Thunderstruck rang out around Chadwicks Wexford Park, the entrance theme of choice for Daragh Egans men.
Despite a nine point victory being needed by Wexford to qualify for the decider against an in-form Galway in Croke Park, 15,00o people turned out for the third round tie. The starting 15 for Wexford was quite strong, so they were certainly searching for a cause for celebration. Derek Lyng meanwhile has maintained throughout the Walsh Cup that he is in it, to win it. So we awaited an interesting encounter, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Conor McDonald ignited the roar of the home fans by grabbing the first point of the game. Diarmuid O’Keeffe grabbed a very well worked point to double the tally, with the ball coming right out from the full backline. There was a few clashes edging on the side of a foul, with the ref Sean Stack allowing the game to flow. John Donnelly help get Kilkennys first score on the board by giving the assist for Cian Kenny, the James Stephens man earmarked by fellow club legend Eoin Larkin last year for someone with a very bright future. This was followed by a super score from an acute angle, once again from Cian Kenny to draw the game. It was a lively affair in the opening exchanges with Kilkenny doing well in the backline in particular.
The Cats took the lead from the hands of Tom Phelan, shaking off last years hamstring woes and putting his hand up for league consideration. Conor McDonald was at his best, as the Gorey target man put another point beside his name from the left. Glenmore’s Shane Murphy immediately replied though to restore the lead for Derek Lyng’s men, which did not last long as Oisin Pepper of Rapperies leveled it up once again. The first chance of score from a free feel in the hands of the Wexford Captain Lee Chin, who registered Wexford’s second wide of the game, and third overall.
Conor McDonald work ethic was clear for all to see winning the ball, losing it and then won it back again to find Oisin Pepper. Lee Chin then made up for earlier miss by dissecting the post and before you know it after 15 minutes it was 0-06 to 0-04 in favour of The Model County. In absence of Billy Drennan, who was injured playing for Maynooth, Niall Brassill stepped up to score Kilkennys first free of the game. Still Wexford looked alot more dangerous from open play and Conor Hearne just went the other end and got his first score of the day.
All the Kilkenny half forward then line got on the scoresheet with Clara’s Paul Cody reducing the deficit again. What followed was a brilliant score with the play starting with a Damian Reck run, who left Paddy Deegan for dead with a burst of pace before getting the ball to Conor Hearne to make it true end to end stuff. It was then two from two for The Village man as Niall Brassill eloquently put away another free.
The game then faded after a blistering start, with wides registered from both sides coming from Mikey Dwyer and John Donnelly. After a lull in scores, Aidan Tallis belted the ball up the field with Tom Phelan obliging as ever, and made it all square with seven minutes to go. Cian Kenny was truly standing out, with his tenaciousness , covering as many blades of grass in the Wexford half. He earned his side another free with Brassill making Wexford rue their wides by keeping up his 100% free taking. Lee Chin though got rid of his 100% missed frees by sinking his third chance making it nine points apiece.
Advantage from the referee allowed then Conor McDonald to snatch his third and put his side in the lead, with the Naomh Eanna man having just as good of a game as Cian Kenny was having for his county. Naomh Eanna certainly have their fair share of classy hurlers and Charlie McGuckin proved it by getting the better of David Blanchfield to go two points ahead. Lee Chin then made the most of his 65 chance creating a three point distance before Paddy Deegan went immediately down the other end, scoring so fast the umpires nearly forgot to wave the white flag. Sean Stack then called for time right after Niall Brassill made it four from four on frees and we went into half time with a one point game.
Half Time: Wexford 0-12 Kilkenny 0-11
Ross Banville replaced for Lee Chin, with Chin looking like he was struggling physically in the first half. Considering his injury woes last year, the fans in the stands no doubt having a cause for concern heading into the league. Like in the first half though, it was those Wexford fans who had the first cheer of the second half with point from play Ian Carty. Niall Brasill responded by putting over his fifth free, but it would be all Wexford for the next three minutes with Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Mikey Dwyer and Richie Lawlor finally allowing some breathing space and creating a four point gap for Wexford. Only five points away from securing a Walsh Cup final appearance, with a nine point victory needed.
Then as the hope built amongst the home crowd, dissipated after long ball down field, was grabbed and hammered into the back of the net with Tom Phelan grabbing his second goal in The Walsh Cup. the Conahy man searched for the ball, ran into it and buried it forcing the green flag. Paddy Deegan and Cillian Buckley, in his first passage of play since being substituted on, combined very well as Deegan drew the game level with his second of the day. Ross Banville and John Donnelly traded scores and we were level again.
Richie Lawlor then rode the cheer of the crowds all towards the Kilkenny goalmouth forcing A great save from Aidan Tallis, who keept his eye on the ball and stopped the ball from reaching the back of the onion net. Damian Reck made up for it with a lovely point, but once again the travelling side proved they were every bit the home sides equal as Tom Phelan got himself another score. Next score went Wexford’s way, Conor McDonald putting over his fourth, with this writer barely being able to keep up with all the action. Paul Cody, a giant of a man, stood up and made it 1-16 to 0-19 but as is the form of the game Wexford just went ahead again thanks to Corey Byrne Dunbar.
The game went very quite, with substitution after substitution. After about five minutes Banville added to his tally but then disaster. Bill Sheehan only on the field, could’nt believe his luck as a back pass went astray and afforded him the opportunity to get himself a goal, which he duly delivered. Advantage was now on Kilkenny’s side, especially after Ian Byrne 2-17 to 0-19 points.
Advantage did not last long as Conor McDonald and Ross Banville made it 23 points each, so the game was truly in the melting pot with five minutes remaining. Tullaroan’s All Ireland hero Shane Walsh allowed Derek Lyng’s side to take the lead from a free before in true style of the game, Conall Clancy sailed the ball through the Wexford sky and over the bar to allow the game to end the way the match deserve, in a true Wexican stand off.
The late night lead to a few mistakes in stoppage time, with a few chances going a begging but then in the dying embers of the game. Goal! Goal! Goal! A long free from Liam Ryan found its way to Richie Lawlor and he scores! The home support were on their feet as if they won the All Ireland, and who could blame them, the county board and the match itself lead itself to being a special night. Conor Hearne followed that up with a point and Sean Stack blew the whistle to signify the inevitable pitch invasion.
Full Time: Wexford 1-25 Kilkenny 2-18