Bizarre final shootout points to spectacular summer tussle
Wexford 1-24 Kilkenny 1-24 :- After extra time Wexford won 3-2 on frees
A ridiculously entertaining Walsh Cup final at Nowlan Park ended in something of a weird and slightly hollow fashion, with the game's first free-taking shootout deciding that Wexford would take home the trophy they last collected in 2002.
As free-taking goes the quality was not vintage and dead-ball men who were immaculate for the most part in the match that preceded it, like Paul Morris and Alan Murphy, suddenly lost their touch. Kilkenny missed the last three, having scored the first two, all taken from the 65m line, while Wexford had the opposite experience, unsuccessful from the opening two, then converting the final three.
And so it ended, in a strangely anti-climatic way. But the match that went before was full of fire and if it is a harbinger of things to come when these teams meet in the upcoming National League and Leinster Championship then it would be in your interests to do all you can to be there. For a Walsh Cup final you will see few better and for entertainment it will surpass many of the National League matches coming down the tracks.
Kilkenny could have won it, maybe should have, for they led by eight points in the first half when playing with the wind and moving with intensity and vigour that will have pleased their manager Brian Cody. What will have pleased him less was the moment he was sent to the stands early in the second half by referee John O'Brien after protesting the decision to send off Richie Reid for interfering with an opponent's helmet. Cody appeared to have a different interpretation of this incident and made his views known to the linesman, who then left it to Mr O'Brien. He also took some time to follow the referee's orders to leave his station.
The match had a brief melee not long after and a splash of yellow cards, many late hits and crunching tackles, but nobody could dispute the earnestness of the exchanges. There was a lot of good hurling too. Both teams were visibly keen to win, not least Kilkenny who had lost to Wexford in the National League quarter finals and the Leinster Championship in 2017.
They roared into an early five-point lead with an attack that had three of last year's under 21s, including top scorer Alan Murphy whose final tally of 1-13 featured 1-8 from placed balls. The goal came from a penalty after a quarter of an hour, won by the impressive Pat Lyng. Martin Keoghan added a point to open an eight-point lead, 1-7 to 0-2, before four unanswered Wexford scores nearing half-time sliced that lead in half. Harry Kehoe helped himself to three fine points from play. Paul Morris was busy from frees and play. But Kilkenny scores from Murphy and Conor Fogarty helped them to a 1-13 to 0-11 advantage at the interval.
The game exploded after the break, with Wexford bringing on their heavyweights, including Matthew O'Hanlon, Lee Chin, Damien Reck and Jack O'Connor, whereas Kilkenny were more bereft of quality when they looked to their bench, with Richie Hogan, TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy among those unavailable. But they fought like their lives depended on it in the second half, showing qualities for which Cody teams are renowned.
Wexford used Kevin Foley, listed as a midfielder, as their sweeper but they still struggled at the back under incessant Kilkenny harrying and pressure of numbers. Before the penalty Murphy tested Mark Fanning with a shot from close range after being set up by Walter Walsh.
Kilkenny had Padraig Walsh as their spare man and defended well, with Joey Holden having a fine opening half.
But the sending off rocked them and Wexford were within a point five minutes after the interval. Despite facing the wind and a man less, they showed tremendous mettle to respond with three points, two from Murphy, and they were six points ahead when he scored his tenth point with five minutes of normal time left.
Then Wexford rallied. Morris pointed and Kevin Foley scrambled a goal before a monster score from Chin, not long on the field, left only a point between them.
With five additional minutes of injury time announced, Morris managed to point a free and then hit a wonderful score from play to level the teams for the first time after 73 minutes at 1-21 each.
From there, with Kilkenny back to 15 players, it looked like it could go in any direction. Kilkenny went back in front through Walter Walsh in extra time before Morris had Wexford enjoying the lead for the first time with his eighth and ninth scores, both frees.
Murphy levelled again for Kilkenny and then Conor McDonald might have thought he had won it with a score in the final minute of extra time. But Matthew O'Hanlon fouled the ball and Murphy was able to land his 13th point of the afternoon, showing a cool head, to leave them on 1-24 a piece. Both teams will need a lot stretching ahead of the National League's opening round next weekend.
Scorers - Wexford: P Morris 0-9 (7fs); J Guiney 0-5 (3fs); K Foley 1-0; H Kehoe 0-3; C Dunbar, M Fanning (f), D Dunne, E Moore, Jack O'Connor, L Chin, C McDonald 0-1. Kilkenny: A Murphy 1-13 (0-7 fs, 0-1 65, 1-0 pen); E Murphy (2fs), W Walsh, O Walsh, M Keoghan 0-2; C Fogarty, R Reid, C Martin 0-1.
Wexford: M Fanning; S Donohue, L Ryan, E Moore; A Maddock, S Murphy, E Martin; J O'Connor, K Foley; A Nolan, C Dunbar, H Kehoe; P Morris, J Guiney, D Dunne. Subs: M O'Hanlon for Martin (28 mins); D Reck for Joe O'Connor & Jack O'Connor for Dunbar (both half-time); L Chin for Guiney (60); A McDonald for Kehoe (62); Foley for Nolan & J Firman for Dunne (both 66); D O'Keeffe for Maddock (6 mins extra time); A Nolan for O'Connor (16 mins extra time); J Guiney for Ryan (final minute).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; J Holden, P Walsh, P Deegan; E Morrissey, C O'Shea, C Buckley; C Fogarty, O Walsh; M Keoghan, R Reid,P Lyng; A Murphy, W Walter, C Martin. Subs: L Ryan for Lyng and C Bolger for Martin (both 49 mins); C Browne for O Walsh (70); J Maher for Morrissey (74); J Walsh for Bolger & C Martin for Keoghan (9th min extra-time); G Malone for Fogarty (inj 15 mins extra time).
Referee: J O'Brien (Laois)
Sunday Indo Sport