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Foley marks milestone with super winner

Bord na Mona Walsh Cup Senior Hurling Final: Wexford 1-16 Galway 0-18

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Jack O’Connor raises the Walsh Cup, after Wexford won it for the second time in three years, and 17th in total

Jack O’Connor raises the Walsh Cup, after Wexford won it for the second time in three years, and 17th in total

SPORTSFILE

Jack O’Connor raises the Walsh Cup, after Wexford won it for the second time in three years, and 17th in total

Padraig Foley marked a significant milestone in his inter-county career with a magnificent winning point as the Wexford Senior hurlers produced a strong finish to pip holders Galway to the Bord na Móna Walsh Cup title under the floodlights in MW Hire O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, on Saturday.

On the Crossabeg-Ballymurn defender's 50th appearance in the county Senior jersey, he emerged as the match-winner in added time to secure a 17th crown in this competition, and second under the guidance of Davy Fitzgerald.

Wexford had been chasing the game since a lull approaching half-time left them two points in arrears at the break (0-10 to 0-8).

And when our conquerors in last year's final in Bellefield added four points on the trot on the re-start, it looked like the task might be beyond a somewhat sluggish team.

However, for the second weekend running, the introduction of some big guns off the bench helped to revitalise the challenge, and it led to this slow-burner revving up and providing a very exciting finish.

Rory O'Connor, Paul Morris and Shaun Murphy entered the fray in the 42nd minute, with the biggest influence exerted by the St. Martin's man. His driving runs from around the midfield sector yielded a string of chances and frees, although Galway continued to pick off points too and were still ahead by 0-18 to 0-14 after free-taker Tadhg Haran converted his eleventh placed ball in the 65th minute.

The goal that was required almost arrived on the next Wexford attack, with Galway netminder Darach Fahy fumbling a Rory O'Connor strike that dropped short.

Conor McDonald was within inches of forcing the dropping ball over the line before the number one recovered, but it was a sign that the Leinster champions were far from finished.

Pressure on the re-introduced Brian Concannon led to an overcarrying offence and a pointed free from Seamus Casey in the 68th minute, making it a one-score game.

Cathal Dunbar, who - along with Casey - had helped I.T. Carlow to a Fitzgibbon Cup win on the previous night, then directed a dangerous delivery across goal that was intended for Aidan Rochford, but referee Mick Murtagh deemed it a square ball and awarded a free out.

Another Casey free dropped short and was cleared before Aidan Harte struck a Galway wide as the game moved into the four added minutes that were announced.

And a typical piece of opportunism from Paul Morris created the opening for the equalising goal that arrived 75 seconds into the period.

A Galway back emerged from a throw-in close to his own goal and turned backwards in a bid to seek a colleague with a handpass.

However, Morris intercepted and suddenly Wexford had a big chance. A frantic few seconds followed, with Galway netminder Fahy foiled in his efforts to clear before a snapshot by Aidan Rochford was blocked into the path of Conor McDonald who was on hand to rattle the net from close range (1-15 to 0-18).

Wexford supporters in the 1,725 crowd were oblivious to the cold as they wondered if there was still time to snatch a winner on an evening when a draw would have led to an immediate penalty shoot-out to decide the honours, without recourse to extra-time first.

And they got the answer they sought after Galway full-back Paul Killeen was booked for a frontal charge under the stand and just behind halfway at the end of the third added minute.

Pádraig Foley launched the free, but it was caught by goalkeeper Darach Fahy who off-loaded to a defender to make a clearance.

The ball was directed towards Foley, and the individual skill he displayed to pick off the winning point was a joy to behold.

First of all, catching it wasn't an easy task in the first place, even for a man of his stature, because he was close to the sideline and Galway players were in his general vicinity.

And for the latter reason, he had next to no time to get his shot away, but it was hit with such sweetness that it was clear where it was heading from the moment it left his stick.

As Wexford supporters reacted with glee, all eyes then turned towards referee Mick Murtagh as the four added minutes turned into five before he blew for full-time.

In that period, a long tussle for possession on the ground finally ended when Thomas Monaghan emerged with the ball and soloed goalwards, but he shot wide to ensure stand-in captain Jack O'Connor stepped forward to receive the Walsh Cup from Carlow's Jim Bolger, presidential candidate and the outgoing Leinster Council Chairman.

The starting team showed three changes from the Kilkenny clash six days earlier, with Michael Furlong, Gavin Bailey and David Dunne replaced by Liam Ryan, Damien Reck and Conor McDonald respectively.

The first-half was largely a free-taking contest between Jack O'Connor and Tadhg Haran, with the Galway attacker converting seven while the St. Martin's clubman knocked over five as the westerners established that 0-10 to 0-8 interval lead.

And there was one remarkable statistic to note: of the six points scored from play, only one arrived from a forward on either team, namely Galway's Jarlath Mannion in the 22nd minute.

Midfielders Seán Linnane and Seán Loftus chipped in also, while Wexford's three points arrived via a brace from the same sector by Aidan Rochford, plus one from wing-back Damien Reck.

Rochford was undoubtedly the brightest newcomer on view, bringing lots of energy to his general area and also linking up very well with the players around him.

His first point arrived in the twelfth minute, with Joe O'Connor passing diagonally to Mikie Dwyer who controlled well before his short pass fed the onrushing Rochford for a composed finish.

That made it 0-5 to 0-3 in Wexford's favour, with the lead widening when Andrew Shore teed up Damien Reck for his point before Jack O'Connor punished a foul on Aidan Nolan. Prior to that daylight appearing, the sides had been level on three occasions in the early stages.

However, Galway then had a period of supremacy that yielded four points on the trot, including three Tadhg Haran frees plus that Jarlath Mannion effort, before we got a glimpse of how effective Wexford's system can be when it goes according to plan.

Sweeper Kevin Foley moved forward at pace to take a short pass from Jack O'Connor off the shoulder, and the Rapparees man duly fed Aidan Rochford in turn for another neat point.

Foley's defensive qualities were required shortly after Haran levelled from another free, with the short puck-out intercepted by Evan Niland who was haring goalwards before the Wexford player expertly flicked the ball off his hurl.

Still, Wexford were somewhat sloppy in the lead-up to half-time, and it resulted in two more pointed frees from Tadhg Haran to leave the holders ahead at the break by 0-10 to 0-8.

The first nine minutes on the re-start were ominous for the 2018 champions, as Haran added two more frees before he had to step away from the next one after hurting himself when he was fouled.

That was fortunate for Wexford, because Evan Niland missed a very handy chance, but the gap still grew to six after wing-back Adrian Tuohey and Brian Concannon joined the list of Galway marksmen (0-14 to 0-8).

However, they managed to work their way back into the game, with a half-chance for a goal arriving when a point attempt from the left by new arrival Shaun Murphy was blocked into the path of Conor McDonald.

Galway backs swarmed around him and conceded a free, with Jack O'Connor doing the needful before adding two more - the first when Seán Linnane lay on the ball when he was tackled, and the second for a foul on Gary Molloy, shortly after Aidan Nolan struck a wide.

Haran hit back from play and a free, and that seemed to be the pattern as Galway looked capable of responding any time the pressure came on.

First Rory O'Connor and then Aidan Rochford could only locate the goalkeeper's grateful hand with weak point-scoring attempts before the latter and Pádraig Foley combined to pick out Nolan who opted to fire high and over the bar from the left of the posts.

Thomas Monaghan found space to latch on to a crossfield pass and hit back swiftly, but the threat posed by Rory O'Connor was crystal clear on the next Wexford attack.

He powered away from a posse of would-be challengers before handpassing to his right for Cathal Dunbar whose venomous shot fizzed over rather than under the bar (0-17 to 0-13).

Seamus Casey replaced Jack O'Connor and took over the free-taking duties, duly closing the gap to three after Rory was fouled on another strong run.

Aidan Rochford batted the puck-out that followed to the Oylegate-Glenbrien clubman, but he shot wide, while Pádraig Foley missed a long-range free, won yet again by Rory O'Connor, before Galway left four between them with what turned out to be their last score.

The finish was frantic and very encouraging from Wexford's point of view. While most neutral followers will struggle to remember who won the Walsh Cup next August, by the same token it's important for the continuing development of this team that they show the type of character that yielded victory on Saturday.

While Liam Ryan's touch was a little rusty in the first-half, that was understandable in his first game of the year, and he was a lot steadier in the second period.

Gary Molloy and Joe O'Connor were solid in the corners, ensuring James Lawlor wasn't tested with a shot, but Andrew Shore and Mikie Dwyer weren't as prominent as they had been in Callan.

The one major aspect to emerge from the two games thus far is that Davy Fitzgerald and company are working hard at cultivating a stronger panel with the depth required to go further than last year.

There can be no denying that the introduction of the cavalry off the bench - in the guise of a host of experienced campaigners - led to the semi-final and final victories, and efforts to gel these familiar faces with some promising newcomers are likely to continue.

Playing this game in Portlaoise was a big bonus for the victors, because they will be back there again this Saturday at 7 p.m. to face Laois in the first round of the Allianz League.

Galway hit 13 wides to Wexford's seven, with both sides awarded 19 frees on an evening when the names of Jack Grealish, Jason Flynn, Shaun Murphy and Paul Killeen entered referee Mick Murtagh's notebook.

Wexford: James Lawlor (Ferns St. Aidan's); Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna), Liam Ryan (Rapparees), Joe O'Connor (St. Martin's); Pádraig Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 0-1), Ross Donohoe (Buffers Alley), Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-1); Aidan Rochford (St. Anne's, 0-2), Aidan Nolan (HWH-Bunclody, 0-1); Jack O'Connor (St. Martin's, capt., 0-8 frees), Conor McDonald (Naomh Eanna, 1-0), Kevin Foley (Rapparees); Harry Kehoe (Cloughbawn), Andrew Shore (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy), Mikie Dwyer (Fethard). Subs. - Rory O'Connor (St. Martin's) for Shore (42), Paul Morris (Ferns St. Aidan's) for Kehoe (42), Shaun Murphy (Oulart-The Ballagh) for Reck (42), Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers) for R. Donohoe (48), Cathal Dunbar (Naomh Eanna, 0-1) for Dwyer (49), Seamus Casey (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-2 frees) for Jack O'Connor (53).

Galway: Darach Fahy; Jack Grealish, Paul Killeen, T.J. Brennan; Pádraic Mannion (capt.), Gearóid McInerney, Adrian Tuohey (0-1); Seán Linnane (0-1), Seán Loftus (0-1); Conor Walsh, Tadhg Haran (0-12, 11 frees), Brian Concannon (0-1); Jarlath Mannion (0-1), Jason Flynn, Evan Niland. Subs. - Aidan Harte for McInerney (HT), Diarmuid Kilcommins for Concannon (50), David Glennon for Linnane (50), Thomas Monaghan (0-1) for Walsh, inj. (51), Ronan Burke for Brennan (55), Niall Burke for Flynn (57), Concannon for Loftus (67), Brennan for Haran (70+1).

Referee: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath).

Wexford People