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Final-bound hurlers thwart Cats’ fight-back. Full Report Ronan Fagan, Photos: Noel Reddy

Wexford 2-18, Kilkenny 1-9
Wexford, with seven debutantes starting and another coming on, emerged from a brief second-half slumber to hit Kilkenny for 1-5 without reply between the 50th and 60th minutes at sun-kissed John Locke Park, Callan on Sunday as they secured a second successive Walsh Cup senior hurling tournament final showdown against holders Galway.

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That decider is set for O’Moore Park, Portlaoise this Saturday at 5p.m. – providing an ideal dry-run for Wexford’s National League opener at that venue against Laois a week later.

Wexford led Kilkenny by 1-8 to 0-5 at half-time before coming under serious threat, as Brian Cody’s All-Ireland final runners-up closed to within 1-8 to 1-7 by the 47th-minute after All-Star ‘keeper Eoin Murphy netted a penalty.

But Davy Fitzgerald’s charges weren’t about to budge another inch, and driven my ‘man of the match’ Aidan Nolan they stretched clear by 2-15 to 1-7 after 60 minutes en route to compiling a handsome double-scores victory.

Outside of their rather understandable decline on the restart, overall it was a bright start to 2020 by Wexford on an afternoon when goalie James Lawlor together with Gary Molloy, Ross Donohoe, Gavin Bailey, Aidan Rochford and first-half goal-scorer Mikey Dwyer made their senior hurling debuts together with recent footballers Michael Furlong and Kevin O’Grady – the latter as a late substitute.

Kilkenny, freshly returned from their team-holiday in America, fielded three of last August’s All-Ireland final side – goalie Eoin Murphy and defenders Paddy Deegan and Conor Fogarty – while two subs from that decisive setback against Tipperary also started.

Wexford captain Jack O’Connor pointed the visitors into a first-minute lead, and while Kilkenny turned the tables by 0-2 to 0-1, the Slaneysiders re-asserted themselves as David Dunne equalised before cutting in from the right wing to feed Mikey Dwyer, who rammed an unstoppable finish to the net from the front edge of the square on 16 minutes (1-2 to 0-2).

A solid defence foiled Kilkenny endeavours while Wexford’s lead mushroomed to 1-8 to 0-5 by half-time as Pádraig Foley, Jack O’Connor (free), Andrew Shore (in his first Wexford appearance since 2016), David Dunne, and Harry Kehoe (2) generated daylight.

But the visiting attack struggled on the resumption given the lack of quality service as Kilkenny appeared to be coming good, with ‘keeper Eoin Murphy bagging a 47th-minute penalty to help cut the gap to 1-8 to 1-7.

The Kilkenny netminder had also effected an outstanding save during this spell to deny Wexford sub Shaun Murphy a goal after a cross-field pass from Mikey Dwyer.

Wexford anxieties soon eased though as Aidan Nolan whipped the purple-and-gold into a scoring storm – the Bunclody flyer pointing Wexford’s first score of the half after 15 minutes, and adding another, before sub Paul Morris made an instant impact when feeding Nolan inside, where the no.11 swivelled out of the grasps of defenders to fire low to the far corner of the net on 56 minutes (2-10 to 1-7).

The purple-and-gold were unrelenting – particularly Jack O’Connor, who quickly notched four more points (two frees), and Gavin Bailey also flighted a classy contribution on 58 minutes.

Eoin O’Shea struck back with two pointed frees, before Wexford swelled to their double-scores victory with a burst of closing points from sub Conor McDonald, Andrew Shore and a seventh from inspirational leader Jack O’Connor (free) to set up a chance of avenging last year’s final loss to Galway.

Wexford – James Lawlor (Ferns St. Aidan’s); Michael Furlong (Adamstown), Joe O’Connor (St. Martin’s), Gary Molloy (Naomh Éanna); Pádraig Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 0-1), Ross Donohoe (Buffers Alley), Gavin Bailey (Ferns St. Aidan’s, 0-1); Aidan Rochford (St. Anne’s), Kevin Foley (Rapparees); Jack O’Connor (St. Martin’s, capt., 0-7, 5 frees), Aidan Nolan (HWH-Bunclody, 1-2), David Dunne (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, 0-2); Harry Kehoe (Cloughbawn, 0-2), Andrew Shore (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, 0-2), Mikey Dwyer (Fethard, 1-0).

Subs: Shaun Murphy (Oulart-The Ballagh) for Ross Donohoe (inj., 30); Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers) for Pádraig Foley (inj., 39); Paul Morris (Ferns St. Aidan’s) for Harry Kehoe (54); Conor McDonald (Naomh Éanna, 0-1) for Kevin Foley (54); Pádraig Foley for Michael Furlong (60); Kevin O’Grady (St. James’) for Mikey Dwyer (61).

Kilkenny – Eoin Murphy (1-0 penalty); Conor Delaney, Paddy Deegan, Ciarán Wallace; David Blanchfield, Conor Fogarty (capt.), Tom Kenny; Pat O’Carroll, James Maher (0-2); Aidan Nolan, Shane Murphy, Paul Holden (0-3 frees); Conor Hennessy, Billy Ryan, Ger Aylward (0-1).

Subs: James Burke for Pat O’Carroll (ht); Eoin O’Shea (0-3, 2 frees) for Shane Murphy (40); Stephen Donnelly for Conor Hennessy (44); Mickey Butler for Paul Holden (61).

Referee – Seán Stack (Dublin).