Wexford 1-20 Kilkenny 3-11
They’re back. We can say it now about Wexford and not worry about looking silly. They had every fibre of their being tested here by a Kilkenny side that may be a shadow of its former self but still wouldn’t know how to give anyone an easy game. And every time it was put up to them, Wexford found answers they just wouldn’t have had in them in years gone by.
It was a thumping, thrumming occasion. The hurling was ballistic at times, two teams hurtling into each other like crash test dummies. From early on, it was obvious that neither side was going to shrink from the physical exchanges - there would have been a brief future in it for any player who had.
Time was, Wexford would get munched if those were the terms and conditions. Not this Wexford, not here. Their first job was to achieve parity in the roughhouse stakes. It was a test they passed with honours.
Their next was to use the strong wind at their backs in the first-half to full effect. Here, they were only moderately successful. They went in at the break with 0-12 on the board, which was just about level par given the breeze. Kilkenny had 1-5 in reply. A gap of four points didn’t feel like enough for Wexford at that stage.
Wind or no wind, they were worth the lead. Kilkenny were a goal up inside the opening 90 seconds, TJ Reid sending Mark Fanning the wrong way from a penalty after Colin Fennelly was manhandled by half the Wexford defence. Again, time was Wexford minds would turn to the tent-folding after the concession of such an early goal against Kilkenny. But again, not this Wexford, not here.
They ran off the next five points in a row - and from five different players. Lee Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Liam Ryan, Lee Chin (a free), Jack Guiney and Jack O'Connor all landed points from distance. Wind-assisted, yes - but they had to be scored. They were expressions of belief more than anything, belief you couldn't always have relied on Wexford to possess.
Kilkenny were struggling. Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan were anonymous, Ger Aylward and Pádraig Walsh shot waywardly and were both replaced before half-time. Only Fennelly - when they could involve him - and a belligerent Reid were making any impact.
Steadily, Wexford pulled away. Conor McDonald, who was quiet enough in open play, chipped a couple of close-in frees. Chin, who was anything but, found his radar from distance and kept the numbers rolling. Paul Morris popped up with the last point of the half to send Wexford in with that four-point cushion.
Wind or no wind, they pushed on after the restart. Morris nailed his second of the night to push them five clear. And just to cherry the cake, David Redmond scuttled in a goal a minute later. Harry Kehoe had looked all on to pull the trigger but when he was hooked, Redmond scrambled home. A messy goal but when it puts you eight points up, aesthetics don't much matter.
This was it for Wexford. TJ potted a couple of frees, Walter Walsh knifed a point on the run. Five in it. A time for answers.
They found them. Morris speared his third, McDonald iced another free. They weren’t hiding, they weren’t shrinking from it. Chin was colossal all through and his 65 put them 1-16 to 1-9 ahead on 52 minutes.
But then, two goals in as many minutes from Kilkenny. First Fennelly, who was a nightmare for Wexford to deal with all night, blasted a shot from 20 metres that Fanning got a full hurley to but still not enough to stop it bobbling in. A minute later, Fennelly was hauled down for another penalty - again, Reid made no mistake. And just like that, the margin was down to a point, 1-16 to 3-9.
Chin wouldn't be denied though. In the next phase of play, he split the posts from somewhere near the middle of Wexford town. And when Lester Ryan hit back soon after, Chin replied with another 65. It was mesmeric stuff.
Cody ran his bench. Walter Walsh off, Richie Hogan off. Kilkenny were being ransacked, with only muscle memory that as a defence. TJ ended the night with 2-7, all of them from placed balls. Kilkenny lost because he got precious little help.
Actually, that’s not true. Kilkenny lost because Wexford took everything they threw at them and fired back with heart and hand.
Truly, they are back.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan (0-1), James Breen; Shaun Murphy, Matthew O'Hanlon (0-1), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Willie Deveraux, Aidan Nolan; Jack O'Connor (0-1), Jack Guiney (0-1), Harry Kehoe; Conor McDonald (0-5, 0-4 frees), Lee Chin (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-2 65), Paul Morris (0-3). Subs: David Redmond (1-0) for O'Connor, 32 mins; Shane Tomkins (0-1) for Nolan, 58 mins; Podge Doran for Kehoe, 62 mins; Kevin Foley for Morris, 66 mins
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Robert Lennon, Pádraig Walsh, Conor O'Shea; Conor Fogarty, Paul Murphy, Kieran Joyce; Cillian Buckley, Paddy Deegan (0-1); Lester Ryan (0-2), Walter Walsh (0-1), TJ Reid (2-7, 2-0 pen, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65); Ger Aylward, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly (1-0). Subs: Liam Blanchfield for P Walsh, 30 mins; Chris Bolger for Aylward, 33 mins; Kevin Kelly for W Walsh; Richie Reid for Hogan, 68 mins
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)