So is the immediate aftermath. Davy Fitzgerald’s side were a goal better than Galway on Saturday afternoon, which qualified them for the NHL semi-final on Saturday against Kilkenny. After the game, we had the now customary post-game pitch invasion, with Fitzgerald besieged by south-easterners of all ages looking for photographs, as well as autographs on every surface imaginable. Was that last man in the thicket of people really looking to get a whistle signed?
No wonder Fitzgerald was praising the support afterwards: “You can see what it means to the people. They love their hurling down here. And it’s a great place to come to, to be at a game.”
It certainly was unless you were in maroon. On a day which had trace elements of summer in the sun and warmth, there was little enough between the sides all through, but two significant events made all the difference.
The teams had swapped points until the 32nd minute, when it was 0-9 to 0-8 in favour of Wexford, and their full- forward Rory O’Connor drove through the centre.
His shot was from an ambitious distance, and Galway ‘keeper James Skehill stopped it, but the ball broke kindly to Conor McDonald, who pulled first-time to the net. Lee Chin added a point from the puck-out and there was a goal between them.
Joe Canning hit two points to leave it 0-11 to 1-9 at the break, and both teams resumed their tit-for-tat scoring in the second half, but Wexford were energised by that goal and kept that pep in their step.
They were one ahead when referee Fergal Horgan was called by one of his supporting officials for a consultation at the three-quarter stage, and Horgan duly sent off Galway’s Jack Coyne.
In a game that tight, having an extra man made a difference. Fitzgerald sent on Harry Kehoe, who also made a difference in the closing stages, when Wexford extended their lead to three points. Canning had a free from 20 metres deep in injury time which might have condemned us — er, sent us to a never-ending series of 65s to decide a winner, but Mark Fanning in the Wexford goal made the save, and the home support poured onto the field to celebrate.
“We’re disappointed,” said Galway manager Micheal Donoghue.
“When we went down to 14 men it was going to be a struggle, but I can’t fault the boys for their heart or their effort. They gave it a right good go with 14 men, we’re disappointed to exit the league but there are positives.
“I genuinely didn’t see it (the sending-off), I don’t know. Obviously the umpire saw it, but I don’t know.
“If you’d tagged on a goal or two it would have made a difference, but overall we worked hard, the attitude was good, and we’ll take those positives.”
In the Wexford corner, Fitzgerald was understandably happy: “I don’t think they had a goal chance. They never threatened a goal. We missed a wide open one that we should have put down.
“Forget about it and drive on, because I don’t think you can go out playing hurling and be apprehensive about making mistakes. Go out and just let go, it will happen for you.”
For Galway, there was disappointment but not devastation. At times they moved well and a couple of fluffed pick-ups denied them clear goal chances in the first half, but beating a well-drilled Wexford defence while a man down was always going to be a tall order.
That hint of warmth in the sun and the sheer size of the All-Ireland champions gave the sense of a big cat uncoiling gradually to meet new challenges, mind you.
Fitzgerald will be happy with the spread of scorers, and Wexford’s calmness in closing the game out, even against 14 men.
Next week they play Kilkenny in what’s likely to be a high-octane encounter — again in Wexford Park, and perhaps his team would benefit from an outing in a hostile environment.
Before the game there was a warm round of applause for Tadhg Furlong and his family, fresh from Grand Slam success and in the stand to take a look at the hurling.
R. O’Connor (4 frees)(0-6); P. Foley (3 frees)(0-5); C. McDonald (1-1); D. O’Keeffe (0-3); L. Chin (1 free), H. Kehoe, K. Foley (0-2 each); J. O’Connor, L. Ryan (0-1 each).
J. Canning (1 65, frees)(0-10); C. Whelan (0-5); C. Mannion, J. Coen (0-3 each); J. Flynn, J. Cooney, (0-1 each).
M. Fanning, D. Reck, L. Ryan, S. Donohue, P. Foley, M. O’Hanlon (c), D. O’Keeffe, K. Foley, S. Murphy, J. O’Connor, C. McDonald, P. Morris, L. Chin, R. O’Connor, D. Dunne.
W. Devereux for Reck (inj, 14); A. Nolan for Dunne (53); H. Kehoe for J. O’Connor and C. Dunbar for Morris (both 68).
J. Skehill, A. Tuohy, J. Hanbury, P. Mannion, J. Grealish, G. McInerney, A. Harte, J. Coen, D. Burke (c), C. Mannion, J. Canning, J. Cooney, C. Whelan, C. Cooney, J. Coyne.
S. Loftus for Grealish (HT); J. Flynn for Burke (57); B. Concannon for J. Cooney (69).
F. Horgan (Tipperary).