Westmeath come from 17 points down to stun Wexford in sensational Leinster SHC upset
Westmeath 4-18 Wexford 2-22
Westmeath produced one of the most spectacular comebacks in hurling history to rip up the script and inflict a harrowing defeat on Wexford in Wexford Park this afternoon.
Trailing by as much as 17 points (2-14 to 0-3 after 33 minutes), Joe Fortune's side came out for the second half a completely different animal with Niall O'Brien bagging two goals to breathe life into their charge.
A comeback still looked unlikely, though, until super sub Niall Mitchell entered the fray in the 51st minute and fired two goals - the second in the 72nd minute - for a famous win.
Any hopes of an upset looked to be quickly nipped in the bud as Wexford tore out of the traps and accumulated a 1-6 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes with Conor McDonald finishing expertly to the net after being set up by Rory O'Connor.
McDonald and O'Connor were running riot in the inside line and the home side tagged on six of the next seven scores to seemingly put the game to bed with McDonald also rattling their second goal in the 24th minute, 2-11 to 0-2.
It was a carbon copy of his first with O'Connor doing the donkey work once again before the Naomh Éanna attacker provided the finish while Westmeath looked rudderless at the other end of the pitch.
Playing with a sweeper - which Darragh Egan's Wexford moved the ball around in efficient style - Fortune's side were always going to struggle to dent the scoreboard and they relied on five frees from Ciarán Doyle in the opening half.
Westmeath went in 16 down at the break, 2-15 to 0-5, as Jack O'Connor concluded the scoring in the first half with a delightful sideline cut from 50 yards and they bounced into the dressing room.
Nobody could have seen what was coming as the Lake men went with a far more orthodox in the new half and they reaped instant rewards as they hit the hosts for 1-4 without reply to get themselves back into the game somewhat.
O'Brien applied the finish for a neat goal in the 38th minute and they had the gap back to nine before a Lee Chin free seven minutes later finally got Egan's side off the mark in the closing half.
It was a belter of a second half with Fortune's men throwing everything at the red-hot favourites and while they rode their luck on a few occasions - Jack O'Connor had two goal chances saved by Noel Conaty, one a penalty - they deserved their victory.
Wexford simply couldn't break Westmeath's momentum as they built up a head of steam in the closing minutes and Mitchell provided the extra spark that was needed to bag a sensational victory.
For Wexford and Egan, it was desolation as any chance of qualifying for the All-Ireland series went out the door with the prospect of relegation now a possibility ahead of their final round against Kilkenny.
For Westmeath, they will still need at least a draw against Antrim next Sunday in Cusack Park to maintain their place in the Leinster SHC for 2024.
Westmeath:C Doyle 0-11 (10f), N O'Brien 2-3 (0-1f), N Mitchell 2-0, D McNicholas, E Keyes, J Boyle, P Clarke 0-1 each.
Wexford:C McDonald 2-2, L Chin 0-6 (4f), J O'Connor 0-4 (0-2 sideline), R O'Connor 0-3, O Foley, C Hearne 0-2 each, M Dwyer, I Carty, C Dunbar 0-1 each.
WEXFORD - J Lawlor; S Reck, L Ryan, C Devitt; I Carty, M O'Hanlon, S Donohoe; J O'Connor, C Dunbar; L Óg McGovern, L Chin, O Foley; R O'Connor, C McDonald, M Dwyer.
Subs: C McGuckin for Dunbar and C Hearne for Dwyer (both 60), D O'Keeffe for Foley (71).
WESTMEATH- N Conaty; C Shaw, T Doyle, J Bermingham; A Craig, R Greville, D Egerton; S McGovern, C Doyle; E Keyes, N O'Brien, C McCormack; O McCabe, J Boyle, D Glennon.
Subs: P Clarke for McGovern and C Boyle for McCormack (both half-time), N Mitchell for Glennon (51), D McNicholas for C Doyle (66)
REF - C Mooney (Dublin)