Wexford fight their way to victory over Kilkenny and first Leinster senior title in 15 years

Wexford fight their way to victory over Kilkenny and first Leinster senior title in 15 years
Wexford joint captains Matthew O'Hanlon and Lee Chin lift the Bob O'Keeffe Cup. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Wexford 1-23 - 0-23 Kilkenny

There was always an understanding, an acceptance even, that if Wexford were going to win a first Leinster senior hurling title in 15 years on Sunday afternoon then they would have to do it the hard way.

Such baubles have not come easily to the county in modern times and they were made to bite and scratch and shoot every inch of the way by Kilkenny here.

All of which will have made this much, much sweeter. Two points had separated these two across three previous championship meetings so the three that rested between their accounts today amounted almost to a yawning gap.

Though it didn't feel like it.

“Fifteen years is an awful long time for a county that loves hurling as much as Wexford but today was our day,” said captain Matthew O'Hanlon from the steps of the Hogan Stand.

Indeed it was: the minors claimed a first minor title in 34 years earlier in the day. They saw off the Cats too.

Days don't get much better than that.

O'Hanlon gave special mention to manager Davy Fitzgerald afterwards. The Clare man has now completed the full set of senior county hurling honours as a bainisteoir of All-Ireland, National League, Munster Championship and Leinster Championship.

Due reward for all those cross-country road trips from Sixmilebridge.

These two drew level 12 times in the course of the group stage draw two weeks ago in Wexford Park and there was never much in it again throughout an afternoon that saw them chase each other around Croke Park like dog's at play in the yard.

Five times they drew level in the first period but there was never more than two points in it.

Only once, for a spell of about five minutes early in the second quarter, did either of them seem to be gaining an edge.

That was Kilkenny and they reeled off three points in a row while they were at it, Wexford holding on for dear life and not least when Shane Reek pulled Alan Murphy as the Kilkenny man had the nets on his mind.

That aside it was difficult to slip a sheet of paper between them.

TJ Reid, held scoreless by Matthew O'Hanlon in the drawn pool game, eked out enough room to claim two points on the run off the Wexford captain before the interval and his twelve in total on the day meant that his was a profitable return.

Lee Chin was performing a similar function for Wexford, from dead balls and open play, while Rory O'Connor swatted over four points while in motion in a superb display of striking from all angles.

Lee Chin celebrates. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Lee Chin celebrates. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

By the break there were 29 points on the board and just five wides. That is sterling shooting.

Kilkenny held a one-point lead when they finally paused for breath but Wexford's power play was coming. they held Kilkenny to one point in the next dozen minutes while recording four of their own to retake the lead.

Even then there was never any sense that this would be settled any time before the clock leaked into the red.

It was engrossing stuff.

Reid sold a delicious dummy to Kevin Foley for his third from play. Chin landed a howitzer of a free from close to his own '45'.

And amidst all the fine flecks of skill there was moments of sheer will, as when Liam Og McGovern set up a Conor McDonald point with a pass off his knees.

But Kilkenny were stitching together more of the what ifs.

Colin Fennelly came close to the game's opening goal early in the second-half when robbing Foley and firing a shot at Mark Fanning from a tight angle which the keeper deflected wide with his head and the same Kilkenny player was denied a penalty 59 minutes in when Liam Ryan wrapped him up with a stick around the neck.

Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr
Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

No penalty? Really?

Add in eight wides to that point – as opposed to Wexford's three – and the Cats appeared to be using up a few too many of their lives, a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed when they conceded a penalty at the other end and just five minutes from time.

There's no doubt but that Enda Morrissey dragged McDonald down inside the area but neither is there any escaping the fact that the Wexford attacker took at least eight steps with the sliotar in hand before he was brought down.

But then, who counts steps in hurling these days?

Two points up after that, they would win by three but with Kilkenny beating down the door.

Two points up Fanning’s penalty shot hit the net, they would win by three but with Kilkenny beating down the door.

Fennelly came closest to kicking them in the teeth when he stuck a boot into a melee close to goal only for the ball to dribble a yard or two wide. It would have been a cruel way to lose – or draw – it.

Not today. Not now.

Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid (0-12, 0-5 frees, 0-3 '65s'); A Mullen (0-3);C Fennelly and W Walsh (both 0-2); E Murphy (0-1 free); J Maher, A Murphy and G Aylward (all 0-1).

Scorers for Wexford: L Chin (0-9, 0-7 frees, 0-1 '65'); C McDonald and R O'Connor (both 0-4); M Fanning (1-0 penalty); D O'Keeffe (0-2); S Donohue, L Og McGovern, J O'Connor, P Morris (all 0-1).

Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, H Lawlor, P Walsh; E Morrissey, P Deegan, J Holden; J Maher, C Fogarty; R Leahy, TJ Reid, A Mullen; A Murphy, C Fennelly, W Walsh.

Subs: G Aylward for Murphy (43); B Ryan for W Walsh (57).

Wexford: M Fanning; S Murphy, L Ryan, S Donohue; M O'Hanlon, P Foley, S Reek; D O'Keeffe, L Og McGovern; J O'Connor, L Chin, R O'Connor; K Foley, C McDonald, P Morris.

Subs: C Firman for S Reck (49); C Dunbar for Morris (59); D Dunne for McGovern (66); H Kehoe for McDonald (72).

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).

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