Wexford 1-19 Galway 1-19
The Henry Shefflin era doesn't yet begin in earnest and instead will leave him fuming.
Bringing his Galway team to the opposite side of the country, Shefflin looked poised to return with their first full points of the Leinster round-robin campaign, before Wexford rallied and raged with startling heart and style to salvage a draw with the last play of the match.
In truth Galway contributed handsomely to their cause.
It took a while to generate some championship spirit, only once it did it was roaring. Six points down at half-time, scoring only four points in the opening 30 minutes, Wexford came back to life because they simply had to.
This being the Wexford team who went unbeaten in five rounds of the league before being taken apart by Waterford in the semi-final: for both teams the pressure and expectation was in the here and now.
Galway were sitting on a narrow lead for long stages after Brian Concannon’s goal after five minutes, and in the end simply took their eye off the win.
With seven minutes of normal time remaining. Conor McDonald mined a goal back for Wexford, deftly flicking into the Galway net, surrounded by defenders, after initially miscuing his kick. Suddenly they were back to three, 1-18 to 1-15. Game back on in every sense, McDonald keeping them in it.
Tom Monaghan put Galway four in front again just as the 70-minutes elapsed, and the game spilled into the five minutes added on, all of which was lorded by Wexford.
Step up captain Lee Chin, on after 48 minutes for his remarkable cameo: Chin hit all four of Wexford's reply, a quite stunning display for a player out for weeks with a hamstring. Two frees in succession bought Wexford back to two, only when Pádraic Mannion made one great fetch it looked like Galway would hang on.
Instead, Galway lost all nerve, Conor Cooney wasting time over the free awarded to Mannion; from the throw-in Chin sent the ball over the bar from play and all of Wexford were now roaring with them.
Another free from Wexford, right on the 75 minutes and from some 65 metres out, was converted by Chin to earn the draw and rapturous applause. Unlikely yes, undeserving no. In those last 10 minutes, also Éanna Murphy pulled off one great stop from Rory O’Connor, so Galway were definitely living dangerously.
With greater will and enthusiasm Galway made their commanding possession count early on, even if at times their accuracy was way off.
There was some sense Shefflin kept a little powder dry until now: Galway's first championship since the Joe Canning era, their intention to get going from the off here was clear, just not accurate. O'Connor struck first for Wexford with a free, after Galway had sent their first four shots at goal wide – three of them off the hurl of Conor Cooney.
Suitably peeved, Cooney won the puck-out from his third wide and promptly charged down on goal, deftly passing off to Concannon who struck clear into the Wexford net.
Galway pressed on relentlessly from there, bossing Wexford in most sectors and soon going seven points clear. Tom Monaghan, Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion all scored from play, and after 30 minutes Galway were up 1-7 to 0-4.
Four points from Wexford in that same spell was as poor as it sounds, O'Connor struggling to get on any clear possession, McDonald frustrated with his lot too. Simon Donoghue then hit a sweet point from distance, McDonald scored his second, before they got their first real break.
McDonald was hauled down by Gearóid McInerney on 34 minutes, the penalty suitably awarded. Up came goalkeeper Mark Fanning only his shot went the wrong side of the crossbar, much to his obvious dismay.
Wexford got one more back when O’ Connor landed his first from play, another free by Conor Cooney the last play of the half: it left Galway 1-11 to 0-8 in front, their tally of 10 wides in that period alone the obvious indication of how much further they should have been ahead.
In reality, Galway had lost four of their last five championship matches, so a win here was paramount. Indeed it was critical encounter for both teams, the winner a likely Leinster finalist, the loser likely headed for a scrap with Dublin for the last place out of the province.
For Wexford manager Darragh Egan, also his first championship game in charge, it’s not the ideal start, only from where his team was he’ll certainly take it.
From here Galway’s Leinster schedule is possibly kinder, games against Westmeath and Laois in between this game and Kilkenny and Dublin. Three at home too. Wexford host Dublin next Saturday, while Galway host Westmeath. Pressure on already.
WEXFORD: M Fanning (0-1, a penalty); S Donohoe (0-1), L Ryan, M O'Hanlon; P Foley, D Reck, C Flood (0-1); K Foley, D O'Keeffe; L Óg McGovern, O Foley (0-2), C McGuckin; R O'Connor (0-6, five frees), C McDonald (1-2), M Dwyer.
Subs: C Dunbarr (0-1) for Dwyer (45 mins), L Chin (0-5, three frees, one 65) for Foley (48), J O'Connor for McGuckin (52), O Pepper for Foley (67).
GALWAY: E Murphy; J Grealish, Dáithí Burke (capt), D Morrissey (0-1); P Mannion (0-1), G McInerney, F Burke; J Cooney (0-2), T Monaghan (0-4); E Niland, C Cooney (0-7, four frees, two 65s), C Fahy; C Whelan (0-2), B Concannon (1-1), C Mannion (0-1).
Subs: G Lee for Niland (54 mins), K Cooney for Fahy (66), David Burke for Whelan (60, inj), J Coen for Burke (75).
Referee: Thomas Walsh (Waterford).