Wexford and Kilkenny to meet in Leinster final after dramatic draw

Wexford and Kilkenny to meet in Leinster final after dramatic draw
Wexford's Paul Morris and Lee Chin tackle Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Wexford 0-21 - 1-18 Kilkenny

The revamped hurling championship has given us many wondrous memories this last 13 months but the sight of Wexford and Kilkenny supporters jiving away together to the tune of 'Dancing at the Crossroads' may well be the most bizarre.

Both counties had reason to celebrate after the final whistle here after a draw which, allied to Dublin's four-point defeat of Galway in Parnell Park, plonks these oldest of rivals into a Leinster final at HQ in two weeks' times.

A crazy night in the south-east, then, and on the back of a frenetic game that, while lacking in quality at times, wanted for nothing in excitement and immediacy on a night when defeat for either could have been so costly.

Any four of the Leinster teams in action on this Saturday night could have found themselves turfed out of the championship for the summer by the close of business. It was that tight, that claustrophobic, that intense.

The fact that it is Galway - All-Ireland champions in 2017 and finalists last August - who ultimately fell through the trap door will surprise some, though surely not those who had been paying close attention to the claustrophobic confines of this Leinster Championship.

This was just the fourth championship meeting of the sides at this venue – from a total of 80 - and it didn't disappoint with Wexford playing much of the first-half on the front foot in front of a crowd of 15,200.

Confrontation was everywhere between the white lines with a handful of mini-beefs leading to players from both sides squaring up over a line ball here or a disputed free there and it crackled and fizzed throughout.

The ebb and flow of the game played into that, the sides trading scores to and fro throughout the opening 37 minutes of play through which the home side had the slight advantage of the light breeze more or less at their backs.

Kilkenny led briefly in the opening minutes but spent the rest of the period keeping Wexford in check. It took a miraculous hook from Padraig Walsh and a goaline clearance from Huw Lawlor to deny Conor McDonald and Rory O'Connor goals.

Diarmuid O'Keeffe was superb for Wexford in this half, claiming four points from play and bursting forward plenty times more to make life difficult for the Cats, while Lee Chin and Paudie Foley were close to exemplary from frees.

Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley and Paddy Deegan with Lee Chin of Wexford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley and Paddy Deegan with Lee Chin of Wexford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

That latter fact hadn't been the case in the weeks leading up to this.

Kilkenny have been better served in that department by TJ Reid and, while the Ballyhale man was dependable again from placed balls, he found it difficult to escape the clawing attentions of Matthew O'Hanlon. There would be no points from play from TJ.

Brian Cody had welcomed goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, Joey Holden and Walter Walsh back in to his 15 after injury. The hope would have been to take some of the load off Reid but they still needed their talisman to purr.

Losing Paddy Deegan to injury after 18 minutes didn't help either.

All told, things were going perfectly well for Wexford as the break arrived although a three-point lead – 0-13 to 0-10 – at that point was less reward than they might have expected for their labours up to that.

If they had regrets at that point then they were soon mounting up. Four wides in the first ten minutes of the second-half had already curbed their momentum before Kilkenny struck for the game's only goal.

This too was avoidable.

Mark Fanning may regret the choice of short puck-out but Kevin Foley will certainly rue the poor control that allowed him be robbed by Colin Fennelly who played Adrian Mullen in for the three-pointer.

And just like that Kilkenny were a point to the good. The momentum swung after that. Now it was Wexford, who lost their shape for much of the next ten minutes, holding on as the visitors did the pressing and holding, for the most part, a narrow lead.

On they went, butting heads. Twelve times they found themselves on an equal footing over the course of the evening. If anything was going to separate them it was going to be mere fractions.

Chin hit the post with a free at one end towards the finish. John Donnelly did the same for Kilkenny at the other. Amidst it all O'Hanlon earned a second yellow for a ferocious charge on Enda Morrissey. This was raw, unbearable.

Four minutes of added time, came the announcement.

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

It was never going to be enough and a draw it was.

Wexford had a second player, Aidan Nolan, sent off after the final whistle, but the details of it were lost in the madness and the mass of people that made for the pitch as permutations were worked out.

“Wexford and Kilkenny will meet in the Leinster final...” began the man on the tannoy. The rest was lost in the roar. Oh, what a night.

Scorers for Wexford: L Chin (0-6 frees); 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 Donohoe; 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 Horgan (Tipperary).

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