Kevin O’Brien reports from Croke Park

1. Davy Fitz completes clean sweep of hurling titles

DAVY FITZGERALD BECAME the first manager to a complete clean sweep of Leinster, Munster, All-Ireland, National League titles. He did so with three separate counties – Waterford, Clare and now Wexford. He’s also won the Fitzgibbon Cup on two occasions with LIT.

Lee Chin celebrates with Davy Fitzgerald.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

11 years after he first stepped onto the inter-county management circuit by taking over the Deise mid-season, the Clare native has delivered the four major titles on offer in hurling’s top-tier.

It’s a remarkable achievement and ending a 15-year famine for a Leinster crown with this group stands right up there with his best in the game. All those cross-country treks from Sixmilebridge to the Model County have certainly paid off now.

2. Brian Cody’s drought

For the first time in his reign as Kilkenny boss, Brian Cody has gone three seasons without a Leinster title. For the first 15 years or so of his reign, that prospect seemed laughable.

Kilkenny have returned to the pack in recent years, allied to Galway’s arrival in the province and Wexford’s rise under Fitzgerald. The Cats have been beaten in consecutive deciders by either county, but they’ll still have a major say in the destination of the Liam MacCarthy Cup this summer.

In the pre-Cody years, they failed to win the province from 1994 to 1997, which arrived during the ‘Revolution Years’ when Wexford and Offaly were in their pomp.

Brian Cody and his team watch the trophy presentation.

Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

3. Did Kilkenny go for goal too early?

After Mark Fanning struck home the game’s critical score from a penalty in the 64th minute, Matthew O’Hanlon fetched the puck-out and fed Diarmuid O’Keeffe to move Wexford three in front. 

TJ Reid and Lee Chin swapped 65s and from the 69th minute onwards Kilkenny pressed for a goal. Rather than going for a point with his free from midfield, Eoin Murphy arrowed it into the danger zone as they looked to extract a green flag.

During the three minutes of injury-time, they continued to chase a goal, when there was enough time to take a few points instead. A late Kilkenny onslaught produced a ruck close to Fanning’s goal saw Colin Fennelly draw a boot at the sliotar and it rolled agonisingly wide. And that was that.

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Rory O’Connor celebrates with the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

4. Wexford’s big players stand-up

It was one of those days for Wexford. In the curtain-raiser, their minors climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Leinster crown after defeating Kilkenny.

If the seniors were to follow that up with the Bob O’Keeffe Cup, a number of things had to go right for them on the day. They needed to have a solid game in front of the posts and so they did – firing just three wides over the 70 minutes.

Huge performances were required from their big-name players. Lee Chin didn’t miss a placed ball all day, shooting 0-9, while man-of-the-match Rory O’Connor fired over four points and won the penalty. Conor McDonald edged his battle with Huw Lawlor and also added 0-4 from play.

Defensively, Liam Ryan handled Colin Fennelly, corner-backs Simon Donohoe and Shaun Murphy made some important stops and sweeper Kevin Foley picked up a number of key breaks. It was a real team performance, built on extraordinary work-rate and belief.

Kevin Foley celebrates after the game with teammates.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

5. Looking ahead to the All-Ireland series

Kilkenny’s defeat means they’ll face the winners of Cork and Westmeath in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Unless there’s a shock of epic proportions, it’ll be a Kilkenny-Cork showdown on 13/14 July.

Having eased through from Munster in third place, the Rebels are determined to land the big prize this season. That clash is already a mouth-watering prospect. 

Wexford meanwhile, will rightly celebrate for a few days. The nature of Fitzgerald means it won’t be long before he starts looking ahead once again. Wexford will play a quarter-final winner in the All-Ireland semi-final on the last weekend in July.

They’re now just 70 minutes away from reaching a first Liam MacCarthy Cup decider since 1996. There’s a good chance they’ll be underdogs heading into that clash. Not that it will bother Fitzgerald or his players in the slightest.

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