Wexford beat Cats for first time in Nowlan Park since 1957
Visitors were noticeably fitter, slicker, quicker and more urgent in all they did
Wexford’s Conor McDonald celebrates scoring his side’s second goal. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Wexford 2-18 Kilkenny 0-19
So much for keeping something back for the summer. We came to Nowlan Park not quite knowing what to expect but it turned out that all Wexford have up their sleeves are a set of well-manicured biceps and the drive of a winter spent vowing not to take this anymore.
They hadn’t beaten Kilkenny in Nowlan Park since 1957. They hadn’t beaten them anywhere since 2004, nor come within 11 points of them since 2011. Yet their superiority was total here, leaving them with five points to spare at the end and probably only the ghost of beatings past to blame for not making it double figures.
Wexford were noticeably fitter than Kilkenny, slicker and quicker and more urgent in everything they did. Brian Cody lost the tactical battle and his players looked bamboozled at times, Pádraig Walsh having been cleaned out by Conor McDonald and Paul Murphy occasionally unsure as to whether to stick or twist as the spare man.
Davy Fitz let a smile play on his lips afterwards at thoughts of the great vengeance and furious anger that will rain down upon his side when next they meet, most likely in Wexford Park in June. But there’s no joy in spending a sunny day worrying about tomorrow’s rain.
“I always think you’ve a chance,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t care who you’re with. I don’t buy into a lot of stuff that teams are invincible. They might beat you but you learn and come back. I’m sure Brian will study this and come back vicious again. And I know that. But you know what? That’s the type of challenge I love. That’s why I love going up against him. I’m eight or nine years coming up against him and he’s still as passionate.”
Kilkenny have plenty to puzzle over in the next 10 weeks. Pádraig Walsh had been generally judged a success at full-back before he met a buzzing Conor McDonald. Once again, their forward line looked light on wizardry with TJ Reid shut down by James Breen from open play and Richie Hogan appearing leaden. That Wexford had six goal chances to Kilkenny’s one tells quite a tale.
But for Eoin Murphy in the Kilkenny goal, Wexford might have been a distance clear at half-time. The reigning All Star goalkeeper made an early deposit on the 2017 award with a couple of outrageous saves, trampolining to his left both times to make flying right-handed stops that defied belief.
The first, from Conor McDonald, came inside the opening minute and counted as his first touch of the game. The second, from David Redmond, showed jaw-dropping athleticism to first make the save and then get up to waft away the rebound. It was bravura stuff and when coupled with Wexford’s lack of a long-range free-taker, it kept Kilkenny much closer to Wexford than they ought to have been.
The sides went in level at half-time, Kilkenny 0-10 matching Wexford’s 1-7. The Wexford goal came from a streak through the Kilkenny defence by Paul Morris, a quick transfer to Aidan Nolan and a dish off to David Dunne. Maybe Morris pushed Paul Murphy in the skirmish for the origin ball but once he was away, the execution was admirably ruthless.
With the wind behind them in the second half, Wexford gradually pulled away. The long-range frees that Lee Chin and McDonald were dropping wide or short in the first half were handed to goalkeeper Mark Fanning for the second and he started splitting the posts. Morris landed a stunner from 70 metres, McDonald followed him in with another of similar distance.
They could afford to see Fanning ping a penalty off the post and McDonald draw another brilliant save out of Murphy. Kilkenny hung in with frees from Reid but precious little else. When a long Fanning free beat everyone and dropped over the line in injury-time. Wexford were out the gap.
“They deserved to win the game, definitely,” said Cody afterwards. “We had a strong wind in the first half and didn’t put it to our advantage. We fought away after half-time but they were the better side and deserved to win.
“Throughout the field, they were strong. We probably didn’t take our chances in the first half but in saying that Eoin Murphy was outstanding in goal and they could possibly have had more goals. But there’s no magical answer to it. They were very strong throughout the field and they were the better team.”
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Pádraig Walsh, Shane Prendergast; Lester Ryan, Jason Cleere, Paddy Deegan (0-1); Ollie Walsh (0-2), Cillian Buckley (0-1); Colin Fennelly, Walter Walsh (0-1), TJ Reid (0-10, 0-9 frees); Liam Blanchfield (0-3), Richie Hogan (0-1), Conor Martin. Subs: Jonjo Farrell for Ryan, 50 mins;
Wexford: Mark Fanning (1-2, 1-2 free); Willie Devereux, Liam Ryan, James Breen; Damien Reck, Matthew O’Hanlon, Diarmuid O’Keeffe (0-1); Aidan Nolan, Shaun Murphy; Conor McDonald (0-8, 0-4 frees), David Redmond (0-1), Jack O’Connor; Paul Morris (0-3), Lee Chin (0-3, 0-1 free), David Dunne (1-0). Subs: Jack Guiney for Redmond, 53 mins; Harry Kehoe for O’Connor, 60 mins; Barry Carton for Morris, 70 mins; Aaron Maddock for Nolan, 72 mins
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)