“I’m sure Brian will go back and study this and he’ll come back, vicious, again” – Davy Fitz
Wexford 2-18 Kilkenny 0-19
A sound dormant for generations rang around Nowlan Park as the shadows began to lengthen yesterday: Wexford people celebrating an away league victory in Kilkenny that had historians blowing dust off their ledgers.
Few of the parents of Davy Fitzgerald's players were born the last time - 1957 apparently- that Wexford successfully trampled on the Cats' toes here and this win delivered the bonus of propelling Wexford to their first National League semi-final since 2007.
"It's nice that Wexford are playing big games and winning, that's very important," smiled the Sixmilebridge man, who is quickly winning the adoration of a county occasionally inclined to pine irrationally for some modern reincarnation of Tony Doran's shovel hand on the edge of the square.
Fitzgerald's way is to covet possession above easy roars and it took a steely nerve for management and players to hold true to that philosophy in front of 14,568 paying customers here, especially given so much of the negativity in Wexford's heads across the years can be measured by their proximity to Kilkenny.
This was only the county's third victory over Brian Cody's men from the last 21 meetings and, when a short Mark Fanning puck-out to Liam Ryan almost backfired in the third minute, you could detect some early grumbling among the Wexford hordes.
However, Fitzgerald fervently believes that people who associate the deployment of a sweeper with negativity just do not understand the system. His argument was given ballast here, as only Eoin Murphy's brilliance prevented Wexford from adding at least another two goals to their total.
The weather and circumstance lent a real championship feel to the game, as the visitors, palpably fired up for the challenge, went at their hosts with venom from the off.
They had Shaun Murphy filling that sweeper role between the defensive lines, yet that did not stop them delivering decent ball to a two-man inside-forward line in which Conor McDonald looked to have the early beating of Padraig Walsh.
In time, Walsh would be released back to his preferred wing-back position. Paul Murphy was given the thankless task of shadowing the Naomh Eanna man, who would have had a first-minute goal if not for a wonder save from Murphy.
The Kilkenny keeper was called into spectacular action again in the 23rd minute, producing a breathtaking, one-handed parry of a David Redmond piledriver.
The sides were level (0-5 each) at that juncture, but the game really exploded on the half-hour when David Dunne finally found the Kilkenny net after terrific approach work from Paul Morris and Aidan Nolan.
Kilkenny duly responded in the way they know best, with Liam Blanchfield, Cillian Buckley and TJ Reid firing a pocket of three points from play inside two minutes to send the sides in at the interval on level terms.
And they did seem to have been denied a legitimate penalty claim in the 35th minute when a hard-charging Colin Fennelly was upended by goalkeeper Fanning, only for referee Alan Kelly to wave play on.
Yet, remarkably, Wexford never trailed through the entire second-half, their backs endlessly smothering Kilkenny attacks through weight of numbers and sheer force of personality.
A wonderful Morris score from inside his own half had Wexford leading 1-11 to 0-12 after 45 minutes, at which point they had a chance to put real daylight between the teams, as Kelly awarded a penalty for Padraig Walsh's contact with David Dunne.
Fanning, credited by Davy Fitz as showing "unbelievable character" to line out, given the death last Thursday night of a grandfather he was especially close to, came up from goal to take it, only to see his effort snap back to safety off Murphy's right-hand post.
There and then the prejudice of their past might easily have infiltrated Wexford minds.
However, McDonald beautifully controlled a Shaun Murphy delivery on the hurl before extending their lead and, immediately after Paddy Deegan narrowed the margin again, only a point-blank Murphy save prevented McDonald from goaling at the Ted Carroll end.
That was the tone of it. Every punch Kilkenny swung, Wexford responded with a windmill of their own.
That said, with just three minutes of normal time remaining, the game was still on the line (1-18 to 0-19) when a long-range Fanning free flew all the way to the Kilkenny net, securing a semi-final date for Fitzgerald's men against Tipperary on April 16.
It also secured Davy a second consecutive victory against Cody (Clare beat Kilkenny in last year's league semi-final). It's fuel for the fire, then, of an almost inevitable Leinster collision in Wexford Park on June 10.
For Fitzgerald, it's precisely the kind of narrative he thrives upon.
"I'm sure Brian will go back and study this and he'll come back, vicious, again," he told us.
"I love coming up against him. I've probably eight or nine years done at this craic and it's still the same on the sideline. It's still passionate."
They had an early altercation on the line yesterday, but it blew itself out like a faintly timid squall.
"I think we were both up for it... I don't think I'm as bad as he is," said Davy with a smile.
"You know what, like, the respect I'd have for the man is incredible. You'd be giving out about him at times because he's ruthless and he's a winner.
"But he's the best manager I've ever come across.
"And to still see his competitive drive and edge and... I know that that will hurt him a small bit. But he'll go back and, if he meets us again, I know what's coming."
In defeat, Cody communicated his usual calm pragmatism, reflecting: "We were forewarned for today. They were on a real serious roll, so it wasn't a question of us thinking we hadn't a serious challenge today.
"We knew that we had a huge challenge.
"If anybody else wasn't sure about it, they know it now."
SCORERS - Wexford: C McDonald 0-8 (4f), M Fanning 1-2 (1-2f), P Morris 0-3, L Chin 0-3 (1f), D Dunne 1-0, D O'Keeffe and D Redmond 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-10 (9f), L Blanchfield 0-3, O Walsh 0-2, P Deegan, C Buckley, W Walsh, R Hogan 0-1 each.
WEXFORD: M Fanning 8, W Devereux 7, L Ryan 8, D Reck 7, S Murphy 8, J Breen 7, M O'Hanlon 7, D O'Keeffe 7, J O'Connor 6, A Nolan 6, P Morris 7, L Chin 8, D Redmond 7, C McDonald 9, D Dunne 7. Subs: J Guiney 6 for Redmond (53 mins), H Kehoe 6 for O'Connor (60), B Carton for Morris (70), A Maddock for Nolan (71).
KILKENNY: E Murphy 9, P Murphy 7, P Walsh 6, S Prendergast 6, L Ryan 6, J Cleere 7, P Deegan 6, O Walsh 7, C Buckley 7, C Fennelly 6, W Walsh 6, TJ Reid 7, L Blanchfield 7, R Hogan 6, C Martin 5. Subs: JJ Farrell 5 for Ryan (49).
Ref - A Kelly (Galway).