Wexford 4-17 Kilkenny 1-9
Wexford hurling may have suffered over recent weeks but they bounced back with a scintillating display to claim a three-in-a-row of provincial titles with a marvellous 17-point victory over arch rivals Kilkenny in the Leinster under-21 final before a crowd of 7,800 at Wexford Park on Wednesday evening .
Wexford were bidding for a treble for only the second time since the competition’s inception. Last recorded between 1969-71, they went on to lose the three All-Ireland finals to Cork.
The Model County boys were hit with a Kilkenny scoring blitz inside the opening 90 seconds, a start which rocked the home crowd as it was reminiscent of what had befallen their senior counterparts in their two championship outings.
Kilkenny grabbed the initiative from the throw-in as Liam Hickey drove through the centre. His initial attempt was partially blocked but he recovered to beat goalkeeper Oliver O'Leary with a low shot, while one minute later William Brennan followed with a point giving them a 1-1 to 0-0 lead.
For their part Wexford were finding it difficult to settle during this opening spell as Kilkenny were firing forward at every opportunity. It took a Conor McDonald pointed free in the third minute to settle the home side, although Liam Blanchfield responded with a Kilkenny point straight from the puck-out.
Urged on by the large crowd, Wexford suddenly sprang to life, with a glorious 25 minutes of hurling. The basic skills were there, their marquee forward began to take the game to the Kilkenny defence. Points flowed from Kevin Foley, a McDonald free, Jack O'Connor with a huge effort from inside his own half, while full forward McDonald was now on fire sending over two points, one a free.
The all important breakthrough came as the Kilkenny defence came under incessant pressure, McDonald collecting a long Paudie Foley ball to find the net with a splendid finish having shortened his grip as he moved in on goal, leaving his side with a 1-6 to 1-2 lead after 17 minutes.
Kilkenny were finding it hugely difficult to win outfield possession, and in a three-minute spell they were further rocked when Wexford struck for goals from James Cash and Cathal Dunbar on 20 and 23 minutes which helped them to a 3-8 to 1-4 interval lead.
Wexford would have been unbackable at half-time and they justified this optimism on the resumption as they continued to dominate their arch rivals with a scintillating display of hurling. For their part Kilkenny gave their all but they were outhurled all over the pitch.
McDonald and Conor Martin exchanged points at the start of the second half, but in the 33rd minute any hope of a Kilkenny revival was well and truly buried, as a Wexford moved opened the Kilkenny defence. Cash placed a delightful ball across the face of the goal for corner forward Cathal Dunbar to find the net from close range giving the home side a 4-9 to 1-5 lead.
While Kilkenny kept battling they were unable to break down a dominant home defence and they could only manage four points for the remainder of the game. McDonald continued to inspire his side with splendid points both from play and frees from a variety of angles.
WEXFORD: O O'Leary; S Donohoe, L Ryan, E Conroy; J White, P Foley, J O'Connor (0-1); C Devitt, G Bailey; A Kenny, K Foley (0-3), J Cash (1-0); C Dunbar (2-1), C McDonald (1-10, seven frees), P Sutton.
Subs: T French for Sutton (45 mins); Shane Murphy (0-1) for Bailey (47 mins); S Kelly for Cash (50 mins); S Kenny (0-1) for Ryan (57 mins); Seán Murphy for Donohoe (59 mins).
KILKENNY: D Brennan; E Cody (0-1), C Delaney, C Wallace; J Cleere, E Morrissey, D Cody; P Deegan, W Brennan (0-1); M Mansfield, C Martin (0-3, all frees), L Blanchfield (0-2); K Kenny, C Bolger, L Hickey (1-0).
Subs: J Maher for Mansfield (21); C Ryan (0-2) for Brennan (36); B Troy for Cleere (36); T Phelan for Kenny (52).
Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).