Cody helps Cats have last laugh
Kilkenny 0-22 Wexford 1-18
Kilkenny will contest their 17th Leinster final in the Brian Cody era on July 1 after squeezing past Wexford in a pulsating contest in Nowlan Park on Saturday night.
Nine points down after 37 minutes, the home side then outscored Wexford 15-5 to secure the win they needed to earn a date against All-Ireland champions Galway in the provincial decider.
Cody has never been afraid to make bold decisions and after making four unannounced changes before the throw-in, he performed more surgery at half-time which ultimately turned the game.
Richie Hogan (back for the first time since last year's All-Ireland and who hit three of Kilkenny's nine first-half wides), Colin Fennelly (who failed to make an impact) and Conor O'Shea were all withdrawn.
Replacements Richie Leahy and Joey Holden scored 0-3 between them, while the latter's introduction allowed Pádraig Walsh switch to wing-back, where he had a storming second-half, scoring a monster point in the 44th minute which rallied the Kilkenny fans in the attendance of 17,516.
Substitute John Donnelly, although only on the field for nine minutes, grabbed two crucial late points which did much to dampen a Wexford fightback inspired by wing-back Paudie Foley, who scored all but one of his side's six second-half points.
"It was really a tester for the players, but they responded very well and we just worked, worked, worked. Everybody really drove on and it was a great effort from everybody," suggested Cody afterwards.
True to form, Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald was altogether more colourful, if uncharacteristically enigmatic. Clearly he was unhappy with the performance of referee James McGrath, but voiced his displeasure in a roundabout way.
"I think I'm wasting my time in this job," he declared, but declined to say why. "There's frees given in one half and they're not given in the other half and that's fact.
"I love the way Kilkenny play; I'll always admire it. But we might as well waste our time if it's not 100 per cent across the board. That's being totally honest.
"For us to get what we got out of it tonight, that was a superhuman effort by them. Four weeks is tough going. I think if we had a week's break, trust me, we would have finished the game a lot stronger."
Wexford hit a purple patch in the first half, scoring 1-6 without reply, and when they scored the first two points of the second-half, the Cats looked in real trouble.
However, in their moment of crisis they found a way to come back. All is not lost, of course, for Wexford, who will meet either Carlow or Westmeath in the preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final on July 7/8.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-11 (9f, 1 65), C Fogarty, R Leahy, J Donnelly 0-2 each, E Murphy (f), P Walsh, E Morrissey, J Maher, J Holden 0-1 each.
Wexford: P Foley (4f), R O'Connor (2f) 0-5 each; P Morris 1-1, L Chin 0-3, C McDonald 0-2, D O'Keeffe, K Foley 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, P Walsh, P Deegan; C O'Shea, C Buckley, E Morrisey; C Fogarty, J Maher; W Walsh, TJ Reid, C Fennelly; B Sheehan, R Hogan, L Scanlon. Subs: M Keoghan for Hogan ht; R Leahy for Fennelly ht; J Holden for O'Shea ht, L Blanchfield for Sheehan 46m, J Donnelly for Scanlon 64m
Wexford: M Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan, S C Firman; P Foley, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; K Foley, S Murphy; L Chin, A Nolan, D Dunne; P Morris, R O'Connor, C McDonald. Subs: H Kehoe for K Foley 54m; J O'Connor for Dunne 54m; S Donohoe for O'Keeffe 62m, S Tomkins for Morris 70m
Ref: JMcGrath (Westmeath)