Senior hurlers crack Leinster after 15 years : By Ronan Fagan

Wexford 1-23,  Kilkenny 0-23

Soak it in, lap it up, or whatever way you like to do it – Wexford are the Leinster senior hurling champions once again!

The heroes of 2019 danced a jig of euphoric joy at Croke Park on Sunday after annexing the Bob O’Keeffe Cup for the first-time since 2004.

A goaled penalty from ‘keeper Mark Fanning in the 64th-minute after Rory O’Connor was impeded ultimately tipped the scales decisively in favour of Davy Fitzgerald’s charges in a titanic battle.

Although Kilkenny tried to salvage a draw, Wexford weren’t for turning as they finally atoned for the 2008 provincial final defeat to the black-and-amber in addition to the 2017 disappointment against Galway.

With Wexford’s 34-year long wait for provincial minor hurling glory having ended in the day’s curtain-raiser at GAA Headquarters, the seniors certainly wrapped-up a beautiful day for the Model County in perfect fashion.

The senior Leinster title is further testament to the brilliant work being undertaken by 2013 Clare All-Ireland-winning boss Fitzgerald and his fellow selectors, Seoirse Bulfin, JJ Doyle and Keith Rossiter over the last three years, while not forgetting the valued contribution of Páraic Fanning either.

Wexford have realised some reward for their commitment and they celebrated long into a famous day, and deservedly so.

The triumph sees Davy ‘Fitz’ add Leinster SHC honours to the Munster SHC he secured with Waterford, together with the All-Ireland SHC and National League Division 1 titles with Clare, while, for good measure, he’s also guided Limerick I.T., to the Fitzgibbon Cup.

Sunday’s game was a near carbon-copy of the counties’ tight, intense closing-round Leinster championship group-stage encounter at Innovate Wexford Park a fortnight earlier, with scores tied on ten occasions, and barely any daylight in it otherwise.

Wexford, clearly seeking to benefit from the experience of the 2017 provincial final at Croker, settled nicely as a gem from Conor McDonald from underneath the Hogan Stand set the tone, before Lee Chin (free) and Rory O’Connor responded to a TJ Reid point to craft a fifth-minute 0-3 to 0-1 lead.

Kilkenny drew level on 0-6 apiece after 15 minutes, while it was balanced three more times by the 23rd-minute as Conor McDonald, Paul Morris, Rory O’Connor, Lee Chin (play and a free) and defender Simon Donohoe generated passionate cries from Wexford connections amid the 52,000-strong attendance with the sides on 0-9 apiece.

TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly edged Kilkenny 0-11 to 0-9 to the good after 25 minutes, and Brian Cody’s men maintained a slight advantage through to half-time (0-15 to 0-14) despite positive Wexford scores from Rory O’Connor (2), Lee Chin (2 frees) and Diarmuid O’Keeffe.

The contest never deviated from such tight parameters as, despite Walter Walsh increasing the margin to 0-16 to 0-14, a Lee Chin free from midfield and another Diarmuid O’Keeffe finish restored parity for a sixth time after 40 minutes (0-16 apiece).

Mark Fanning then bravely intervened to parry a Colin Fennelly goaling effort at the expense of a fruitless ’65, with Kilkenny out-shooting Wexford by a remarkable 12 wides to just 3.

Such economy by Wexford is evidence of the thoroughness of Davy Fitzgerald’s work, with Wexford having fired just six wides against Kilkenny earlier this month.

Fortunes, meanwhile, continued to ebb-and-flow at Croker – Wexford stealing 0-18 to 0-16 ahead through Conor ‘Mac’ and Chin (free); Kilkenny transforming matters by 0-19 to 0-18; Wexford re-taking the lead 0-20 to 0-19 via Chin (free) and Jack O’Connor; Adrian Mullen levelling for a ninth-time; Conor ‘Mac’ nudging Wexford 0-21 to 0-20 clear.

Liam Ryan frustrated a Colin Fennelly threat on the edge of the large square at the expense of a ’65, which led to two quick TJ Reid points, which had Kilkenny back leading with seven minutes remaining (0-22 to 0-21).

The key though was that Wexford never stopped believing, and a clever delivery from Shaun Murphy to Rory O’Connor out on the left wing set in motion the decisive move – with O’Connor dashing in behind the cover only to be taken down at the expense of a penalty. And Mark Fanning made the long journey from the Hill 16-end to rifle to the Canal End net amid delirious cheers as Wexford struck in front on 64 minutes (1-21 to 0-22).

Liam Óg McGovern added to the good feeling with a quick point from the left wing.

Wexford foiled another Kilkenny goaling effort, coughing up a ’65 that was pointed by TJ.

Lee Chin responded with a pointed ’65, before Wexford, despite being under siege, displayed exemplary discipline as they thwarted numerous Kilkenny efforts to unlock the passage to the purple-and-gold net.

The final-whistle soon released 15 years of provincial frustration as scenes of unbridled joy broke out, with supporters basking in these passionate Model hurlers deservedly banking some real championship credit.

Wexford – Mark Fanning (1-0 penalty); Shaun Murphy, Liam Ryan, Simon Donohoe (0-1); Pádraig Foley, Matthew O’Hanlon (joint-capt.), Shane Reck; Kevin Foley, Diarmuid O’Keeffe (0-2); Jack O’Connor (0-1), Rory O’Connor (0-4), Lee Chin (joint-capt., 0-9, 7 frees, 1 ’65); Paul Morris (0-1), Conor McDonald (0-4), Liam Óg McGovern (0-1).

Subs: Conor Firman for Shaun Murphy (temp., 15-16); Conor Firman for Shane Reck (49); Cathal Dunbar for Paul Morris (59); David Dunne for Liam Óg McGovern (66); Harry Kehoe for Conor McDonald (70+2); also, Damien Reck, Eanna Martin, James Breen, Seamus Casey, Joe O’Connor, Ian Byrne, Gavin Bailey, Eoin Molloy, Ross Donohoe, Darren Byrne, Conal Flood, Rory Higgins.

Kilkenny – Eoin Murphy (0-1 free); Paul Murphy, Huw Lawlor, Joey Holden; Paddy Deegan, Pádraig Walsh, Enda Morrissey; James Maher (0-2), Conor Fogarty; Richie Leahy, TJ Reid (0-12, 5 frees, 3 ’65s), Walter Walsh (0-2); Alan Murphy (0-1), Colin Fennelly (0-2), Adrian Mullen (0-2).

Subs: Ger Aylward (0-1) for Adrian Mullen (temp., 39-41); Ger Aylward for Alan Murphy (43); Billy Ryan for Walter Walsh (56); Richie Hogan for Colin Fennelly (70+2).

Referee – John Keenan (Wicklow).