Wonderful Wexford dethrone Cats
Wexford 1-20 Kilkenny 3-11
Rarely have there been scenes of such unbridled joy at the end of a game where no silverware was being presented. Thousands of delirious Wexford fans surged onto the pitch to congratulate their hurling heroes who had just beaten Kilkenny in the Leinster championship for the first time since 2004.
This was a seminal victory for the home side and their charismatic manager Davy Fitzgerald, who watched the game from a specially constructed enclosed structure fitted with tinted windows in the press box.
The crowds chanted "Davy, Davy" as the fans attempted to recover their composure after an enthralling second half in which Kilkenny hit Wexford for two goals within 90 seconds to cut a seven-point lead back to the minimum.
Kilkenny never got on level terms, though Wexford had to depend on two heroic saves from goalkeeper Mark Fanning to deny the Cats in injury-time. It wasn't classic hurling but it was tense and exciting with Lee Chin in inspirational form for the winners.
So for only the third time since Brian Cody took charge in 1999 his team have failed to reach the Leinster final. But don't write them off completely yet: they will be dangerous opponents, particularly at home in the qualifiers.
The visitors made the dream start within a minute of the throw-in. Conor Fogarty grabbed a loose ball on the right flank and combined with championship newcomer Paddy Deegan, whose ball into the centre was grabbed by Colin Fennelly, who was hauled down as he progressed towards the Wexford goal.
TJ Reid stepped up and drove the penalty to the net, but the usually reliable finisher was later off target with two scoreable frees and this wastefulness was the dominant feature of a disjointed first-half performance by the Cats.
They hit nine wides in the first 35 minutes; Padraig Walsh wasn't the worst culprit with his three missed chances. On his return to championship hurling after missing the 2016 season Ger Aylward hit four first-half wides, and like Walsh he didn't survive until half-time - he was replaced two minutes before the break by newcomer Chris Bolger.
Wexford quickly recovered from the shock of conceding that first-minute goal and hit five points on the spin.
Kilkenny's poverty of ideas up front was underlined by the fact that they didn't register their first score from play until the 19th minute with a Lester Ryan point.
Such was the ferocity of the Wexford forward charge that they forced the Kilkenny defence to concede a succession of frees which Chin and Conor McDonald gratefully accepted.
The teams were level on two occasions in the second quarter before Wexford hit four unanswered points to take control again.
The sides shared four points in the last four minutes of the first half to leave Wexford 0-12 to 1-5 ahead at the break. Kilkenny had only managed two points from play, whereas six different Wexford players hit points from play in the half.
Wexford kept Kilkenny waiting at the start of the second half but the home side got off to a dream start on the resumption. After Paul Morris struck his second point, a move involving Simon Donohoe, Harry Kehoe and David Redmond (twice) culminated in the latter whipping the ball to the net following a goalmouth scramble.
Wexford now led by seven points but Kilkenny are not in the business of folding up their tent in a championship encounter. The fightback began in the 41st minute when it took a brilliant save from Fanning to deny Bolger; Reid nailed the '65' and Fennelly was denied a goal by a cynical foul by Liam Ryan, which earned him a booking.
Even though Kilkenny hit the next two scores Wexford appeared to have weathered the storm by extending their lead out to seven again. But Fennelly, who had been easily the most dangerous Kilkenny forward, then took centre stage to devastating effect.
He ghosted away from Liam Ryan and blasted a powerful shot which Fanning got his hurl to, but the sliotar still fell over the line. Thirty seconds later Fennelly caught the ball over his marker's head and was hauled down, and for the second time in the match Reid expertly dispatched the penalty to the net.
Now it was a one-point game but a brilliant Chin point momentarily eased Wexford's concerns in the 56th minute.
Lester Ryan and Chin, from a '65', exchanged points before McDonald missed a 25-metre free for Wexford with less than three minutes of normal time remaining. But a Matthew O'Hanlon point then put three between the sides. Heroic defensive play by Liam Ryan saved Wexford as the tension mounted before Reid hit his sixth point from a free with 40 seconds of normal time remaining.
Incredibly, twice in injury-time Wexford goalkeeper Fanning denied Bolger and then TJ Reid, but a Shane Tomkins score settled the nerves and Wexford survived to win a wonderful contest.
Scorers - Wexford: L Chin 0-6 (3f, 2 '65s), C McDonald 0-5 (4f), P Morris 0-3, D Redmond 1-0, L Ryan, S Tomkins, J Guiney, D O'Keeffe, J O'Connor, M O'Hanlon 0-1 each. Kilkenny: TJ Reid 2-7 (2 pens, 6f 1 '65), C Fennelly 1-0, L Ryan 0-2, W Walsh, P Deegan 0-1 each.
Wexford: M Fanning; W Devereux, L Ryan, S Donohoe, J Breen, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; J O'Connor, A Nolan; L Chin, P Morris, S Murphy; C McDonald, J Guiney, H Kehoe. Subs: D Redmond for O'Connor (32); S Tomkins for Nolan (57); P Doran for Kehoe (62); K Foley for Morris (65).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, K Joyce, C O'Shea; C Fogarty, C Buckley, R Lennon; R Hogan, P Deegan (0-1); L Ryan, W Walsh, TJ Reid; G Aylward, C Fennelly P Walsh. Subs: L Blanchfield for P Walsh (30); C Bolger for Aylward (33); K Kelly for W Walsh (63), R Reid for Hogan (68).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary)
Sunday Indo Sport