By the end of this absorbing Leinster hurling semi-final there were bodies from both sides strewn across the pitch everywhere, exhaustion and cramp really kicking in as the clock ticked over 100 minutes.
Ultimately it was Kilkenny who had survived it better, however, hitting an unanswered 1-6 in the second period of extra-time to keep a firm hold of the Bob O’Keeffe Cup for at least another two weeks.
Wexford had thrown everything at it, in 70-plus minutes of normal time and for the first 10 minutes of extra-time when they had the advantage of an extra player after Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy was black carded for hauling down Wexford substitute Conal Flood just after the restart, a textbook example of the new cynical play rule and the very reason why it was introduced.
From the resultant penalty, Wexford goalkeper Mark Fanning came forward to beat Darren Brennan, Kilkenny’s replacement goalkeeper, but they couldn’t make the numerical advantage count and when Murphy returned to restore Kilkenny to full numbers at half-time in extra-time, with his side trailing by a point (2-29 to 1-31), Kilkenny were ready for that final victorious push, Walter Walsh’s goal after he caught a puck-out in the 85th minute ensuring victory.
The champions will be pleased with how they stayed the distance but also the impact of their bench with seven substitutes scoring. In James Maher and James Bergin in particular they got important contributions. For Wexford the game represented a big improvement on last year’s championship but there will be devastation too that they spurned chances at critical times, particularly at the end of normal time. Manager Davy Fitzgerald was in no doubt afterwards that the better team had lost.
They will also look at Murphy’s save from Rory O’Connor just before the Walsh goal as an opportunity that could have turned it back in their favour again as they trailed by just two points at that stage, 1-34 to 2-29. It was that type of game throughout, the pendulum swinging one way and then another until Kilkenny struck for home in those last 10minutes.
It had been a gripping finish to normal time with Wexford salvaging a draw with the last three points after Eoin Cody looked to have wrapped it up for Kilkenny with a 68th-minute goal when he got in behind the Wexford defence and batted past Mark Fanning for a three point lead.
But Wexford had left too much of themselves out there to let it go with Chin converting two frees and then Liam Ryan landing a monster point from his own half but only after a Hawk-eye intervention as Eoin Murphy had caught the shot above — and behind — the crossbar initially. For Kilkenny it was the lesser of two evils as Conor McDonald had knocked the ball to the net from Murphy’s grasp. Had the goal stood, there was no way back for them.
Wexford had drifted early in the half but rallied impressively with Chin and Liam McGovern to the fore. They went from 0-18 to 0-14 down in the 40th minute to draw level by the second water break and then led by two points twice, sub David Dunne putting them 1-21 to 0-23 clear with a 60th-minute goal.
Kilkenny really could have been further ahead than just a point, 0-15 to 0-14, at half-time with the goal chances they had. Twice in the opening minutes Eoin Cody engineered himself into good positions but was denied by the post for one — and awarded a free which Reid subsequently converted — while Wexford sweeper Kevin Foley got in a block for the second.
Later on the half Cody put Alan Murphy into the clear but with the Wexford defence at sea Murphy left his shot at the right height for Mark Fanning to stop and clear. There was great hurling on both sides and referee Fergal Horgan played his part, allowing the play to flow and the exchanges to enjoy a raised temperature that wasn’t there during the league. The 8,000 or so crowd enjoyed those exchanges and when Paddy Deegan met a rampaging Chin just as the Wexford man was offloading to Conor McDonald they both hit the deck with Chin taking his time to get back on his feet.
The subsequent free was converted by Paul Morris to restore parity, 0-11 each, but you sensed Kilkenny had delivered a quiet statement with it. Wexford had enjoyed the best lead of the half, three points, three times when they went 0-7 to 0-4, 0-9 to 0-6 and then 0-10 to 0-7 clear, after Hawk-Eye had intervened to correct a McDonald ‘wide’.
Scorers — Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-16 (11f, 1 ‘65) E Cody 1-5, W Walsh 1-1, R Reid, J Maher, J Bergin 0-2 each, A Mullen, A Murphy, M Keoghan, C Fogarty, J Donnelly, E Murphy (f), T Walsh, M Carey, B Ryan 0-1 each. Wexford: L Chin 0-14 (12f), M Fanning 1-1 (1-0 pen, f), R O’Connor 0-3, D Dunne 1-0, C McDonald, S Murphy, L Óg McGovern 0-2 each, J O’Connor D O’Keeffe, M O’Hanlon, P Morris (f), L Ryan 0-1.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; T Walsh, H Lawlor, P Deegan; D Corcoran, P Walsh, C Browne; R Reid, R Leahy; A Mullen, K Keoghan, A Murphy; E Cody, TJ Reid, B Ryan. Subs: C Fogarty for Leahy (h-t), J Maher for Corcoran (h-t), J Donnelly for Ryan (47), W Walsh for R Reid (52), J Bergin for Murphy (63), M Carey for Fogarty (e-t), C Buckley for Browne (e-t),D Brennan for Bergin (71), J Bergin for D Brennan (80), B Ryan for Keoghan (80).
Wexford: M Fanning; L Ryan, M O’Hanlon, S Reck; S Donohoe, S Murphy, G Bailey; D O’Keeffe, L Óg McGovern; R O’Connor, L Chin, C McDonald; M Dwyer, P Morris, K Foley. Subs: J O’Connor for Morris (47), D Dunne for Dwyer (59), C Flood for O’Keeffe (70), C Firman for Murphy (70+3), O’Keeffe for McGovern (77), Murphy for Bailey (80), C Dunbar for Chin (85), C Hearne for O’Keeffe (88).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).