'I think I'm wasting my time in this job. I'm not going to say why' - Davy Fitzgerald furious with decisions
Kilkenny 0-22 Wexford 1-18
For Kilkenny it was a matter of pride. During Brian Cody's 20 year reign as the Cats' boss, the team had never missed consecutive Leinster finals. Even when they trailed by nine points in the early second there was a sense that there might be a kick coming.
When it came it didn't quite blow a tiring Wexford side away. Unusually the Cats failed to find the net but they outscored the visitors 14 points to five during the remainder of the tie to eke out the win they needed to overhaul Wexford in the table and qualify for their 17th provincial final of the Cody era.
The sight of both Richie Hogan - back for the first time since last year's championship - and Colin Fennelly on the field at the start showed that Kilkenny meant business.
But both were withdrawn at half-time; Hogan's finishing was suspect - he was responsible for three of Kilkenny' eight first-half wides - and Fennelly's first touch was poor.
Ultimately Cody got his calls correct: three of the substitutes he introduced, Richie Leahy, John Donnelly and Joey Holden, contributed 0-5 from play after the break. TJ Reid chipped in with 0-11 but what will concern Kilkenny is that none of the other starting forwards scored from play.
As their manager Davy Fitzgerald had forecast, Wexford's four matches in 20 days proved a bridge too far as they tired in the second half and their skill-sets deserted them, particularly in the shooting department, as they recorded 10 wides after the break.
Read more here:
- 'We apologise' - Sky Sports issues statement on 22-minute delay showing Kilkenny and Wexford hurling clash
- Galway get out of jail as Dublin go down fighting
They will play either Westmeath or Carlow in the preliminary quarter-final on July 7/8 but they need to reach the last four in the All-Ireland series to sustain the advances they have made under Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald wasn't happy afterwards. "I think I'm wasting my time in this job. I'm not going to say why. Just go back and look at it. Fair play to Kikenny and they back hard, I really admire their style," he said.
"There's frees given in one half and they're not given as easy in the second half and that's a fact. I love the way Kilkenny play but we're wasting our time if it's not 100 per cent across the board."
A delighted Cody said: "It was a very good win for us. At half time we had a fair deficit but we missed a lot of chances in the first half. It was really a tester for the players but they responded very well and we just worked, worked, worked. Everybody drove on and it was a great effort from everybody.
After the early frantic exchanges Kilkenny's scoring rate dropped alarmingly before completely drying up. Wexford, on the other hand, went on a scoring spree, hitting six points from play between the 18th and 27th minutes.
Then Wexford delivered another blow with a goal from Paul Morris, and by half time they were seven clear at 1-11 to 0-7.
Wexford stretched their lead to nine early in the second half before a Kilkenny forward - inevitably it was Reid - got the attack's first point from play in the 39th minute.
Gradually the game became more attritional, with more frees being awarded and a lot of broken play. That suited Kilkenny, who hit seven scores on the spin, including an inspirational effort from full-back Padraig Walsh after Paudie Foley got caught carrying the ball into traffic. At the other end Wexford squandered crucial chances, hitting three wides.
Suddenly the margin was down to two with 20 minutes left; all the momentum was with the Cats. Even the refereeing decisions were going their way. Kilkenny looked the fresher side and once defender Enda Morrissey gave them the lead in the 60th minute they never relinquished it.
Wexford only needed a draw to reach the decider and although Paudie Foley held his nerve to bag three late frees they never looked like pegging the Cats back.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-11 (9f, 1 65), C Fogarty, R Leahy, J Donnelly 0-2 each, E Murphy (f), P Walsh, E Morrissey, J Maher, J Holden 0-1 each. Wexford: P Foley (4f), R O'Connor (2f) 0-5 each; P Morris 1-1, L Chin 0-3, C McDonald 0-2, D O'Keeffe, K Foley 0-1.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, P Walsh, P Deegan; C O'Shea, C Buckley, E Morrisey; C Fogarty, J Maher; W Walsh, TJ Reid, C Fennelly; B Sheehan, R Hogan, L Scanlon. Subs: M Keoghan for Hogan (ht); R Leahy for Fennelly (ht); J Holden for O'Shea (ht), L Blanchfield for Sheehan (46), J Donnelly for Scanlon (64).
Wexford: M Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan, S Donohoe; P Foley, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; K Foley, S Murphy; L Chin, A Nolan, J O'Connor; P Morris, R O'Connor, C McDonald. Subs: H Kehoe for K Foley (54); J O'Connor for Dunne (54); S Donohoe for O'Keeffe (62), S Tompkins for Morris (70).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath)
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here
Sunday Indo Sport