Those in authority who advocate the discontinuation of this grade would do well to have a rethink after two excellent teams served up a game that had everything that is good about hurling, and while Wexford won an All-Ireland title after playing just two matches, there was no denying their right to what is only their third success in the grade.
The outcome of this final can be traced back to the fifth minute when Wexford corner-back Paul Roche came up and blasted home a goal from a penalty.
It gave the Model County the lead for the first time and they held it for the remainder of the game despite the best efforts of Galway.
The truism that all runs must come to an end left both managers, Seamus Murphy (Wexford) and Kieran Rabbitte (Galway) harbouring vastly differing emotions after this feast.
Murphy who is the current senior coach, had also seen service as an U21 with no major success, so it was easy to understand his jubilation at the final whistle after he had steered his side to a badly needed All-Ireland title.
“I’m absolutely thrilled at the victory”, said Murphy. “Any bit of silverware is badly needed in a county that is starved of hurling success, and while this may not be high on a lot of people’s list, I’ll take it any time.
“It was a marvellous contest played in a great sporting fashion by two very committed teams. The five point lead we had at half time didn’t look to be good enough given the strength of the wind, but you saw the battling qualities and the character of our lads in the second half when Galway threw everything at us.
“With Galway on a roll we knew coming up it was going to be a real dogfight and we were prepared for that. This victory is badly needed by Wexford. We have a lot of very good young lads coming through and hopefully this be the incentive they need to go on to greater things.
“It’s great to win an All-Ireland hurling title no matter what grade it is and I would expect a number of those lads to be knocking on the door of the senior team next year.
“One of the things that pleased me most was our discipline. We didn’t give away too many silly frees despite the second half pressure. I never questioned their character, I always knew it was in them and they showed against a very good Galway team that had knocked out the defending champions Cork, that hurling in Wexford is alive and kicking.
“I hope now that it will get Wexford people thinking that every grade of inter-county hurling is important. Galway, Cork and Tipperary take this grade very serious. I see no reason why Wexford shouldn’t do also.”
Wexford elected to play with the strong wind in the opening half , a decision that appeared questionable in the early exchanges. Noel Kenny fired Galway in front after just 35 seconds and the pace of the Galway attack suggested they would win this final with something to spare.
However, they were rocked by that Paul Roche penalty goal in the fifth minute and Wexford, superbly marshalled in defence by full-back Brendan O’Leary and wing-back and captain Kevin Kavanagh, went on to lead 1-10 to 0-8 at half time, after some great points by Stephen Doyle and MJ Furlong.
That five-point lead didn’t look to be good enough as Galway turned to play with the elements but it was the Leinster side who upped the ante on the change-over after the impressive Stephen Doyle pointed a 65 and a close-in free in quick succession, and the Connacht side knew they had a right battle on their hands.
Under pressure not to be the first Galway team to lose an All-Ireland final this year, Galway came storming back and with Kenneth Burke unerring from play and frees, they hit over five points without reply. As the tension and excitement continued to mount, county minor PJ Nolan eased the pressure for Wexford with a point but Galway were quickly back on the attack and with nine minutes of normal time left, the gap was down to a single point.
In truth, you’d have fancied the Tribesmen to go on and win it, but Wexford refused to be ruffled and, defending as if they very lives depended on it, they held on for a thrilling victory to give the county their first All-Ireland title in a decade.
Galway manager Kieran Rabbitte who also has an involvement with the county seniors, said goals win games. “Wexford got the all-important one, we got none. It’s disappointing after putting in such a huge effort, but all credit to Wexford, they had their homework done on us.
“Our main score-getters were crowded out every time they got possession. Also we needed the game to be played at a far faster pace, but Wexford succeeded in slowing it down which didn’t suit us.
“While there was a lot of talking of winning all four titles, if we win three out of four we’ll be very happy in Galway. Today’s defeat shouldn’t have any adverse effect on what’s to come. Our minors and seniors are very focused on next Sunday’s All-Ireland finals.”
Scorers for Wexford: S. Doyle 0-7 (0-4 frees, 0-1 65); P. Roche 1-0 (pen.); MJ Furlong 0-3; PJ Carley 0-2; L. Gleeson, PJ Nolan, M. Kelly 0-1 each.
Galway: K, Burke 0-9 (0-7 frees); B. Lucas 0-3 (0-1 free); N. Kenny, J. Gantley, B. Gantley, N. Earls 0-1 each.
WEXFORD: N. White; D. Guiney, B. O’Leary, P. Roche; K. Kavanagh, M. O’Leary, A. Kavanagh; L. Gleeson, C. Kenny; PJ Nolan, M. Byrne, S. Doyle; PJ Carley, G. Coleman, MJ Furlong.
Subs: S. O’Neill for Guiney; M. Kelly for Coleman; R. Stafford for Gleeson.
GALWAY: M. Herlihy; R. Whyte, N. Corcoran, P. Flynn; A. Garvey, E. Tannian, N. Earls; B. Gantley, D. McEvoy; B. Lucas, J. Gantley, E. Ryan; B. Lawless, N. Kenny, K. Burke.
Subs: K. Hoban for B. Gantley; R. Reilly for Whyte; T. Kavanagh for McEvoy; J. Fordham for Garvey.
Referee: M. Wadding (Waterford).