Lee Chin confessed himself to being “a bit lost for words” afterwards, an occurrence he promptly acknowledged to be unusual. But, in the circumstances, why not?
This was one of those rare but wonderful Wexford days when they rejoice and, being the kind of people they are, they succeed in getting the world to rejoice with them. (Ich bin ein Wexican, as it were.) Wonderful but rare. Wonderful precisely because they’re rare.
A first Leinster title since 2004, as Chin pointed out. A first victory over the old enemy in a provincial decider since 1997, as he might have pointed out. The heather blazing once more.
They had Billy Byrne kicking an immortal winner then. They had Mark Fanning sinking a penalty here. At half-time it was clear that the first goal would win it. Thus it transpired.
Seven minutes remained and Kilkenny led by a point when Shaun Murphy flighted a ball over a ruck of players in midfield to pick out Rory O’Connor all alone on the touchline under the Cusack Stand. O’Connor put his head down and ran. He kept running, through an underpopulated opposition defence, until Enda Morrissey hauled him down on the edge of the square.
John Keenan spread his arms wide and up trotted Fanning to pot the black. That would prove sufficient. In a race where the contestants had been neck and neck from flagfall, Wexford got their heads up on the winning post. Timing. What a gift to possess.
A terrific Leinster Championship deserved a good final as showpiece and signoff. It received one. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, immensely engaging affair and if it was a middleweight contest when compared with the clash of the heavyweights at the Gaelic Grounds it was none the worse for that, frothing and fizzing as the teams took turns to put patchworks of points together.
In order to win Wexford had to score more goals than their opponents: they did. They had to nail their frees, a persistent failing over the past couple of seasons: Chin was impeccable from placed balls. They also had to be accurate from open play and they were: they finished with three wides, all of them recorded before the 46th minute. This particular middleweight made every punch count.
In order to validate the miles they’ve travelled in recent years Chin and his colleagues required silverware of some sort. They have it now and it’s a trophy far dearer to them than a National League ever could have been.
O’Connor, imitating Diarmuid O’Keeffe at Wexford Park a fortnight earlier, had four points on the board by half-time. The boy carries a proud heritage and wears it lightly. Conor McDonald also finished with 0-4 to his name. O’Keeffe himself took time to establish himself but thereafter was a subtle presence, probing and prompting. Liam Ryan, grandson of Tom, a member of the great Wexford team of the 1950s, had his hands full with, and frequently all over, Colin Fennelly but was never going to let the family name down either.
Above all Wexford had Chin. Being an open and chatty type he said a few things last year that were taken down and inevitably used in evidence against him when his county died a lingering and unpretty death in the All-Ireland quarter-final. This time around he’s done his talking on the field. Who was it came out with the sliotar when Kilkenny attacked for the second-last time? Who else. The leader of the pikemen.
Much credit too to the manager. Davy did his adopted state considerable service by leading them out of Division 1B and establishing them in the top flight. In many ways that alone would have sufficed to justify his tenure. But Wexford have been braver and more expansive in 2019 and yesterday was a natural — if by no means preordained — outcome of that.
One suspects he’ll take considerable personal pleasure, moreover, for having turned the wheel with Brian Cody. He’s perfectly entitled to.
The losers? Chasing a first Leinster title since 2016, or an epoch in Cody years, they weren’t far off. On another day they might have scored the first goal — and that would have been enough. But bar a sharp save he made from Fennelly six minutes after the restart they didn’t work Fanning nearly enough.
Yet again TJ Reid had to do too much by himself. Yet again he was at times superb. Yet again it wasn’t quite enough. Stop us if you think you’ve heard all of this before. The time remains out of joint and — o cursed sprite! — even TJ cannot set it right.
What will gall Kilkenny above all is the manner — most unfeline-like — in which they panicked when the game was still there to be saved after Fanning pulled the trigger. They started going for goals too early and in the process eschewed simple points, the upshot being that in injury-time it had to be a goal or nothing. Turned out to be nothing, and nothing will come of nothing.
The attendance topped out at 51,842. This came as a slight surprise, given the 60,032 who came along two years ago for Wexford versus Galway. The Leinster Council will scarcely be minded to complain: a hurling final that attracts a crowd of 30,000 yields them receipts of around €360,000 whereas a hurling final that attracts a crowd of 50,000 — ie one with Wexford playing — yields receipts of €690,000. Is it overdoing it to posit that the Wexford hurlers have overtaken the Dublin footballers as Leinster GAA’s biggest draw?
Long before Keenan blew the final whistle to get them dancing at the crossroads once more, something notable took place at Croke Park yesterday. Wexford won the under-17 final. That may not on the face of it sound a big deal. When it’s your first provincial under-17/minor title since 1985, however, it is a big deal.
The day started well and it finished gloriously. That glow in the sky last night? A thousand pikes flashing at the rising of the moon.
Anthony Daly reviews the hurling weekend with Brian Hogan, TJ Ryan and Ger Cunningham. In association with Renault - car partners of the GAA.