFORD: 1 M Fanning; 6 D Reck, 3 L Ryan (0-1), 4 C Devitt; 2 S Donoghue (0-2), 5 M O'Hanlon, 7 P Foley; 12 L Óg McGovern (0-1), 8 D O'Keeffe (0-2); 10 J O'Connor (0-1), 11 K Foley, 13 O Foley (1-0); 15 R O'Connor (0-2), 14 C McDonald (0-1), 9 L Chin (0-9, seven frees).
Subs: 21 C Flood (0-1) for Devitt (42 mins, inj), 20 M Dwyer (0-1) for J O'Connor (55 mins), 19 C Dunbar (0-1) for Foley (57 mins), 23 C McGuckin for Foley (62 mins), 24 P Morris for McDonald (72 mins).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).
First half: 1-8/1-11
Second half: 0-10/0-11
From play: 1-8/1-15
Frees conceded: 16/17
Yellow cards: 1/1
Red cards: 0/0