AFTER surviving a battle that lasted 80 minutes, it took just a few seconds more to sink the hopes of the Kilkenny under-21 hurlers.
Hopes of glory came crashing down around the Cats after Wexford staged a last gasp rebellion to snatch the Leinster title with virtually the last puck of the game.
It looked like the sides were set for a replay when, having played more than the minute of injury-time announced, they were locked at 0-21 apiece on a boiling-hot night at Wexford Park.
However, Wexford had time for one last roll of the dice.
The sliotar was launched towards the posts, where sub Niall Murphy got something on the delivery. It looked like Kilkenny ’keeper Aaron Duggan had it covered, but as he tried to wriggle his way into space the ball spilled from his grasp at the last second.
With everything happening in slow-motion, Kilkenny froze as the sliotar bounced back towards goal. Duggan tried to scoop it to safety, but couldn’t get there in time to stop the green flag from being waved.
The roar that erupted around the ground showed just what the win meant to the hosts. Wexford showed a never-say-die attitude across the evening, fighting their way back into the reckoning on several occasions.
Right from the off they swarmed around Kilkenny, almost suffocating them in the middle third of the pitch.
That helped the hosts open up a three-point lead (0-4 to 0-1) by the eighth minute, but a series of needless fouls saw John Power wipe out that advantage in a matter of minutes.
The Cats had taken time to find their feet, but managed to push their way into the lead midway through the half.
Once John Power levelled matters for the fourth time (the sides were level 10 times over the 80-plus minutes) Kilkenny began to take the upper hand. Richie Reid picked off a point from distance, with Ger Aylward adding another following Padraig Walsh’s good clearance.
With Kevin Kelly and Power driving them on the Noresiders took their tally to 10 points by the 25th minute, but they could never fully shake Wexford off.
With Jack Guiney (2) and Ian Byrne sharing free-taking duties the Model County stayed in close contention but Kelly and Power, who bagged seven points in the first half, pushed Kilkenny 0-12 to 0-9 clear by the break.
Wexford really upped their efforts after the break, but only after getting a fright. Ger Aylward had nothing but a goal on his mind when shrugged off Conor Goff within seconds of the restart but he fired his shot into the ground, making the save easier for netminder Brian Murphy.
The gap was still three points as the game ticked into the final quarter (0-14 to 0-11) but not for long. Sparked by a Guiney free Wexford crept up on the Cats, Ian Byrne following up with a brace as they levelled matters with 10 minutes to play.
The introduction of Cillian Buckley was a positive move from Kilkenny, who tried to take a firm grip on the game. Kevin Kelly stayed cool as the pressure increased, slipping over a vital point to edge his side ahead again. A Buckley hand-pass teed up Richie Reid to hit another, but Wexford weren’t finished - Guiney converted a free into the sun before Gary Moore split the posts with a sideline cut from all of 60 metres, a score which sparked the crowd into life.
Wexford had worked hard to get back into the game, but almost threw it all away when Garret Foley was yellow-carded for a needless foul on sub Shane Donnelly. John Power did the rest, nudging the Cats back in front, but a like score in injury-time from Guiney gave Wexford parity once more (0-17 to 0-17).
Spurred on by those last-gasp heroics the hosts fared better in the first half of extra-time. Only four points were scored in that period but crucially Wexford hit three, all frees for Jack Guiney (2) and Ian Byrne to cancel out a like score from Kevin Kelly.
Chasing a 0-20 to 0-18 game Kilkenny did well to claw their way back into the lead in the final 10 minutes of extra-time. With Kelly now on free-taking duties a hat-trick of placed scores left Wexford trailing again but, urged on by the crowd, Guiney hauled the Cats back with another free on 79 minutes.
It seemed a replay beckoned, but Wexford weren’t finished. Little over 60 seconds later they had a goal - Kilkenny were dethroned.