Kilkenny fight back in second half to advance to Leinster final
Kilkenny 0-22 Wexford 1-18
Kilkenny avenged last year's Leinster semi-final defeat to Wexford with a thrilling comeback victory against the Model men to book their Leinster SHC final against reigning All-Ireland champions Galway.
Brian Cody's men trailed by nine points early in the second half but with TJ Reid on song from placed balls (0-11, 0-9 frees, 0-1 '65), they refused to die and second-half substitutions were crucial as they eventually ground down Davy Fitzgerald's side.
Former Hurler of the Year Richie Hogan started as part of three late Kilkenny changes along with Conor O'Shea and Colin Fennelly – replacing Conor Delaney, Liam Blanchfield and John Donnelly while Conor Firman and David Dunne came in for Jack O'Connor and Simon Donohue on the Wexford side.
It was nip and tuck in the early exchanges and the sides were level midway through the first half, 0-5 apiece, but their scores were coming in much different fashion as Wexford hit the ground running following last week's disappointing defeat to Galway.
Rory O'Connor was running riot from wing forward with three first-half points from play as the Cats were mainly restricted to Reid frees as they hit just two points from play – from midfielders Conor Fogarty and James Maher – in the opening 35 minutes.
They failed to score from the 12th to the 30th minute as the Model men kicked on with Lee Chin firing over two points to send them into a double scores lead, 0-10 to 0-5, before Paul Morris beautifully volleyed the sliotar to the net after being expertly set up by Chin and Dunne.
Reid broke their resistance from placed balls but Kilkenny were wasteful – Hogan hit three first-half wides as he struggled to hit form and was hauled off at half-time – but Kevin Foley hit a fine point to send them into a seven-point half-time lead, 1-11 to 0-7.
When Wexford fired the opening two points from the brilliant Paudie Foley and Chin it looked like curtains for the Cats but seven points in a row – six from Reid – as Pádraig Walsh thundered into the game at wing back helped them claw back into it.
Foley's free eventually broke their resistance in the 53rd minute, 1-14 to 0-14, but amazingly, Kilkenny were ahead on the hour mark as their fresher legs started to tell with substitutes Richie Leahy, Joey Holden, Blanchfield and Donnelly making a huge impact.
Try as Wexford might with Paudie Foley inspirational in the closing half, they couldn't get level again as the Cats held out in a pulsating finish to book their Leinster final date with Galway on July 1st.
KILKENNY – E Murphy; P Murphy, P Walsh, P Deegan; C O'Shea, C Buckley, E Morrissey; C Fogarty, J Maher; W Walsh, C Fennelly, TJ Reid; B Sheehan, R Hogan, L Scanlon.
Subs: M Keoghan for Hogan, R Leahy for Fennelly, J Holden for O'Shea (all half-time), L Blanchfield for Sheehan (46), J Donnelly for Scanlon (64).
WEXFORD – M Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan, C Firman; P Foley, M O'Hanlon, D O'Keeffe; K Foley, S Murphy; D Dunne, A Nolan, L Chin; P Morris, R O'Connor, C McDonald.
Subs: H Kehoe for K Foley and J O'Connor for Dunne (both 54), S Donohoe for O'Keeffe (63), S Tomkins for Morris (70).
REF – J McGrath (Westmeath)