Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” boomed over the PA system as the pitch was engulfed in waves of purple and a foam of yellow.
Leinster SHC semi-final
Wexford 1-20 Kilkenny 3-11
It’s the middle of June, neither Matthew O’Hanlon nor Lee Chin were walking up steps to collect some tin but nobody was going to stop this Wexford party.
In time, they will reflect on the sloppiness of the goals they conceded here, similar in nature to those they coughed up against Tipperary in the league semi-final, but such analysis can be delayed for another day or two.
When they had to wait 13 years for this victory, they can be forgiven for indulging in it a little more than usual.
In all this was the sides’ eighth championship meeting since Michael Jacob’s late goal literally brought Brian Cody to his knees. Here, Cody wasn’t as dramatic but his disappointment was palpable.
Had Kilkenny in the way they organised themselves – a sweeper, yes, a sweeper in Conor Fogarty and a flooded midfield – shown Wexford too much respect?
There was an indication of that prior to the game when Kilkenny had broken convention and chosen not to name their team until close to throw-in. Formation-wise, they then broke from custom too.
The presence of Pádraic Walsh at centre-forward certainly was a turn-up for the books but Wexford had anticipated something from left-field. “We had a fair idea they would try to go seven on seven up front and we had a plan for that as well,” said selector JJ Doyle.
“I suppose the fact they were against the wind in the first half maybe negated that a little bit for them because it was hard to get the ball up the field. They went short with their puck-outs, which is not something that is easy to install in a team over a number of weeks.”
And yet Kilkenny had won the toss and chosen to face the wind.
TJ Reid’s second-minute penalty, after Colin Fennelly was impeded illegitimately by Willie Devereux following a ball in from Paddy Deegan, seemed to follow the usual script but Kilkenny didn’t score again until the 17th minute, the first of only two points from play in the half, and by the break they had raised just six flags, 1-5, to Wexford’s 0-12.
Striking six wides, Wexford didn’t avail of the wind as they would have liked but then Kilkenny had hit nine themselves in the first half.
The home side, clearly buoyed by most of the 18,467 crowd, were winning the majority of the exchanges. Kilkenny were losing most of the breaking ball and they were being turned over like few black and ambers teams have been in the Cody era.
Although Fennelly was a constant thorn in Wexford’s side, Kilkenny were also struggling with their discipline and Conor McDonald and Lee Chin had sent over half a dozen frees by the break.
Ger Aylward, who had hit four wides, was withdrawn from the play having looked frustrated after picking up a yellow card but not before Pádraig Walsh was also called ashore.
Matters grew worse for the visitors in the 39th minute when David Redmond converted a goal chance after Jack Guiney had prevented Eoin Murphy from dealing with Harry Kehoe’s shot.
Eight up, Wexford were dictating the flow of the game but Fennelly was still causing havoc while Mark Fanning had to be on his toes to prevent substitute Chris Bolger scoring a second Kilkenny goal in the 41st minute.
Wexford led by seven points when Fennelly’s shot was too hot for Fanning and the gap was one two minutes later after Reid had smashed another penalty to the net when Fennelly had again been fouled, this time by Shaun Murphy.
But then the colossal Chin followed up with a point and while Lester Ryan added his second soon after Chin was again on the mark from a 65 and then made an almighty leap to help set up Matthew O’Hanlon to fire over to give Wexford a three-point cushion.
Bedlam ensued a minute from time when Reid honed in on goal but Wexford survived as they did when Fanning was able to keep out Bolger for a second time.
“We have worked very hard on the fitness levels over the last number of years and particularly since last November and you could see it there in the second half, we just kept running,” said Doyle.
“And we needed to run because of the wind that was out there. If you pucked the ball into it then it would just keep coming back to you. The lads just stuck to the process and stuck to the game-plan.
“At times they could have maybe dropped the heads and given up on it, and that’s probably what would have happened in the past, but they just kept going and going and going.
“Listen, I thought what has happened in the past where Kilkenny get the goal in the last minute was going to happen only for the save that Fanning made.
“Days like this will live long in the memory because we haven’t had too many of them.
“I think we deserved it – there was no fluke about it. Kilkenny got probably a couple of soft goals, turnovers on our behalf.
“But I suppose the most important thing was that they just kept responding, the heads never dropped.
“We were eight points up, they get two goals and the next ball we get it and go up and score a point. That just shows the character that’s within the squad.”
Cody cut a terse figure addressing the print media outside the Kilkenny dressing room. Most questions were treated with a mild disdain. Why did his team lose the key battles?
“I’m not sure what the key battles were. Every battle is a key battle, especially, no matter what part of the field you’re in.”
Was Pádraig Walsh advanced to trouble Wexford sweeper Murphy? “I wouldn’t say it was a question of lining up on Shaun Murphy.
He (Walsh) lined up at centre-forward and Shaun Murphy didn’t particularly play at centre-back so I don’t think he was marking Pádraig at any stage. Walsh, he insisted, wasn’t injured.
He was sore. And he wasn’t afraid to show it.
Scorers for Wexford:
L. Chin (0-6, 3 frees, 2 65s); C. McDonald (0-5, 4 frees); P. Morris (0-3); D. Redmond (1-0); D. O’Keeffe, L. Ryan, J. Guiney, J. O’Connor, M. O’Hanlon, S. Tomkins (0-1 each)
Scorers for Kilkenny:
T.J. Reid (2-7, 2-0 pen, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65); C. Fennelly (1-0); L. Ryan (0-2); P. Deegan, W. Walsh (0-1 each).
M. Fanning 7; W. Devereux 7, S. Donohue 6; S. Murphy 7; J. Breen 6, M. O’Hanlon (j-c) 7, D. O’Keeffe 8; L. Ryan 7; L. Chin (j-c) 9, A. Nolan 6; C. McDonald 7, P. Morris 7, J. O’Connor 6, J. Guiney 7, H. Kehoe 7.
Subs for Wexford:
D. Redmond 7 for J. O’Connor (32); S. Tomkins 7 for A. Nolan (58); P. Doran 6 for H. Kehoe (62); K. Foley 6 for P. Morris (66).
E. Murphy 7; P. Murphy 6, K. Joyce 6; C. Fogarty 6; C. Buckley 8, C.O’Shea 6, R. Lennon 6; R. Hogan 5; P. Deegan (c) 7, L. Ryan 6; W. Walsh 6, P. Walsh 5, T.J. Reid 7; G. Aylward 6, C. Fennelly 9.
Subs for Kilkenny:
L. Blanchfield 6 for P. Walsh (30); C. Bolger 6 for G. Aylward (33); K. Kelly 5 for W. Walsh (64); R. Reid (no rating) for R. Hogan (68).
F. Horgan (Tipperary).
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