Model men will relish another 'titanic battle' with familiar foes
Wexford 1-23 Galway 0-23
It's the old devil Kilkenny again for Wexford's hurlers as a reward for Saturday's thrilling win over the All-Ireland champions Galway. In this kind of mood, though, the matches can't come quickly enough. They ended Galway's reign as league champions with a strong finish, which delighted manager Davy Fitzgerald.
With little time to catch their breath, they now face Brian Cody's side next Saturday in the semi-finals at Wexford Park, where the crowd will be even more excitable than that which witnessed this memorable win. Diarmuid O'Keeffe, one of their heroes with three long-range scores from wing back, betrayed no trace of fatigue at the prospect of facing the Cats for the third time this year.
"No two games are the same," he said. "It will be another titanic battle next weekend. We have to work on the things we got wrong today and hopefully get them right for next weekend."
The more games the better; that is the Wexford motto. "That's what we want," said O'Keeffe. "Genuinely. When I came into the squad first, under Liam Dunne, we were playing in Division 1B for years and we were crying out to be playing these teams. We couldn't get practice matches against the Corks, the Kilkennys of this world ... It's great, we want those games."
Wexford were well worth their win, O'Keeffe's contribution indicative of their scoring spread. Paudie Foley scored five points from wing back, two from play, and full-back Liam Ryan hit a monster in the second half when the game became a captivating spectacle with little to separate them.
The home side made mistakes and their early free-taking wasn't clinical, with six first-half attempts going wide, but their spirit was unquestionable. Galway's cause was not helped by a 53rd-minute red card for young Jack Coyne, after an off-the-ball incident, when trailing by two points but the 14 men drew level on the hour mark through Conor Whelan, who was outstanding with five from play.
Having lost their final regulation league match to Limerick, missing out on promotion, this marked Galway's second successive defeat.
"When we went down to 14 men it was obviously going to be a struggle, but I can't fault the boys for their heart or their effort," said Galway boss Micheál Donoghue. "They gave it a right good go with 14 men, we're disappointed to exit the league but there are positives."
Galway will be back here on June 2 in the Leinster Championship.
"The fact that we've gotten the game, we know what's coming in a few weeks' time, we got to sample the pitch and the atmosphere, and we just knuckle down to training now, and we look forward to the championship," added Donoghue.
"We'd have liked another game instead of the monotony of training, the next couple of weeks are massive for us in terms of pushing on again. But today was a good stepping-stone for us in terms of getting ready for the Championship."
O'Keeffe admitted being motivated by last year's Leinster final defeat by Galway, which was mentioned in the dressing room at half time. At that stage, Wexford led 1-9 to 0-11, the goal coming shortly before the interval from Conor McDonald. His two later points in injury-time sealed the victory, with Harry Kehoe coming off the bench to hit a magnificent score as Wexford produced the better finishing kick.
Jack O'Connor gave a fielding exhibition in the first half and his younger brother Rory was exceptional throughout, taking over the free-taking duties from Lee Chin, who missed a couple of early chances. The younger O'Connor also had a hand in the goal, when his attempt was saved by James Skehill before McDonald finished the rebound.
Joe Canning struggled to impose himself, moving from midfield to full forward in the first half, but Johnny Coen and Cathal Mannion each hit three points from play.
The teams were level five times before Wexford opened a 0-8 0-5 lead after 25 minutes. Points from Coen, Whelan (2) and Mannion had Galway in front by the half hour. McDonald's goal reignited Wexford before the break. On the restart Galway had the first three scores, only for Wexford to respond with four. From there you couldn't afford to take your eye off it.
Scorers - Wexford: R O'Connor 0-6 (4f); C McDonald 1-2; P Foley 0-5 (3f); D O'Keeffe 0-3; K Foley, L Chin (1f) 0-2 each; J O'Connor, L Ryan, H Kehoe 0-1 each. Galway: J Canning 0-10 (9f, 1 65); C Whelan 0-5; C Mannion, J Coen 0-3; J Cooney, J Flynn 0-1.
Wexford - M Fanning 7; D Reck 7, L Ryan 8, S Donohoe 7; D O'Keeffe 8, M O'Hanlon 7, P Foley 9; K Foley 8, R O'Connor 9; J O'Connor 8, D Dunne 6, L Chin 8; S Murphy 7, C McDonald 8, P Morris 7. Subs: W Devereux 6 for Reck (inj 14 mins); A Nolan 7 for Dunne (53); H Kehoe 7 and C Dunbar 6 for J O'Connor and Morris (69).
Galway - J Skehill 6; A Tuohey 6, J Hanbury 7, P Mannion 7; J Grealish 6, G McInerney 7, A Harte 6; J Coen 8, J Canning 7; J Cooney 6, J Coyne 5; C Whelan 9, C Cooney 7, D Burke 5. Subs: S Loftus 7 for Grealish (h-t); J Flynn 7 for Burke (57); B Colcannon 6 for Cooney (69).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary).