Wexford 2-25 Kilkenny 2-25
Reigning Walsh Cup champions Wexford survived a stirring Kilkenny fightback to edge through to this year's tournament decider after an enthralling group clash.
Kilkenny were unfortunate not to have snatched qualification as Martin Keoghan's smashing effort hammered off the butt of an upright in added-time, only moments after Conor McDonald had drawn Wexford level.
The home side, under new boss Darragh Egan, appeared to be coasting when substitute Cathal Dunbar netted to give them a 2-20 to 1-15 advantage after 54 minutes, before Kilkenny captain Pádraig Walsh goaled to help transform matters by 2-24 to 2-22 and pave the way for a thrilling finish.
Wexford advance on scoring difference and will now put their title on the line against Dublin on Saturday in Croke Park.
The relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions saw Wexford GAA headquarters host its largest inter-county attendance since March 2020.
And the locals were enthused as newcomer Oisín Foley, a younger brother of established defender Pádraig, caught the eye with five first-half points as Wexford carved out a handsome 1-16 to 0-12 interval advantage.
Free-taker James Bergin drew first blood for Kilkenny before Foley grew prominent as Wexford led 0-05 to 0-03 before Rory Higgins was denied a goal by Darren Brennan.
Both sides were considerably beefed up from their respective routine victories over Laois, and while teenager Cian Byrne (free), Conor McDonald, Connal Flood and Foley opened up a 0-10 to 0-05 home advantage, Kilkenny closed to within 0-10 to 0-09 at the first drinks break through James Maher, Chris Bolger, John Donnelly and Martin Keoghan.
Wexford were inspired on the resumption when shooting clear by 1-13 to 0-09 after 28 minutes as Connal Flood shot over before goalkeeper Mark Fanning netted a penalty forced by Rory Higgins, and McDonald and Foley tagged on points.
With Foley continuing to impress, Wexford extended clear by 1-16 to 0-12 at half-time.
Cian Byrne kept the purple and gold brimming (1-18 to 0-13) before a sublime goal from Chris Bolger after 43 minutes hauled Kilkenny back into contention just as Walter Walsh entered the fray.
But Wexford remained composed as they stole clear again when a rapid move saw Oisín Foley, Mikey Dwyer and Cathal Dunbar exchange passes before Dunbar unleashed a blistering finish to the net in the 53rd minute (2-19 to 1-15).
However, just as in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, the Cats further demonstrated their continuing wellbeing in Brian Cody’s 24th year at the helm even despite soldiering without the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent.
Indeed, they outshot Wexford by seven points to three before Pádraig Walsh hauled the sides level after 65 minutes (2-22 apiece) when netting at the second attempt having initially being blocked by Simon Donohoe.
Cian Kenny and substitute Colm Prenderville nudged Kilkenny ahead before Connal Flood and Paul Morris (free) restored parity at 2-24 each.
While Kenny’s fourth free edged Kilkenny back in front, McDonald produced a vital response four minutes into added-time – before the base of a post denied Keoghan the match-winning goal.
Wexford: Mark Fanning (1-00 pen); Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Conor Devitt; Connal Flood (0-04), Pádraig Foley, Matthew O’Hanlon (0-01); Conor Hearne (0-01), Jack O’Connor; Oisín Foley (0-05), Kevin Foley, Charlie McGuckin; Cian Byrne (0-03, 2f), Conor McDonald (0-06), Rory Higgins (0-01).
Subs: Mikey Dwyer for Hearne (ht), Harry Kehoe (0-01) for Byrne (46), Paul Morris (0-03, 2f) for Higgins (46), Cathal Dunbar (1-00) for O’Connor (50), David Dunne for O Foley (57), Aodhán Doyle for McGuckin (60), Ben Edwards for P Foley (69).
Kilkenny: Darren Brennan; Mikey Butler, Tommy Walsh, Ciarán Wallace; James Maher (0-01), Huw Lawlor, Cillian Buckley; Cian Kenny (0-08, 4f), Michael Carey; Pádraig Walsh (1-01), Eoin O’Shea (0-01), John Donnelly (0-01); James Bergin (0-06, 6f), Martin Keoghan (0-02), Chris Bolger (1-01).
Subs: Walter Walsh (0-02) for Bergin (43), Robbie Buckley for Carey (48), David Blanchfield (0-01f) for Buckley (54), Colm Prenderville (0-01) for O’Shea (57).
Referee: Thomas Gleeson (Dublin).
Antrim 1-17 Galway 1-23
Henry Shefflin's Galway got back to winning ways after last weekend's hammering against Dublin as they defeated Antrim by six points.
The Dubs trounced an experimental lineup by 3-29 to 0-19 at Parnell Park six days ago, and though Shefflin was keen to ease any sense of panic in the aftermath of that game, he'll have been happy to close out their Walsh Cup group campaign with a win.
The Tribemsen led by 0-13 to 0-10 at the break, with John Fleming's goal early in the second half tightening their control of the contest.
Micheal Bradley did swiftly respond with a goal for Antrim but Galway always had them at arm's length, as their substitutes made a telling impact in the closing stages.
Scorers - Galway: J Fleming 1-03, C Mannion 0-6 (3f, 2 '65'), T Monaghan 0-03, J Cooney, J Hastings and G Thomas 0-02 each M Gill, D Kilcommins, N Burke, G Lee, C Caulfield 0-01 each. Antrim: J McNaughton 0-04 (3f), M Bradley 1-01, P Burke, K Molloy, N McManus (65) and S Elliott 0-02 each, C Clarke, C Bohill E O’Neill and C Johnston 0-01 each.
Galway: E Murphy; D Cronin, D Burke, J Grealish; T Killeen, P Mannion, M Gill; J Cooney, C Caulfield; C Mannion, N Burke, T Monaghan; C Whelan, J Fleming, G Lee.
Subs: J Coen for Caulfield (49), J Hastings for N Burke (50), G Thomas for Fleming (52), S Ryan for Gill (60), C Killeen for C Mannion (65), D Nevin for T Killeen (68), John Cooney for Lee (68), S Loftus for Joe Cooney (70), D Kilcommins for Monaghan (70).
Antrim: R Elliott; D Kearney, G Walsh, A Crawford; P Burke, E Campbell, J Maskey; D McKernan K Molloy; N McManus, E O'Neill, M Bradley; S Elliott, C McCann, J McNaughton.
Subs: N O’Connor for Kearney (33), C Johnston for McCann (47), C Clarke for O’Neill (50), C Cunning for McNaughton (50), C Bohill for McKernan (57), S Walsh for Bradley (63), S Rooney for Crawford (63), D Murphy for S Elliot (63), R McCambridge for McManus (66).
Referee: K Brady (Louth).