“If we play that way against Waterford, they’ll annihilate us,” Fitzgerald said, warning Wexford against a repeat of their up-and-down performance against their Nowlan Park hosts. “We can’t afford to have a 15 or 20-minute bad spell which we had out there. We weren’t intense enough in the first half, but we were definitely way more intense in the second.”
That intensity helped Wexford rally from eight points down in the first half and six in the second to get the better of a dogged Kilkenny.
However, victory wasn’t easily secured. After more than 90 minutes of action, the title was decided by a free-taking competition, with goalkeeper Mark Fanning converting the decisive score, but only after Wexford had fallen 2-0 behind.
“Now I know what taking a penalty is like in soccer,” quipped Fitzgerald post-match. “That was a good game of hurling. We have come from nowhere and to be able to compete with Kilkenny is massive. That is our ambition. In fairness, they set the bar. We have to be able to stay with them.”
Wexford had to show some steel to fight their way back into the game after Kilkenny made a fast start and stormed ahead, Ollie Walsh and Alan Murphy (two frees) helping them open a 0-5 to 0-0 lead.
Kilkenny pushed on and, by the 20th minute, stretched the lead to eight (1-8 to 0-3), boosted by Murphy’s searing 16th-minute penalty. A string of points, started by a Paul Morris free and ended by a like score from halfway by keeper Fanning, drew Wexford back into the game, but late scores from Murphy (free) and Conor Fogarty helped Kilkenny go in five clear at the break (1-13 to 0-11).
Kilkenny suffered a setback minutes after the restart losing Richie Reid to a straight red. A furious Brian Cody was sent to the stands for remonstrating with match officials following the dismissal.
“I merely said to the linesman that he was being mauled and dragged, which he was, and then he said. ‘I’ll put you off the field’ and I said, ‘You won’t put me out of the field’,” Cody said afterwards.
“Then he put up his flag and somebody else may have roared something. That’s as much as I said. That’s the way it went. The same thing happened last year in a game where a fella was sent off for supposedly pulling the helmet off a player which then they said later on he didn’t do at all. It is very disappointing when a player starts roaring and bawling about his helmet and showing his helmet to everybody and a player is sent off completely in the wrong.”
With the numerical advantage Wexford pressed on; four points in a row left the bare minimum between the teams by the 48th minute but the Cats hit six of the next eight scores — Alan Murphy helped himself to three — to pull away again (1-19 to 0-17).
That was the sign for Wexford to ramp up the pace. They charged on, getting back into the game when Kevin Foley scrambled the loose sliotar into the net in the 67th minute, before two injury-time points from Paul Morris had them level at the end (1-21 to 1-21).
It was a real battle in extra-time, with both sides struggling in the conditions. Wexford thought they had the title in their grasp when Morris converted two frees to leave them 1-23 to 1-22 in front at half-time, but Alan Murphy drew the Cats level in the 82nd minute.
Again Wexford pushed for the winner, and almost had it thanks to Conor McDonald’s point, but Murphy’s injury-time free sent the game to a shootout. Kilkenny made the best of the early frees, going 2-0 up thanks to Eoin Murphy and Conor Martin, but misses allowed Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney level matters before Mark Fanning fired them ahead. When John Walsh failed to score Kilkenny’s last free, the cup was Wexford’s.
A Murphy (1-13, 0-7f, 1-0 pe, 0-1 65); E Murphy (0-2f); O Walsh, M Keoghan, W Walsh (0-2 each); C Fogarty, R Reid, C Martin (0-1 each).
P Morris (0-9, 0-7f); J Guiney (0-5, 0-3f); K Foley (1-0); H Kehoe (0-3); M Fanning (0-1, free); C Dunbar, E Moore, D Dunne, L Chin, C McDonald, J O’Connor (0-1).
E Murphy; J Holden, P Walsh, P Deegan; E Morrissey, C O’Shea, C Buckley; C Fogarty, O Walsh; M Keoghan, R Reid, P Lyng; A Murphy, W Walsh, C Martin.
Lester Ryan for Lyng; Chris Bolger for Martin; Conor Browne for O. Walsh; James Maher for E. Morrissey; John Walsh for c. Bolger; Conor Martin for M. Keoghan; Jer Malone for C. Fogarty.
M Fanning; S Donohoe, L Ryan, S Murphy; K Foley; E Martin, A Maddock, E Moore; J O’Connor, A Nolan; H Kehoe, J Guiney, C Dunbar; P Morris, D Dunne.
M O’Hanlon for E. Martin; d Reck for Joe O’Connor; Jack O’Connor for Dunbar; Lee Chin for J. Guiney; Conor McDonald for B. Kehoe; Jake Firman for D. Dunne; Paudie Foley for A. Nolan; Diarmuid O’Keeffe for A. Maddock.
John O’Brien (Laois).