By Ronan Fagan at MW Hire O’Moore Park
Photos: Noel Reddy Official Wexford GAA
Wexford 1-16 Galway 0-18
Pádraig Foley grabbed a famous injury-time winner as Wexford snatched the Walsh Cup senior hurling tournament crown from the grasp of defending champions Galway in Saturday’s final at an icy-cold MW Hire O’Moore Park, Portlaoise.
Wexford looked to be in some bother as they trailed by 0-12 to 0-17 after 55 minutes. But Davy Fitzgerald’s men held strong, and while substitute Cathal Dunbar was unfortunate to fire a goaling chance over the crossbar, his Naomh Éanna club-mate Conor McDonald conjured an equalising goal two minutes into added-time (1-15 to 0-18).
The prospect of a penalty shoot-out loomed large, particularly after Pádraig Foley saw his free from distance drop short. But the no.5 demonstrated exemplary focus to intercept the resultant clearance and fire the decisive point as, with Galway adding a late wide, Wexford collected a first Walsh Cup since 2018.
The Wexford management didn’t alter selection significantly from the semi-final victory over Kilkenny as they rung only three personnel changes – Liam Ryan and Damien Reck coming into defence in place of Michael Furlong and Gavin Bailey, while Conor McDonald took over from David Dunne upfront.
Nothing separated the sides during the opening exchanges as they shared six points, captain Jack O’Connor accounting for the Wexford tally from frees.
The St. Martin’s man tagged on two more frees while Aidan Rochford and Damien Reck also got in on the act as Wexford asserted control by 0-7 to 0-3 after 16 minutes.
But they struggled for the remainder of the half, adding just one more score – a 29th-minute Rochford point – while Galway recovered to lead 0-10 to 0-8 at half-time thanks mainly to sharpshooting free-taker Tádhg Harnan.
Wexford fell further adrift within five minutes of the resumption (0-12 to 0-8) to cue an injection of experience from the ‘bench, as Shaun Murphy, Rory O’Connor and Paul Morris were all introduced on 42 minutes.
Wexford still found scores difficult to come by and actually had to wait until the 46th-minute for their first score in 17 minutes, when another ‘Jacko’ free cut the gap to 0-14 to 0-9. The captain added two more frees to close to within 0-14 to 0-11.
But Galway held strong as they led 0-18 to 0-14 after 65 minutes.
Wexford were coming at the Tribesmen in torrents though, and Cathal Dunbar had that goaling chance which flew over the crossbar, before Conor McDonald almost got on the end of a promising Rory O’Connor delivery with the net under serious threat.
A second personal free from Seamus Casey had Wexford within 0-18 to 0-15 on 68 minutes, and twice more purple-and-gold shirts had the Galway net within their sights.
Such persistence eventually paid off in rich measure as, after the Galway ‘keeper had partially lifted an advance, Wexford swarmed on the clearance and Aidan Nolan fed Conor McDonald for ‘Mac’ to unleash the equalising goal two minutes into injury-time (1-15 to 0-18).
Two minutes later the industrious McDonald was back just inside his own ’65 forcing a free. Pádraig Foley considered his options before trying for the winner. The Galway netminder managed to cut out the initial threat. But his clearance towards the Stand-side was a gift for the utterly focussed Foley, who returned the ball with considerable interest as Wexford edged back in front with time running out.
Galway sub Thomas Monaghan had one last-gasp chance to force the decider to a penalty shoot-out, but he shot wide from the right wing as the final-whistle ushered hearty Wexford celebrations, leaving Jack O’Connor to collect the Walsh Cup as the Model County departed with pleasant memories from a venue where they open their National League campaign next Saturday against Laois.
Wexford: James Lawlor; Gary Molloy, Liam Ryan, Joe O’Connor; Pádraig Foley (0-1), Ross Donohoe, Damien Reck (0-1); Aidan Rochford (0-2), Kevin Foley; Jack O’Connor (capt., 0-8 frees), Aidan Nolan (0-1), Conor McDonald (1-0); Harry Kehoe, Andrew Shore, Mikey Dwyer.
Subs: Shaun Murphy for Reck (42); Rory O’Connor for Shore (42); Paul Morris for Kehoe (42); Simon Donohoe for R Donohoe (48); Cathal Dunbar (0-1) for Dwyer (49); Seamus Casey (0-2 frees) for J O’Connor (58); also, Gavin Bailey, Liam Óg McGovern, Mark Fanning, Michael Furlong, David Dunne, Kevin O’Grady, Conall Clancy, Eanna Martin.
Galway: Darach Fahy; TJ Brennan, Paul Killeen, Jack Grealish; Pádraic Mannion (capt.), Gearóid McInerney, Adrian Touhy (0-1); Seán Linnane (0-1), Seán Loftus (0-1); Conor Walsh, Tádhg Haran (0-12, 11 frees), Brian Concannon (0-1); Ja Mannion (0-1), Jason Flynn, Evan Niland.
Subs: Aidan Harte for McInerney (ht); David Glennon for Linnane (49); Diarmuid Kilcommins for Concannon (49); Thomas Monaghan (0-1) for Walsh (52); Ronan Burke for Brennan (55); Niall Burke for Flynn (57); Concannon for Loftus (67); Brennan for Haran (70+1).
Referee: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath).