For the second game in a row, Brian Cody’s men went a yawning period without a score from play — 31 minutes compared to 40 in Salthill 13 days previous.
For the second game in a row, the opposition were almost out of sight — nine points ahead, two less than Galway. And for the second year in succession, it appeared Wexford would again succeed having built up a handsome advantage early in the second half.
But none of those histories of disappointment would repeat themselves here. Almost a year to the day from that result in Wexford Park, Kilkenny looked within themselves and unearthed that character, which has defined so many of their successes down through the years.
They were undoubtedly aided by Wexford who, feeling the arduousness of their four games in 21 days’ schedule, grew progressively worse as the game developed.
WATCH: Cats fightback stuns Wexford! 🐈@KilkennyCLG rallied from eight points down to beat @OfficialWexGAA 0-22 to 1-18, and will now face @Galway_GAA in the Leinster final: https://t.co/7PBmDzgCfu pic.twitter.com/qeagkFgJ45— Sky Sports GAA (@SkySportsGAA) June 9, 2018
The home support in the 17,516 attendance did their bit too but there was a sense in that second half that things are slowly coming together for Kilkenny.
To get there, Kilkenny had to make sacrifices, though. Three half-time substitutes, which included the collaring of Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan, were necessary.
The similarities in Hogan, who struck three first-half wides, being benched 12 months after Ger Aylward had done the same were obvious but on this occasion the changes worked.
By the end, Brian Cody had replaced all but two of his attack but two of his replacement forwards, Richie Leahy and John Donnelly, each landed a brace of points.
Remarkably, the starting front six mustered just one point from play between them — including Walter Walsh’s consolation goal, it was 1-2 against Galway — but where some faltered, others stepped in.
“Picking a team, there’s nothing between so many of them,” insisted Cody. “We started with the team we started with. The last few days we were bringing on experienced players, this time we’re bringing on younger players. All of them are so important to the whole panel.”
Cody spoke of the nine-point deficit, augmented by two in the opening minute of the second half from the half-time state of play when Wexford led 1-11 to 0-7, as not being a big lead.
Recent events would back up his argument but it looked for long periods as if Kilkenny were the team coming off a fourth game in as many weekends, not Wexford.
In the first half, the visitors were playing clever ball into the front of Rory O’Connor and Paul Morris and profiting.
Paudie Foley, a force throughout, nullified Walter Walsh while TJ Reid was shadowed strongly by Matthew O’Hanlon. Last month, Shefflin did his bit for club-mate TJ Reid when he suggested officials had to pay more attention to what was being done to him by markers.
If Reid was frustrated, he hid it well and further into the match managed to pick up frees and acquitted himself well in the role of a support player.
Wexford reeled off six consecutive points between the 17th and 26th minutes prior to their goal in the 28th minute, a slick move featuring Lee Chin feeding David Dunne who squared the ball to Morris to finish with panache.
“We were unreal in the tackle in the first half,” enthused Davy Fitzgerald.
“I don’t think we were (in the second half). I thought we should have been up 10 or 11 points up at half-time. I thought there was only one team in it in the first half.
“I came out to the boys (on the sideline) in the second half and said the only thing that was going to catch us was have we the energy to keep going.”
When Paudie Foley and Chin, fortunate to be on the field after striking Paddy Deegan in the 32nd minute, split the posts in the opening minute, it appeared momentum was going to steer Wexford to victory.
But then Kilkenny enjoyed their own period of domination, sending over seven unanswered points, five of them frees. As Wexford went into protection mode, Kilkenny’s backs roamed forward, none more so than Pádraig Walsh whose 44th-minute point was a rousing score as he exhibited his attacking attributes.
“He’s that kind of player, he plays anywhere really,” remarked Cody.
“Everybody might say we should have him playing out the field but he was playing out the field tonight. He had the licence to a certain extent to move out because they were withdrawing players and that.”
It was on the hour mark that Kilkenny went ahead, Reid’s 65 one of a further five points without response. By that stage, Fitzgerald knew all their endeavours in a short space of time were coming home to roost.
“I knew we were going to fade. For us to get what we got out of ourselves, that was a superhuman effort. Four weeks is tough going and I think if we had an extra week’s break trust me we would have finished the game a lot stronger than we did because we’re as fit as anyone in the country. Our conviction (in the second half) wasn’t the same. I think our energy levels… you could see it.”
In the final 11 minutes of action, four frees, three of them long-range ones from Foley, brought Wexford back to within a point each time, and a point away from a Leinster final as a draw would have been sufficient for them. However, there was an irresistibility about Kilkenny at that stage, replacement Donnelly sending over two vital points.
Regardless of the result, Fitzgerald could claim “whatever happens for the rest of the year, I’m so proud of them”.
It wouldn’t be in Cody’s nature to say anything similar but he took delight in his men’s defiance.
“It’s a nice lead,” he said of Wexford’s once nine-point lead, “but it’s not insurmountable as long as you keep hurling.”
We dare to contradict the great man and say Kilkenny aren’t doing that just yet but the battle remains within them.
T.J. Reid (0-11, 9 frees, 1 65); R. Leahy. C. Fogarty, J. Donnelly (0-2 each); E. Murphy (free), J. Maher, P. Walsh, J. Holden, E. Morrissey (0-1 each).
R. O’Connor (2 frees) P. Foley (4 frees) (0-5 each); P. Morris (1-1); L. Chin (0-3); C. McDonald (0-2); D. O’Keeffe, K. Foley (0-1 each).
E. Murphy; P. Murphy, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. O’Shea, C. Buckley (c), E. Morrissey; C. Fogarty, J. Maher; W. Walsh C. Fennelly, T.J. Reid; B. Sheehan, R. Hogan, L. Scanlon.
M. Keoghan for C. Fennelly, R. Leahy for R. Hogan. J. Holden for C. O’Shea (all h-t); L. Blanchfield for B. Sheehan (47); J. Donnelly for L. Scanlon (65).
M. Fanning; D. Reck, L. Ryan, C. Firman; S. Murphy; M. O’Hanlon (j-c), D. O’Keeffe, P. Foley; K. Foley, D. Dunne; L. Chin (j-c), R. O’Connor, A. Nolan; C. McDonald, P. Morris.
H. Kehoe for K. Foley, J. O’Connor for D. Dunne (both 54); S. Donohue for D. O’Keeffe (63).
J. McGrath (Westmeath).
Wexford’s second-half wides, some of which were shots to nothing, told a story about their listlessness after a gruelling campaign. Substitute John Donnelly’s brace of points near the end were enough to stave off a tiring if stubborn Wexford challenge.
Just how Wexford wilted here.
The four games in as many weekends schedule was expected to takes its toll on them and so it transpired even if for 39 minutes they looked to be the only team in the affair as T.J. Reid was bottled up and the rest of Kilkenny’s attack was blunted.
Brian Cody will have gleaned plenty from this game. With Paul Murphy returning to the full-back line, he has his second last line of defence sorted although there are a couple of issues on the wings and up-front.
Fatigue was a factor but again when it mattered most the likes of Conor McDonald and Lee Chin drifted into anonymity.
Kilkenny’s four late changes were premised on fitness, insisted Cody. “We had lads who had genuinely niggles and stuff. We just weren’t sure up until the very end. Players we possibly would have maybe gone with, we couldn’t as it turned out.”
The only way Wexford were going to win this one was by stretching ahead and hoping to stay there. The job they did on the Kilkenny attack in the first half was excellent and by the end the entire full-forward line was replaced. Kilkenny, though, prospered when Wexford sat further and further back and were able to attack from defence, which was music to Pádraig Walsh’s ears.
At times, it seemed Paudie Foley was taking on Kilkenny by himself. Full-back Walsh was again brilliant for the Cats as was addy Deegan.
Even if Kilkenny did appear to get more of a rub of the green in terms of frees closer to goal, both teams could have reasons to be disappointed.
Kilkenny face Galway in a July 1 Leinster final (4pm). Wexford take on Carlow or Westmeath in an All-Ireland preliminary quarterfinal on July 7 or 8.