Wexford 1-23 Galway 0-23
This was a game Wexford would probably have lost a couple of years ago but on Saturday afternoon at Innovate Wexford Park they turned in an explosive finish as two superb Conor McDonald points helped them secure a three-point victory in this thrilling Allianz National Hurling League quarter-final to dethrone reigning league champions Galway.
Davy Fitzgerald had every reason to feel confident going into this game, particularly with star attacker Lee Chin passed fit to take his place, leaving Cathal Dunbar from the original selection to lose out. Last year when these sides met in the league it was Wexford who secured their promotion spot only for Galway to reverse the result with a provincial championship final victory.
Galway, who lost out on promotion when losing to Limerick, made one change from their original selection with Joseph Cooney coming in at wing forward for Niall Burke, who took his place on the bench. While both sides were looking to prolong their league campaign it was also a dress rehearsal for the provincial championship, as the Westerners will also make the journey to the south-east, making this latest clash all the more intriguing.
In excellent conditions, the sun shining and no breeze, the scene was ideally set and neither side held back through the opening exchanges as they tried to leave an imprint on the game. Within 30 seconds of the start Johnny Coen had the visitors in front with a fine point, but Wexford pressed hard on the puck-out as Jack O'Connor fetched a high ball, only to be fouled, with Chin bringing the sides level from the resulting free.
While it was a Joe Canning pointed free that restored Galway's lead, Chin was uncharacteristically wide with two 35-metre frees, before a a great Kevin Foley point out of midfield brought the sides level, 0-2 each after nine minutes.
The accuracy of both sides was suffering in the slippy underfoot conditions as Diarmuid O'Keeffe and Conor Whelan exchanged points, while Rory O'Connor who had assumed the responsibility of the free-taking, struck over two fine points, one after a foul on brother, Jack, who had caught a huge Mark Fanning puck-out out under the stands. It left the home side with a 0-6 to 0-5 lead, with a huge Diarmuid O'Keeffe point from out on the sideline extending that advantage into a 0-8 to 0-5 lead after 21 minutes.
Galway gradually edged their way back into the game, responding with four unanswered points through Johnny Coen, Conor Whelan, David Burke and Jack Coyne to edge 0-9 to 0-8 back in front.
Everything was beginning to go Wexford's way as they surged forward with a string of attacks. Three minutes before the break Rory O'Connor surged through the centre but his effort for goal was brilliantly saved by James Skehill, with the lurking McDonald pulling the rebound low to the net.
Chin extended his side into a 1-9 to 0-8 lead, but it was Galway who finished off the half with two Canning points, one free and a 65.
Galway opened the second half with a flourish, with points from Cathal Mannion and two Canning frees to move one point in front. Paudie Foley pointed two huge frees in response and Wexford regained the lead through an excellent Kevin Foley point out of midfield.
There was little separating the sides, but it was Wexford who were the more clinical as Jack O'Connor and Liam Ryan fired over long points, but Galway received a real blow when forward Jack Coyne received a straight red carded following an off the ball incident.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Galway, through the accuracy of Canning and sub Jason Flynn, were still level, 1-17 to 0-20, entering the closing 10 minutes. But with the respective attacks battling for scores it was Chin and a Rory O'Connor free that had Wexford leading 1-19 to 0-20, entering the closing five minutes, when a Canning pointed free kept them in contention.
Both teams gave everything in a pulsating finish but it was Wexford who finished strongest with two superb McDonald points securing a dramatic victory and a home semi-final clash with neighbours Kilkenny next Saturday.
WEXFORD: M Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan (0-1), S Donohoe; S Murphy, P Foley (0-4, three frees), M O'Hanlon; D O'Keeffe (0-3), K Foley (0-2); R O'Connor (0-5, four frees), J O'Connor (0-1), C McDonald (1-3); L Chin (0-3, one free); P Morris, D Dunne.
Subs: W Devereux for Reck (inj, 14 mins); A Nolan for Dunne (53); H Kehoe (0-1) for J O'Connor (68); C Dunbar for Morris (68).
GALWAY: J Skehill; A Tuohey, J Hanbury, P Mannion; J Grealish, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen (0-2), D Burke (0-1); C Mannion (0-1), J Canning (0-12, nine frees, one 65), J Cooney (0-1); C Whelan (0-4), C Cooney, J Coyne (0-1).
Subs: S Loftus for Grealish (h/t); J Flynn (0-1) for Burke (57 mins); B Concannon for Cooney (67).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).