Davy Fitz revolution has Wexford on promotion cusp
NHL1B: Wexford 1-21 Galway 3-13
Davy Fitzgerald sounded pleasantly surprised when told over 7,000 had watched his born-again Wexford hurlers stage a remarkable comeback to topple Galway in their Salthill stomping ground.
He was less shocked by yesterday's final outcome - a two-point victory that leaves promotion to the Allianz League's top-flight firmly in their own resurgent grasp.
"Seven thousand here? That is incredible," the new Wexford manager enthused, fresh from an extended autograph signing session for the large travelling faithful. "I am delighted we are giving them something to shout about.
"At different times, it did look like it was going from us. It stayed with us. The end was so exciting - I just knew we were going to get over the line."
Even from the Pearse Stadium press box, you could sense that too. Wexford had all the momentum. They looked fitter too, albeit Galway's relative lethargy was maybe more in the head than in the legs.
The team that ran Tipperary closest last year were 1/3 favourites beforehand. Despite facing the elements they led by seven points on the half-hour after Johnny Coen arrowed home their second goal.
They still led by six after 53 minutes, courtesy of Joe Canning's howitzer penalty with his first touch since wrecking his hamstring last August.
Yet, each time, they took the maroon boot off Yellowbelly throats. Wexford sensed their opportunity and landed the last five points of the first half to trail by just two - 2-7 to 0-11.
Their riposte to Canning's bullet was better still: a 1-6 salvo whereas Galway managed just a solitary monster free from 'keeper Colm Callanan in that decisive quarter.
No wonder Micheál Donoghue didn't try to mask his disappointment afterwards. "When the momentum goes and switches, it's easy to say have they got more fitness?" the Galway boss demurred.
"From our perspective we were disappointed with the fight. We let them come back. We were in a strong position and we could have fought more and, look, we've got to take it on the chin now and move on."
Wexford, though, are the real movers in Division 1B. Following back-to-back comebacks against their two putative promotion rivals, Limerick and now Galway, it's hard to see them blowing up against Kerry, Offaly or Laois.
"It is in our own hands, so it is," Fitzgerald accepted, before switching to full-scale anti-complacency alert.
"Offaly beat Wexford last year. We know what is ahead of us. Laois, probably, should have beaten Wexford last year - Wexford got over them by a point. I think Kerry are the most improved team in 1B.
"I am saying to the people of Wexford, 'Don't get carried away'. Come and know that we are going to be in three dogfights. I won't let them take it for granted. We will pay each team respect. We will treat them as if we were playing the All-Ireland champions."
Despite leaving it late, there was no doubting the merit of yesterday's win as Wexford battled back from several setbacks - first the double-whammy concession of goals from Joseph Cooney (16 minutes) and Coen (30 minutes), and then Canning's penalty after Jason Flynn was unceremoniously flattened.
Even while playing in bursts, they had many contributors to a winning cause.
All six forwards scored from play: Paul Morris embellished his 0-3 from play with three assists while Conor McDonald finished with 0-7 (5f) thanks to a late match-winning flourish, a 70th minute equaliser from play and two injury-time frees.
All three Wexford half-backs also pointed, with the workaholic Diarmuid O'Keeffe driving them forward at every opportunity.
Yet they were still indebted to 'keeper Mark Fanning at either end - first for brilliantly diverting Flynn's goal chance over the bar on 47 minutes, then for his clinical finish ten minutes later after Lee Chin won a questionable penalty.
"I haven't seen it back on television so it's going to be hard to comment," said Donoghue. "In real time we thought it was harsh enough, like. But, look, they got a lot of frees."
Not a happy camper.
SCORERS - Wexford: C McDonald 0-7 (5f), L Chin (2f), P Morris 0-3, M Fanning 1-0 (pen), A Nolan 0-2, S Donohue, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe, D Redmond, B Carton, P Doran 0-1 each. Galway: J Flynn 0-5 (2f, 1 '65'), J Cooney 1-1, J Coen, J Canning (1-0 pen) 1-0 each, C Cooney 0-3, C Whelan, David Burke, B Molloy, C Callanan (f) 0-1 each.
WEXFORD: M Fanning; E Moore, L Ryan, J Breen; S Donohue, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; S Murphy, J O'Connor; A Nolan, D Redmond, B Carton; C McDonald, L Chin, P Morris. Subs: H Kehoe for O'Connor (42), P Doran for Redmond (51), A Maddock for Carton (55), R Kehoe for Moore (60), D Dunne for Nolan (inj 62).
GALWAY: C Callanan; M Donoghue, J Hanbury, Daithí Burke; G McInerney, A Tuohy, A Harte; J Coen, D Burke; J Flynn, D Glennon, C Whelan; B Molloy, J Cooney, C Cooney. Subs: J Canning for Molloy (51), R Burke for McInerney (55), N Burke for Glennon (71).
YELLOW: Wexford 6 (O'Keeffe 10, Chin 18, McDonald 26, Nolan 47, Ryan 52, H Kehoe 57); Galway 5 (Glennon 5, Molloy 8, Daithí Burke 42, Tuohy 66, R Burke 73).
WIDES: Wexford 10 (7+3); Galway 9 (3+6).
REF: C McAllister (Cork). ATT: 7,006
MAN OF THE MATCH: Paul Morris (Wexford).