Hand of history beckons Wexford as they overcome Galway
Wexford 1-21 Galway 1-19 (All-Ireland U-21 HC Semi-Finals)
Rank outsiders they might be ahead of a final against Clare on September 13 but JJ Doyle is backing his young Wexford stars to deliver.
Doyle pointed out that an All-Ireland final is not won in the bookmakers, or indeed on newsprint, and the hand of history has beckoned the Slaneysiders to within touching distance of a major breakthrough in this grade.
Not since 1965 have Wexford claimed All-Ireland U-21 glory. They haven’t even contested a final since 2001.
But young forward stars Jack Guiney and Conor McDonald provided a tantalising glimpse into the future against Galway in Thurles on Saturday evening, while also providing immediate hope.
Guiney hit 1-8, including seven placed balls, while McDonald was full of the flair and invention that has marked him out as a live contender for the Young Hurler of the Year award.
It was fitting that Wexford’s final point in Thurles on Saturday was a score created by McDonald and batted over the bar by Guiney, rushing in to finish at the Killinan End.
But it wasn’t just about these two as Gary Moore and Kevin Foley picked off three points each, with Pádraig Foley adding a brace.
Galway, however, will point to seven second-half wides and a four-point lead shortly after half-time as evidence to suggest that this was a game they could have won.
Pádraig Brehony shot the lights out with 1-6 from play, 1-5 of that posted by half-time.
And a run of seven unanswered points before and after the break had the Tribesmen in a commanding position, 1-17 to 1-13 clear.
But they would only register two further points for the remainder of the game and Wexford had enough in the tank to reel them in.
It was one of those fine games that has pockmarked the U-21 grade in recent years, with the scores coming at almost a rate of one per minute in the first half, Galway going in 1-14 to 1-13 ahead.
Wexford would go on to rediscover some of the fire and brimstone that were hallmarks of a progressive season for the senior team this summer.
Two of their key men, Guiney and McDonald, are already established stars in the top grade.
Doyle said: “We haven’t won anything yet but it is pleasing to get over the line, especially after what happened last year.”
Wexford fans don’t need reminding that the Model County flopped spectacularly in the 2013 semi-final against Antrim, as the Saffrons claimed a shock win.
But Doyle wants more now, adding: “Please God we can not settle for this being our lot for the year.
“We want to really drive on now Nobody’s going to give us a hope in hell against Clare.
“But listen, it really doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s what we think ourselves.
“We won’t just turn up to make up the numbers on the 13th – we’ll be there to try and win it.”
For Galway, this was a tough one to take, with manager Johnnie Kelly visibly fighting back tears at the final whistle.
He groaned: “Jesus Christ, we threw everything at this.
“I don’t want to be knocking anyone but we did have a lot of wides. But you know, the effort was there, we put in everything to this.”
The 6,853 spectators at Semple Stadium watched Galway go desperately close.
The foundations of this team lay in the 2011 All-Ireland minor winning side and they were more than competitive, with Cathal Mannion and Shane Maloney supplementing the Herculean efforts of the prodigiously talented Brehony.
But Wexford found the kick when they needed it most and Doyle believes that the incremental improvements from game to game can carry on into the final, as his boys attempt to deny Clare the three-in-a-row.
Doyle added: “I’d rather be going in as rank favourites but it’s not to be. Games aren’t won in bookie offices or on paper.
“Games are won on the field of play and we’ll go out there and listen, we’ll give it a go.
“Anything can happen.”
Overcome by raw, gut-wrenching pain, all that Kelly could do was thank his Galway players for their efforts since February, while also paying tribute to “the few that travelled down” from the West.
He added: “We blooded a lot of them young lads last year against Clare, with the intention of this year.
“They gave everything and there’s not much more I can say.”
Galway died with their boots on, as Wexford prepare to lace up one more time.
Scorers – Wexford: J Guiney 1-8 (0-7fs), G Moore, C McDonald, K Foley 0-3 each, P Foley 0-2, A Nolan, C Devitt 0-1 each. Galway: P Brehony 1-6, S Maloney 0-6 (3fs), C Mannion 0-3, A Tuohy, E Burke, J Glynn, B Molloy 0-1 each.
WEXFORD – O O’Leary; G Foley, L Ryan, E Conroy; A Kenny, S O’Gorman, J O’Connor; A Nolan, C Devitt; J Guiney, G Moore, P Foley; R Clarke, C McDonald, K Foley. Subs: J White for G Foley (36), P Sutton for Clarke (44), S Cash for Devitt (51), C O’Leary for P Foley (54).
GALWAY – S Mannion; D O’Donoghue, J Hanbury, P Killeen; B Keane, D Higgins, A Tuohy; C Diviney, E Burke; P Brehony, S Maloney, C Mannion; D Dolan, J Glynn, J Flynn. Subs: B Molloy for Dolan (23), E Brannigan for Diviney (47), J Carr for Flynn (56).
Ref – D Kirwan (Cork)