Smiles all around for Wexford and Kilkenny amid the swirling madness

Smiles all around for Wexford and Kilkenny amid the swirling madness
Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley and Paddy Deegan with Lee Chin of Wexford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Wexford 0-21 - 1-18 Kilkenny

The aftermath took its cue from the madness just ended.

When the seventy-something minutes of hurling were over, and both sets of supporters understood that they would meet again in the provincial final a fortnight later, a delirious wave of giddiness washed over the masses.

People from both tribes swept onto the pitch, drawn like a million magnets to the battleground that had engulfed the senses of all 15,200 onlookers as they considered the consequences of this draw, and of Galway’s loss to Dublin in Parnell Park.

There were three different announcements over the tannoy about children lost amid the bedlam, more again relating to misplaced raincoats and car keys. If this had been the thirties, we’d have drowned in an ocean of flat caps tossed into the air.

Who says a draw has to be like kissing your sister?

In one corner there were fans from Wexford and Kilkenny doing a little jig together to ‘Dancing at the Crossroads’ and yet the détente will be long forgotten by the time they resume hostilities in Croke Park at the end of the month.

“It’s easy to smile tonight,” said Brian Cody who was clearly feeling the effects of all that adrenalin given the unusual length at which he spoke afterwards, “but in two weeks’ time you’ll be needing more than a smile!

The battle is fierce, the challenge is terrific. 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.

This was elemental, tribal hurling.

If there has been one criticism aimed at modern hurling at the elite level it has been the almost effortlessly expanding scoring rates and the balletic nature of games that swing from end to end like a ball over a tennis net.

This wasn’t one of those. Wexford on Saturday night was a game of blood, sweat and cheers. Flashpoints erupted over what should have been minor disputes about line balls. Challenges thundered in like thunderbolts from Zeus himself.

“We never lost the fight for the battle and that was the key in the end,” said Cody.

Davy Fitzgerald said much the same but it was a controlled aggression in the main on both sides and it was monitored with no little skill and understanding by referee Fergal Horgan.

Only once did it really overstep the mark and that was five minutes from time when Matthew O’Hanlon levelled an unsuspecting Enda Morrissey with a late and needless and reckless shoulder charge underneath the main stand.

The Wexford co-captain earned a second yellow for a challenge that even Fitzgerald had to admit later was ill-considered and then O’Hanlon’s colleague and substitute Aidan Nolan got himself a straight red after Horgan brought proceedings to an end.

Nolan’s punishment seemed to arise out of anger and the confusion that engulfed the ground at the end with the teams level, uncertainty over events in Dublin and a match clock that suggested the four additional minutes hadn’t yet ended.

He appeared to think that Wexford needed to do more and that Horgan had cut short their efforts too soon. It was one more spoke in a wheel that was rotating at a rate of knots, so much so that Fitzgerald was adamant a half hour later that there had been no second dismissal.

Kilkenny's Huw Lawlor and Padraig Walsh block a goal effort from Conor McDonald of Wexford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Kilkenny's Huw Lawlor and Padraig Walsh block a goal effort from Conor McDonald of Wexford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Whatever Nolan said, or did, it made for an unfortunate end to a game that had wound the tension tighter than a drum down the stretch, with both sides hitting the post and Lee Chin landing a free from distance in the 72nd minute to salvage the draw.

It was nothing less than the home side merited. They took a three-point lead into the dressing rooms at half-time having played with a slight wind at their backs and yet it seemed at the time to be slim reward for all their efforts.

O’Hanlon was like glue on TJ Reid for over an hour, keeping the Kilkenny dangerman scoreless from play all day, and Diarmuid O’Keeffe bombed forward from centrefield to pop over four points on the run in that first period.

Wexford were aggressive, in a good way, and Kevin Foley was sweeping with effect but Conor McDonald and Rory O’Connor both had goals denied by sensational defending – a hook from Padraig Walsh and Huw Lawlor’s goalline clearance.

Spurned chances would be a theme throughout with the combined wides and shorts count topping 30 by the end. Wexford registered four alone in the first ten minutes after the break before Kilkenny landed the evening’s heaviest blow.

Adrian Mullen’s goal, arising from a botched puckout and steal by Colin Fennelly, gave Kilkenny the lead for the first time since the opening exchanges and now it would be Wexford’s turn to cling on to some coattails.

Mullen was superb after a quiet day against Galway the week before, claiming 1-3 from play. And with Eoin Murphy, Joey Holden, Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh all starting again after injury, Kilkenny were looking more sure of themselves.

That Wexford hung on is no small thing. Rory O’Connor and Paul Morris came into the game in the last quarter, Jack O’Connor came off the bench to land two points. Different men stood up and made sure they were counted.

You would suspect that Kilkenny will start as slight favourites again in HQ. That Reid, so clinical in his three games before this, will hardly be kept so quiet again and that this game will stand to the likes of Walsh and Buckley et al.

Wexford's Paul Morris and Lee Chin tackle Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Wexford's Paul Morris and Lee Chin tackle Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

But then Wexford will see room to improve amid the garlands too. Fitzgerald hinted as much. A return of eight points from Chin and Paudie Foley’s 13 dead balls suggests, yet again, that they can mine more from that source alone.

Can they magic up something similar again in the decider? It’s asking a lot in the vast expanses of Croke Park but optimism is earned.

The scoring difference in their last three championship meetings has Wexford ahead on plus-two. The three meetings prior to that? Kilkenny were at +54. Hold on to your hats.

Scorers for Wexford:

L Chin (0-6, 0-5 frees, 1 ‘65’); D O’Keeffe (0-4); R O’Connor, P Morris, C McDonald and J O’Connor (all 0-2); P Foley (0-2 frees); K Foley (0-1).

Scorers for Kilkenny:

TJ Reid (0-7 frees); A Mullen (1-3); C Fennelly (0-2); P Murphy, J Holden, C Fogarty, P Walsh, P Deegan, W Walsh (all 0-1).

WEXFORD:

M Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan, S Donohue; P Foley, M O’Hanlon, S Murphy; K Foley, D O’Keeffe; L Chin, L Og McGovern, P Morris; C Dunbar, R O’Connor, C McDonald.

Subs:

J O’Connor for Dunbar (HT); A Nolan for McGovern (54); L Blanchfield for B Ryan (56); D Dunne for Morris (64).

KILKENNY:

E Murphy; H Lawlor, P Walsh, J Holden; P Murphy, P Deegan, E Morrissey; C Buckley, C Fogarty; R Leahy, TJ Reid, W Walsh; B Ryan, C Fennelly, A Mullen.

Subs:

J Cleere for Deegan (18); J Maher for Buckley (50); J Donnelly for Walsh (68).

Referee:

F Horan (Kilkenny).

Dalo's Hurling Show: Clare conspiracies. Cork go third and multiply? The Bonner blow. Did Galway miscalculate?

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