BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
TJ’s tally see’s Cat’s Reach Provincial decider where they will face Dublin
Kilkenny set up a Leinster final showdown with the metropolitans after eventually see off a spirited Wexford challenge in an unforgettable contest at headquarters which needed extra-time before the black and amber booked their place in the final on a score line of 2-37 to 2-29.
Brian Cody’s charges led by a point at the break in normal time after an exhilarating first half, that was played at championship tempo in front of 8,000 lucky Gael’s who witnessed an amazing encounter.
But the game went to extra-time when Davy’s troops responded to a late Kilkenny goal with three points in the closing stages of undoubtably the best game of the year to date, before the cats stronger bench edged them to victory at Croker.
The sides traded points four times in the opening ten minutes with the lively Eoin Cody denied a goal after an excellent block by the Wexford sweeper.
The cats were creating some excellent goal-scoring chances but Wexford keeper Mark Fanning came to the rescue on these occasions, and it was the yellow bellies who opened up a 0-07 to 0-04 lead after 13 minutes, after points from the talented Lee Chin, Rory O’Connor and Matthew O’Hanlon.
But with Richie Leahy, TJ Reid and Cody registering the flag for Kilkenny, they drew level at 0-10 apiece after 27 minutes before Ballyhale sharp shooter Cody’s second point edged the Cats in front for the first time in a game that ebbed and flowed in front of the raucous crowd.
Wexford replied with scores from Morris, a second from Conor McDonald and O’Connor landed his third of the match in what was definitely a purple patch for Davy Fitzgerald’s men.
Wexford were certainly on the front foot, but the cats showed great fight and continued to reel the opposition in. The imperious Reid pointed then Tullaroan’s Martin Keoghan equalised before Cody’s third point and another Reid free put them two ahead but his nemesis, Chin reduced the deficit to the minimum at the interval when he landed another free, his fifth of the half.
Kilkenny raced out of the blocks after the restart, two more points from Reid and one from substitute Conor Fogarty left the cats leading 0-18 to 0-14 after 40 minutes but Wexford again replied, with three points from free’s before a great point from distance brought the rivals level for an EIGHT time!
The teams couldn’t be separated by the second water break – the tension inside Croke Park was palpable.
This game of cat and mouse continued – Wexford edged two ahead, but the cats hit the next four scores before sub-David Dunne made an immediate impact and raised the green flag just seconds after entering the fray. further scores from the yellow bellies had them three up with just 12 minutes remaining, but the cats again dug deep and hit the next four scores only to see Wexford draw level 2 minutes from time.
The impressive Eoin Cody appeared to win it for Kilkenny when he latched on to a puck-out to find the net, but Wexford hit back with three points in a row to force extra-time, the equalising score coming from a long way out by full-back Liam Ryan. Glenmore net minder Eoin Murphy tried to bat out only for McDonald to slot the rebound to the net, but referee Fergal Horgan went to Hawk Eye – the players and fans alike waited – the decision -the point rather than the goal was awarded and the game went to extra-time.
If Eoin Murphy thought the drama was finished – he was mistaken! Murphy was sent to the sin-bin for dragging down Wexford’s Flood, denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. Step forward Mark Fanning, the keeper slotting home the resultant penalty, despite the best efforts of replacement cat’s keeper Darren Brennan.
The cats dug deep and despite Wexford’s man advantage, trailed by just one point at the interval in extra time.
Brian Cody’s words of wisdom struck a chord with his team and they would go onto to hit 1-6 without reply in the final period. James Bergin hit two lovely scores to accompany others from TJ and Billy Ryan.
One of the biggest cheers from the Kilkenny faithful came courtesy of a lovely solo goal from Walter Walsh. Cody’s cats were not to be denied a final appearance. Relief at the whistle. What a game of Hurling.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy (0-1, 0-1f); Tommy Walsh (0-1), Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; Darragh Corcoran, Padraig Walsh, Conor Browne; Richie Reid (0-2), Richie Leahy; Adrian Mullen (0-1), Martin Keoghan (0-1), Alan Murphy (0-1); Eoin Cody (1-5), TJ Reid (0-16, 0-11f, 0-1 ‘65), Billy Ryan (0-1).
Subs: Conor Fogarty (0-1), James Maher, John Donnelly (0-1), Walter Walsh (1-1), James Bergin (0-2), Michael Carey (0-1).