Saturday 18 January 2020

Dramatic draw sees Wexford and Kilkenny book a Leinster final rematch

Wexford 0-21 Kilkenny 1-18

BODY ON THE LINE: Wexford’s Kevin Foleybreaks his hurley as he blocks down Kilkenny’s Billy Ryan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
BODY ON THE LINE: Wexford’s Kevin Foleybreaks his hurley as he blocks down Kilkenny’s Billy Ryan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Even Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, might have struggled to come up with an ending as dramatic as we witnessed in a heaving Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday night.

Though Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald knew that Dublin had beaten Galway, as the frenetic action in front of them reached a crescendo there was little they could do to influence the outcome.

Fitzgerald did manage to get a message through to Diarmuid O'Keeffe that his side needed to level the match in order to stay in the championship. Obviously the message didn't get through to all the players as Aidan Nolan's furious remonstrations with referee Fergal Horgan - presumably over a phantom 90 seconds of unplayed injury - earned him a red card. It turned out that the stadium clock and not Horgan was guilty of bad time keeping.

Lee Chin, who had earlier seen a long range free rebounded back into play off the upright, held his nerve in the third minute of injury-time to convert another long distance effort to tie up the game for the thirteenth and final time.

So Wexford, despite drawing three of their games but crucially being the only unbeaten team in the series, qualified for their second provincial final under Fitzgerald in three seasons.

"It's easy to smile tonight, but in two weeks' time you'll be needing more than a smile! The battle is fierce, the challenge is terrific," said the veteran Cats' boss who faces his eighteenth final as a coach.

"I wasn't concerned about who we were going to meet in a Leinster final. I wanted to see us playing in a Leinster final, and we are, and that's the big thing from our point of view."

As always Davy was more animated: "Do you know what? I have to say, I've been in Munster all of my playing career, this is absolutely incredible - to have this down here, to have this atmosphere, to have that rivalry.

"I think it's great for hurling, I really do. And I'm so lucky to be part of it, I'm so happy that I came to Wexford to have that opportunity to play Kilkenny in games like this. It's immense.

"I've heard talk that the hurling championship this year might have been off a small bit, well if anyone can tell me the Leinster Championship has been off then they are off their rocker, because there has been unbelievable hurling in the Leinster Championship this summer, and that's the truth.

"Four teams end up on five points, Galway - who won the All-Ireland two years ago are out of the championship. It's incredible."

In an uncharacteristic Kilkenny move, they made four pre-match changes the most significant of which saw the return of Cillian Buckley for the first time since last year's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Limerick.

But he was well off the pace and Diarmuid O'Keeffe was the outstanding midfielder in the first half hitting four excellent points from play as Wexford, backed by the breeze, led 0-13 to 0-10 at the break.

There were outstanding performers on both sides with Matthew O'Hanlon holding TJ Reid scoreless from play though the centre-back was sent off in the dying minutes after picking up a second yellow card.

At the other end Pádraig Walsh was superb as the Kilkenny sweeper and he scored one monster point from the touchline. Indeed, a feature of the contest was the scoring threat of the Kilkenny defence who availed of the freedom afforded them by Wexford system to score 0-5 from play.

But it was teenage corner-forward Adrian Mullen who shone brightest hitting 1-3 from play.

The goal came courtesy of a misplaced short puck out from Mark Fanning which was intercepted by Colin Fennelly who then lined his cousin.

"I had given in an instruction to go long and the next thing I saw the ball was in the back of the net. But we dealt with it," said Fitzgerald.

Scorers - Wexford: L Chin 0-6, (5f, 1 65) D O'Keeffe 0-4, R O'Connor, P Morris, C McDonald, J O'Connor 0-2, P Foley 0-2 (2f) each. K Foley 0-1. Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-7 (7f), A Mullen 1-3, C Fennelly 0-2, P Murphy, J Holden, C Fogarty, P Walsh, P Deegan, W Walsh 0-1 each.



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