UNDER-21 boss Michael Walsh didn’t sugar-coat it when asked for his feelings on Kilkenny’s narrow loss to Wexford in the Leinster hurling championship.
“It’s hugely disappointing,” he said. “We put in a huge effort, but to lose by just one point is soul-destroying.”
Kilkenny’s championship hopes ended as Emmet Kent struck a 60th minute winner in Wexford Park. Having drawn level with 60 seconds to spare Kilkenny looked set for extra-time, but it was Wexford who prevailed when Kent converted a free from in front of the stand after Cats half-back Conor Fogarty was adjudged to have overcarried the sliotar.
It wasn’t just the supporters who felt 20 minutes more would be called for to separate the sides - so too did Walsh.
“I thought the game might have gone to extra-time,” the Kilkenny manager said. “We even had a chance to score before Wexford got that final free, but when the ball dropped short to their goalkeeper he cleared it upfield and Conor Fogarty - what a game he had - was caught for overcarrying the sliotar. It was very hard luck on him.”
Blitzed by a fast Wexford start Kilkenny found themselves four points down before Ger Aylward grabbed a ninth minute goal to haul Kilkenny back into the game. The Glenmore man showed tremendous skill to volley a mis-hit Eoin Murphy free and send the sliotar screaming into the far right corner of Mark Fanning’s net.
Although Paul Morris replied with a goal of his own for Wexford, the Cats came roaring back when Thomas Breen rifled a stunning shot into the roof of the net with 14 minutes on clock, leaving the bare minimum between the sides (1-4 to 2-0).
The gap was back up to four points when Harry Kehoe gathered a Padraig Doran pass and split the posts after 20 minutes, but it looked like Wexford’s evening would unravel when Michael O’Regan was sent off for a second yellow card, the half-back getting the line for a trip on Ollie Walsh.
However, the expected Kilkenny charge didn’t arrive. Instead they too found themselves down to 14 men, Aylward following O’Regan down the tunnel on 27 minutes after getting his second yellow card for a collision with corner-back Willie Devereux.
Neither player seemed worthy of the red card, but in a half where referee Pat Murphy dished out nine yellows players were forced to tread a over-cautious line.
Kilkenny were still four points behind at half-time (1-11 to 2-4), but hit the ground running after the restart.
“Wexford started very well,” said Walsh. “They had a very strong breeze at their backs, a wind the heavy rain took away before we could use it, but the lads kept working away and didn’t give in. We made a few changes at half-time, bringing in some players who did well.”
Among those changes was the introduction of Michael Moloney, a player who grabbed a 34th minute point to level the game (2-8 to 1-11) after rapid scores from Eoin Murphy (free), Cathal Kenny and Walter Walsh.
Wexford were reeling a little at that stage and took 11 minutes to open their second half account, but Liam Og McGovern’s point was swiftly followed by another from Shaun Murphy, instantly putting the hosts two clear again.
The sides went toe-to-toe after that, but each time Kilkenny took a score off the deficit Wexford set about restoring their two-point cushion.
With time running out Cathal Kenny halved the deficit after some good work from subs James Gannon and Padraig Walsh, before Walter Walsh picked off a long Richie Doyle clearance and teed up Moloney to fire over the equaliser with 59 minutes on the clock. That late rally looked enough to ensure 20 minutes more of hurling, but Kent wasn’t finished yet.
Despite the result Walsh was gracious in defeat, praising Wexford for their overall display as they beat their neighbours in Wexford Park and booked a semi-final clash with Laois in the process.
“When we drew level with a minute to go I thought we might even sneak the game at that stage, or were at least set for extra-time, but they got the free that won the game. You can’t begrudge Wexford that win,” he added. “They were probably that little bit hungrier on the night; it’s not a nice thing to have to say, but that’s probably what it was.
“I thought the two red cards were unfortunate, but we should have held our heads a bit better when we had the extra man,” was Walsh’s viewpoint of the dismissals. “Some of the yellows were harsh - when you get them you’re caught after that, as you have to be careful with challenges. Both players could have stayed on the field but at the end of the day he (referee Murphy) has decisions to make.
“The referee wasn’t the cause of us losing the game,” the manager added. “We had a couple of chances in the second half - I thought we hurled very well after the break - but we couldn’t put the ball over the bar.”
SCORERS: Wexford - Paul Morris (1-1); Emmet Kent (0-3, frees); John Leacy (0-3, 0-2 frees); Liam Og McGovern (0-2, 0-1 free); Harry Kehoe, Shane Tomkins (0-2 each); Michael O’Regan (0-1, free); Shaun Murphy, Padraig Doran (0-1 each). Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy (0-5, 0-4 frees); Thomas Breen (1-1); Ger Aylward (1-0); Cathal Kenny (0-3); Michael Moloney (0-2); Walter Walsh (0-1).
Kilkenny - D. Walsh (Thomastown), I. Duggan (Mullinavat), M. Walsh (Young Irelands), A. Moran (Erin’s Own), J. Callinan (Erin’s Own), R. Doyle (Barrow Rangers), C. Fogarty (Erin’s Own), J. Lyng (Rower-Inistioge), O. Walsh (Dicksboro), T. Breen (St Martin’s), C. Kenny (Barrow Rangers), E. Murphy (Glenmore), G. Aylward (Glenmore), W. Walsh (Tullogher-Rosbercon), J. Brennan (St Patrick’s). Subs: B. Kennedy (St Lachtain’s) for Moran, 31 mins; M. Moloney (Blacks & Whites) for Callinan, 31 mins; P. Walsh (Tullaroan) for Brennan, 40 mins; J. Gannon (St Patrick’s) for O. Walsh, 46 mins.
Wexford - M. Fanning, W. Devereux, M. O’Hanlon, E. Moore, M. O’Regan, A. Shore, S. Murphy, E. Kent, H. Kehoe, S. Tomkins, J. Leacy, L. Og McGovern, P. Morris, J. Breen, P. Doran. Subs: J. Gahan for Breen, 51 mins; I. Byrne for Doran, 59 mins.
Referee - P. Murphy (Carlow).