Wexford will play Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-finals next weekend after they brushed aside a game and gutsy Kerry team in this preliminary quarter-final match that the Slaneysiders ultimately put to bed with three second half goals at Austin Stack Park in Tralee this afternoon.
Having led by double scores – 0-16 to 0-8 – at half time, Wexford showed their much greater class to ease away to a 21-point win that was a fair reflection on their skill levels, though it might be a little harsh on Kerry to have been overwhelmed by so much in the end.
After shipping five goals to Antrim in last week's Joe McDonagh Cup final – three in the first half alone – it says much for the tenacity of the Kerry defence on this occasion that Kerry goalkeeper Louis Dee didn’t have much to do by way of making a save until he had to pick Conor McDonald’s fizzing shot out of the net in the 54th minute.
That goal put Wexford 1-24 to 0-13 ahead, and it was in that third quarter that they put this game well beyond the Kingdom, who clearly and understandably tired after their Croke Park exertions last week.
Wexford mined their goals from McDonald, Rory O’Connor and sub Conor Hearne, while Lee Chin converted 14 points, including frees and a '65’.
The first half started ominously for Kerry with Wexford putting up the first five scores of the game – all inside the first 10 minutes – with four from Chin, wearing no.9 but playing inside at full forward.
The best Kerry could muster in that period was a wide from Podge Boyle, and the early sense was that Kerry could take a real beating here before the last of the 3,000-strong crowd had settled into their seats.
This Kerry team is nothing if not gutsy, though, and they settled into to enjoy their best period of the game over the next 10 minutes. The Kingdom’s first score came from a Podge Boyle free after 13 minutes, and though Chin hit back immediately with his second score from play, there was a composure and intent to Kerry’s play now, with their defence particularly tigerish against the Slaneysiders.
Excellent scores from Sean Weir and nominal full-back Eoin Ross – either side of a Rory O’Connor score – made it 0-7 to 0-3 by the 16th minute, before Boyle arrowed over three frees in as many minutes to make it 0-7 to 0-6 to Wexford after 20 minutes.
It was heroic stuff from Kerry, but it was also as close as they would get to the Leinster men, who won the next 20 minutes by nine points to two.
Chin punished a defensive over-carry with a tap over free, full back Liam Ryan came forward for an impressive score, and Wexford began to open their shoulders with more confidence and faster hurling.
Though he hadn’t been particularly impressive, Kerry were dealt a big setback when Shane Conway had to leave injured on the half-hour mark, and even though Fionán Mackessy arrested the scoring rot for Kerry with a stand-out score, Wexford took an ever so slightly flattering 0-16 to 0-8 lead to the interval.
The third quarter started with points from Rory O’Connor and Chin (2). Kerry hit back with four points in the next 10 minutes – the pick of them a sideline cut from Eoin Ross – but Wexford were winding up for a big finish.
The first goal duly arrived via McDonald before O’Connor’s 64th minute major made it 2-27 to 0-15 and Hearne tapped in a couple of minutes later, against the 14 men of Kerry who had Micheal Leane sent off late for what seemed a late strike.
Kerry: Louis Dee, Conor O’Keeffe, Eoin Ross 0-03 (0-01s/l), Eric Leen, Sean Weir 0-01, Fionán Mackessy 0-01, Mikey Boyle, Michael Leane, Podge Boyle 0-07 (0-07f), Colin Walsh, Colum Harty, Paudie O’Connor 0-01, Gavin Dooley, Jordan Conway 0-05 (0-03f, 0-01 ‘65’), Shane Conway.
Subs: Niall Mulcahy for S Conway (inj, 32), Maurice O’Connor for C Walsh (44), Brian Lonergan for P Boyle (59), Morgan Madden for E Leen (63), Fionan O’Sullivan for C Harty (64)
Wexford: Mark Fannin, Simon Donohue, Liam Ryan 0-01, Conor Devitt 0-01, Matthew O’Hanlon 0-01, Damien Reck 0-01, Paudie Foley, Cathal Dunbar, Lee Chin 0-14 (0-10f, 0-1 ‘65’), Jack O’Connor, Kevin Foley, Liam Óg McGovern 0-02, Oisín Foley 0-02, Conor McDonald 1-03, Rory O’Connor 1-04 (0-01f).
Subs: Mikie Dwyer 0-01 for C Dunbar (inj, 29), Charlie McGuckin for J O’Connor (58), Conor Hearne 1-00 for K Foley (59), Shane Reck for C Devitt (62), Connal Flood for L Chin (69).
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)