Wexford deserved their Leinster title but Cork hurling fans are more interested in what defeat means for Kilkenny

Wexford deserved their Leinster title but Cork hurling fans are more interested in what defeat means for Kilkenny
Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

WEXFORD got the breaks they deserved in a pulsating Leinster hurling final at Croke Park and in landing their first title in 15 years shook up the race for Liam MacCarthy.

Davy Fitzgerald was close to walking away last winter after two seasons at the helm where they hurled well but failed to get past the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Their structured approach didn’t seem suited to the bigger days yet their hard-running, support play and swarming tackling around the middle third gave them the platform for this win.

It helped that Lee Chin was outstanding from placed balls and thundered out with possession time and again, including soaring late fetch at the edge of the small square, while Conor McDonald and Rory O’Connor clipped over 0-4 from play apiece, the majority of them stunning efforts. O’Connor was fouled for the goal, having driven through when the safe option was to tap the sliotar over.

Mark Fanning nervelessly converted that fourth-quarter penalty but also pulled off two critical saves, while Liam Ryan, despite going close to give away a penalty himself for a high challenge on Colin Fennelly, Mathew O’Hanlon and Paudie Foley were typically abrasive in the defence.

Young Huw Lawlor lorded the skies for Kilkenny while TJ Reid, having been held scoreless from play when the sides drew earlier this month, hit 0-4 this time to go with his five frees and three 65s. A couple of those efforts were breathtaking but, as has been the case in recent years, the Cats don’t have the bite of old up top, especially as injuries have plagued the likes of Walter Walsh, Ger Aylward and Richie Hogan.

The Yellow Bellies can spend a few days savouring their overdue triumph on Jones Road before regrouping and looking ahead to the All-Ireland semi-final at the end of July. They won’t be able to face Kilkenny again until the All-Ireland final if they both make it that far.

That means their next game will be against Tipperary, Dublin or Cork. If Tipp win their quarter-final against Dublin, assuming the Dubs beat McDonagh Cup champs Laois next weekend, they can’t be drawn with Munster kingpins Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Going on form this season, it’ll be Wexford-Tipp in one semi, and Limerick versus Cork or Kilkenny in the other. Dublin were decent in the Leinster round-robin series and dumped Galway out, but have still to show they can do the business outside of Parnell Park.

On the law of averages, Dublin are due to take a scalp. Provided they negotiate what could be a tricky game with Laois, they’ll give Tipp, whose confidence must be shattered after being outmuscled at the Gaelic Grounds, a right rattle.

Cork have Westmeath next weekend and will be unbackable favourites to progress into a showdown with Brian Cody and co.

It’s a game Cork fans will relish but Kilkenny, who wasted a number of decent chances for points and were guilty of some poor decision-making in chasing a goal in the closing stages at Croker, won’t be fearful of the Rebels either.

Reid remains the Cats’ talisman in attack but do Cork have a back who could match his strength without coughing up cheap frees?

Wexford’s angled and high-tempo runs caused the Kilkenny rearguard endless problems and Cork have a more balanced and potent front six than the new Leinster champs.

By the same token, Davy Fitz had his side brilliantly drilled and their work-rate was a building block for upsetting Kilkenny. Will Cork bring the same intensity and attitude? They don’t always.

Perhaps the appointment of Tom Kenny, who always left everything on the pitch, to John Meyler’s management set-up will help.

Scorers for Wexford: L Chin 0-9 (0-7 f, 0-1 65), C McDonald, R O’Connor 0-4 each, M Fanning 1-0 pen, D O’Keeffe 0-2, S Donohue, L Óg McGovern, J O’Connor, P Morris 0-1 each.

Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-12 (0-5 f, 0-3 65), A Mullen 0-3, C Fennelly, W Walsh 0-2 each, E Murphy (f), J Maher, A Murphy, G Aylward 0-1 each.

KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, H Lawlor, P Walsh; E Morrissey, P Deegan, J Holden; J Maher, C Fogarty; R Leahy, TJ Reid, A Mullen; A Murphy, C Fennelly, W Walsh.

Subs: G Aylward for Murphy (43); B Ryan for W Walsh (57).

WEXFORD: M Fanning; S Murphy, L Ryan, S Donohue; M O’Hanlon, P Foley, S Reek; D O’Keeffe, L Óg McGovern; J O’Connor, L Chin, R O’Connor; K Foley, C McDonald, P Morris.

Subs: C Firman for S Reck (49); C Dunbar for Morris (59); D Dunne for McGovern (66); H Kehoe for McDonald (72).

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).

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