Wexford wonder-sub proves that nothing beats being there with a moment of absolute madness
Wexford 1-22 Kilkenny 1-18
A fella from Wexford told me he wasn't going to Nowlan Park today because he didn't see the point of it.
Sure it'll hardly be worth the hassle.
It might have been handier to put the feet up at home, to be fair, and the view might have been decent on Sky Sports Arena but if the last few minutes of this game told us one thing, they told us one thing for certain. Nothing beats being there.
Kilkenny heads were dropping, Wexicans everywhere were going mental and, if you stopped to look around the ground just then - on the stroke of injury-time, Mikie Dwyer putting his county four points up with one of the maddest points of the year - then that's exactly what you'd have seen.
And it was some sight to see.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) May 21, 2022
To their credit, they'll travel in numbers regardless and, like few others, they'll shout even when they have little to shout about but, for the first time in this championship and for the first time in quite a while, the people of Wexford had every reason to shout tonight.
Because having scourged Kilkenny with one of those virtuoso performances he usually saves for them, Lee Chin had hurled up a storm in front of them. Behind him, Liam Ryan was lifting supporters and he was lifting team-mates with plays that only players as powerful and as full of conviction as he is can conjure.
Subs like Conall Flood and Dwyer and Charlie McGuckin and Dunbar did nothing to quieten them down. They did everything to carry their team over the line and that's why, in front of us, Wexford supporters throwing programmes into the sky in celebration.
The hurling championship would be a lesser place without them.
At the same time, there were Kilkenny lads calling Fergal Horgan a Tipperary so and so and they were, quick as flashes, comforting themselves in the fact that they've a Leinster final to prepare for and Wexford don't. But still, even as Leinster finalists, they'll be a small bit worried tonight.
A monumental performance from Lee Chin keeps Wexford alive in the Leinster championship.
Kilkenny v Galway in the Leinster final
Wexford are through to All-Ireland series - the Dubs are out pic.twitter.com/jatfScqc5L
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) May 21, 2022
Because, by a long way, Wexford were the better team tonight.
It took them a long time to show that but when they finally got into their rhythm, when Chin burned through the tackles, when Damien Reck started hurling as well as he did and when Simon Donohoe did some things with a sliotar that, once upon a time, corner backs wouldn't even dream of, Kilkenny had no answers.
In fact, their only answer was Richie Reid lorrying high and hopeless balls that Matthew O'Hanlon, at this stage of his inter-county career, must have believed to be a thing of the past. He didn't question them though, the big Wexford number five gobbled them up and beside him, Eoin Cody, who wasn't given a decent ball all day, was surely going mad thinking what the hell is going on here.
But still, in true Kilkenny fashion, they only lost by four.
Between them, the determined Mossy Keoghan and the opportunistic TJ Reid had them sitting pretty after a dream start. Mossy, to be fair to him, has been flying it recently and after being set up by Cian Kenny, he never looked like missing that early goal chance.
Wexford had been whimpering around up to now and, with players as good as they have, they were always going to liven up and this was their last chance. Nothing like the old rival to resuscitate and, while they took their time, they eventually shook the thing up.
Diarmuid O'Keeffe was clever enough in those early stages while Reck and Donohoe were like tigers.
They went into the break leading by three but, having had the breeze, and having seen Eoin Murphy stop a burning bullet from Conor McDonald, they may have thought their chance had gone.
A cat would do well if it had reflexes as good as Eoin Murphy's 🐈⬛pic.twitter.com/8mp0SYbfXD
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) May 21, 2022
Wally is always good for one and his point, just after the break, looked like it might be a momentum shifter. The second half started with an argy-bargy filled whirlwind of digs and dunts and tussles - Adrian Mullen ripped into his college mate Rory O'Connor with a shoulder not long before Paddy Deegan and Liam Óg McGovern got stuck in to it. The Sky Sports camera-man looked in bother as it all kicked it off in front of him until, out of nowhere, the big man from Tullogher Rosbercon came to the rescue.
Like he often does. He lit the touch-paper with a beauty down by the side-line as, all around him, the Kilkenny supporters bucked and leapt and in unison roared 'aboy Wally boy.'
That reduced to margin to one and, with the breeze at their backs, you felt that Kilkenny were going to kick on here. A goal really have killed Wexford at that stage but again, with their lives on the line, Wexford summoned the spirit they've spent a season looking for.
They say that, no matter how badly things are going, the best players will block it out regardless. Rory O'Connor was able to block out two poor wides and countless Mikey Butler flicks to score a settler from the sideline, followed by another.
From there, Kilkenny played into Wexford's hands. Richie Reid made heroes out of Ryan and O'Hanlon and then Damien Reck, with that brilliant goal-line block, made a hero out of himself.
Mikie Dwyer, Flood and Dunbar finished the Cats off. It was a game that every Wexford person in the stadium will have been glad they went to.
Wexford: M Fanning; S Donohoe (0-02), L Ryan (0-01), C Devitt; M O’Hanlon, D Reck, P Foley; D O’Keeffe (0-02), L Chin (0-09; 0-07 f); J O’Connor (0-01), K Foley, L Óg McGovern (0-01); O Foley (1-00), C McDonald (0-01), R O’Connor. (0-02).
Subs: C Flood (0-01) for Devitt (41), M Dwyer (0-01) for J O’Connor (54), C Dunbar (0-01) for K Foley (56), C McGuckin for O Foley (61), P Morris for McDonald (72).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; M Butler, C Delaney, T Walsh; M Carey (0-02), R Reid, P Deegan; A Murphy, A Mullen (0-02); W Walsh (0-01), TJ Reid (0-10; 0-08f; 1 65), T Phelan; C Kenny, M Keoghan (1-1), E Cody.
Subs: B Ryan (0-01) for Phelan (44), J Maher for A Murphy (53), P Walsh (0-01) for Kenny (67), J Donnelly for Keoghan (69).