Galway came into this game as odds on favourites, but it was Wexford who called most of the shots when it mattered most, and their dominance in the closing 20 minutes had the westerners out on their feet. Not unexpectedly an enthused manager John Meyler lauded the efforts of his charges.
Said Meyler: “Our plan was to legitimately pressurise their speedy forwards and we did that most effectively. In hindsight the plan worked like a dream, but while Kilkenny and Cork are still the ones we all have to beat, this display will do an awful lot for our confidence.”
It looked very different in the opening sequences with Galway easing into the lead after 10 seconds from a delightfully taken Iarla Tannian point. Two more rapid fire scores from Eugene Cloonan and Damien Hayes had them three clear inside five minutes and already on their way to an expected victory.
But Wexford fought back and by the 10th minute were level with the irrepressible last minute substitute Stephen Nolan leading the way.
Five times in the first half the sides were level, but Wexford owed much to the resoluteness of their full back line and the alertness of their veteran goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry.
His stop of Kevin Broderick’s goal bound bullet in the 23rd minute is already a contender for save of the season, while fronting him Declan Ruth turned in a man of the match performance in a line in which he was also brilliantly flanked by Malachy Travers and Paul Roche.
Galway, for all their speed in attack, never seriously threatened to end a goal famine that has seen them fail to raise a green flag for a third successive game, and one sensed that the pendulum had already begun to swing Wexford’s way when the sides retired level, 0-9 each at the break.
It’s a measure of manager Ger Loughnane’s concern about the performance level of his attack that both Kevin Broderick and Mark Kerns were substituted for the second half. And while one of the subs, Niall Healy, rifled over a fine point within four minutes of the restart, the westerners continued to struggle up front in the face of a Wexford defence that got even better with every passing minute.
However the winners needed another super save from Fitzhenry in the 45th minute when he denied Eugene Cloonan almost from point blank range, and though David Tierney edged them in front for what was to be the last time a minute later, Wexford were to go on to dominate.
The introduction of Mitch Jordan into their attack paid an instant dividend when he pointed in the 55th minute, and when Darren Stamp and Rory Jacob extended the advantage to three points, Galway were visibly flagging. The score that finally settled things was worthy of winning any game and came on 64 minutes. The long accurate outfield delivery came from Rory Jacob and Eoin Quigley’s superb overhead connection on the fringe of the square gave the Galway ‘keeper no chance.
That eased the winners six points clear, 1-15 to 0-12, and Cloonan’s point two minutes later was their first in 18 minutes. A statistic that tells its own tale.
Galway, to their credit, did pile on the pressure in the closing minutes, driven by John Lee and last quarter substitute Tony Óg Regan. But for all their endeavours that Wexford defence, with Keith Rossiter masterful also in the pivotal role, stood defiant and it was entirely fitting that the winners should have the final say when wing back Willie Doran’s raking drive from 85 metres split the Galway posts for the final score of the game.
Role on Sunday and a renewal of rivalry with the Cats.
Scorers for Wexford: E. Quigley(1-1); S. Nolan(0-3); M. Jacob(0-2); R. Jacob(0-2); P. Carley(0-2, 0-1 free); D. Lyng(0-2); B. Lambert, M. Jordan, D. Stamp, W. Doran(0-1) each.
Scorers for Galway: E. Cloonan(0-6, 0-3 frees); I. Tannian(0-3); A. Kerins (0-2); D. Hayes, D. Tierney, N. Healy(0-1) each.
D. Fitzhenry; M. Travers, D. Ruth, P. Roche; W. Doran, K. Rossiter, C. Kenny; K. Kavanagh, D. Lyng; M. Jacob, E. Quigley, S. Nolan; P. Carley, D. Stamp, R. Jacob.
Subs: B. Lambert for Carley(45 mins); M. Jordan for Kavanagh(55 mins); R. Keogh for Nolan(66 mins); D. O’Connor for Quigley (70 mins).
A. Ryan; F. Moore, G. Mahon, S. Kavanagh; D. Hardiman, J Lee, D. Forde; F. Healy, D. Collins; A. Kerins, M. Kerins, I. Tannian; D. Hayes, E. Cloonan, K. Broderick.
Subs: D. Tierney for M. Kerns(half time); N. Healy for Broderick(half time); G. Farragher for Hayes(45 mins); T. Óg Regan for Collins(55 mins); Referee; Seanie McMahon, Clare.