Wexford 2-15 Kilkenny 1-16
By Diarmuid O’Flynn
BRILLIANT, breath-taking, earth-quaking.
One shot, one split second of genius and for the second consecutive week, the settled world of hurling has been blown apart.
Last Sunday it was Waterford upsetting odds-on Tipperary in the Munster semi-final with a late goal; yesterday in sunny Croke Park, Leinster semi-final, the unsung boys of Wexford made that finish look mundane.
Kilkenny, seeking a record seventh consecutive Leinster title, came into this one as raging-hot favourites; when the two minutes of injury time had elapsed, even against a magnificent challenge by Wexford, they looked set to confirm that position.
In the 58th minute, DJ Carey, Wexford’s age-old nemesis, had finally made an appearance in what had been a well-beaten Kilkenny attack; 14 minutes later, into that second minute of injury time, and with his first real chance, he had struck what appeared the winning point for the Cats. Same old story. Another brave Wexford performance, but another win for the wizened and wily old guard. Then came the twist.
A late injury to full-back Darragh Ryan, one of a multitude of Wexford heroes on the day, added another couple of critical minutes to the clock; it gave Wexford time to launch one last assault. That attack yielded a hard-won sideline ball, left side of the pitch, exactly on the 45m line. Made to measure for sideline specialist Adrian Fenlon who, earlier in another sterling performance, had already pointed from the same side.
Adrian made good contact, the ball rose, headed straight at the target, but fell short, caught inside his own square by Kilkenny centre-back Peter Barry. With Barry’s clearance would surely come the final whistle, but that clearance never came. Peter did exactly the right thing, moved to his left, off the goal-line, protected the ball ’til he was well clear of the danger area. Threw it up to clear; blocked down, by Michael Jacob and in a twinkling, the diminutive full-forward had gathered, turned, and rifled an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net.
Kilkenny had opened the scoring, points from Henry Shefflin (a free) and midfielder Pat Tennyson giving them a two-point lead after two minutes, and the fear was there that the demolition job many had predicted was about to start. That it didn’t materialise has much to do with the way this Wexford team was prepared, the way they lined out, and the tactics adopted. A small but extremely pacy and skilful inside forward line of Michael ‘Mitch’ Jordan and the two Jacob brothers, Michael and Rory, had what was on paper an almost impregnable Kilkenny full-back line in trouble from the get-go.
In the half forward line, in the persons of Paul Carley, newcomer Eoin Quigley and Barry Lambert, Wexford also had pace and skill, also had Kilkenny pulled every which way. As the Wexford backs, solidly led down the middle by Darragh Ryan and Declan Ruth, began to get to grips with the Kilkenny attack, those forwards saw a steady supply of ball, and the Wexford scores started to come.
Points from Lambert, Jordan and Carley had them ahead by the fifth minute, and after Eddie Brennan had to settle for a Kilkenny point following a terrific block by Malachy Travers, Lambert again and Michael Jacob added to that Wexford lead. Kilkenny did come back, and it was 0-5 apiece after the first quarter, but even then it was evident; this Wexford challenge was real. Kilkenny did end the half one point ahead, 0-11 to 0-10, and wing-back Rory McCarthy had prevented almost a certain goal with a flying block on a Tommy Walsh shot, but this was very much game on.
Kilkenny were faster out of the traps again in the second-half, Ryan stretching to knock the ball away from goal-bound Jimmy Coogan inside ten seconds, Eddie Brennan capitalising on the break from a subsequent throw-in to boot Kilkenny into a four-point lead, 1-11 to 0-10. Back came Wexford with first a point, Fenlon’s sideline, then a goal of their own. Centre-forward Quigley, giving Peter Barry a torrid time, with the centre, a determined Rory Jacob getting his stick to the dropping ball, deflected past McGarry.
That goal was a massive boost to Wexford, showed them that Kilkenny were vulnerable, and in the next 15 minutes they added three points (Michael Jacob, Jordan, Curley), to lead 1-14 to 1-12 in the 58th minute. Inspired by the brilliant Tommy Walsh, Kilkenny did have their chance in that period, Fitzhenry making one super stop, a Shefflin special hitting the upright, a hat-trick of bad wides, before points from Shefflin (the only scoreable free conceded by a well disciplined Wexford defence in the second half), wing-back Sean Dowling and subdued captain Martin Comerford had it all level, 1-15 each, before injury time, Carley notching Wexford’s last point.
Then came the DJ minor, and that late drama.
Scorers: Wexford: M. Jacob 1-2; R. Jacob 1-1; B. Lambert 0-4 (0-3 frees); M. Jordan 0-3; P. Carley 0-3 (0-2 frees); E. Quigley, A. Fenlon (sideline) 0-1 each. Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 0-5 (all frees); E. Brennan 1-1; T. Walsh 0-2; M. Comerford 0-2; S. Dowling, P. Barry (free), P. Tennyson, J. Hoyne, J. Coogan, DJ Carey, 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, JJ Delaney; S. Dowling, P. Barry, B. Hogan; D. Lyng, P. Tennyson; J. Hoyne, H. Shefflin, T. Walsh; E. Brennan, M. Comerford, J. Coogan. Subs: DJ Carey (Coogan 58); A. Fogarty (Hoyne 65).
WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; D. O’Connor, D. Ryan, M. Travers; J. O’Connor (c), D. Ruth, R. McCarthy; A. Fenlon, T. Mahon; P. Carley, E. Quigley, B. Lambert; M. Jordan, M. Jacob, R. Jacob. Subs: L. Murphy (Lambert inj. 50); P. Codd (Mahon 62); C. Kehoe (Ryan inj. 68).
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath). Good job.