Galway full value for convincing victory
Championship Special: Galway 0-29 Wexford 1-17
Wexford followers travelled to Croke Park on Sunday with hope in their hearts, but they had to contend with a reality check on the field of play as an accomplished Galway side claimed a first Leinster Senior hurling championship crown since 2012 with a commanding nine-point victory.
The record provincial final attendance of 60,032 owed a great deal to the sense of expectation all over the county as everyone looked forward to a first appearance at this level for nine years with heightened anticipation.
However, while Wexford were competitive for long spells and stayed with their rivals until midway through the third quarter, ultimately Galway's greater experience had a telling impact as they underlined exactly why they're regarded as favourites for a first All-Ireland success since 1988.
The underdogs struggled in several areas, not least the complete dominance in the air of the victors whose ability to grab the sliothar from the clouds was evident both in defence and attack.
Whether it was making clean catches from Mark Fanning's puck-outs or their forwards winning individual duels at the other end, Galway had a considerable advantage in this department and it had a major bearing on the outcome.
The westerners were content to pick off their points and won comfortably for the second game running without registering a goal. And though Matthew O'Hanlon and James Breen deserve immense credit for holding Joe Canning and Conor Whelan respectively scoreless from play, the unrelated Cooneys were on fire up front for the winners.
Joseph registered five points from play while Conor was even better. In fact, he was virtually unmarkable as just one of his eight points came from a placed ball, scoring three off Willie Devereux, two when marked by Simon Donohoe, and another two when pitted against Liam Ryan.
The concession of the four unanswered points in the minutes before half-time was a big blow as Wexford went from a position of being one up to trailing by 0-14 to 0-11 at the break.
Part of the problem throughout that opening period was the ability of Galway to reply instantly to several scores from their rivals, with points rapidly cancelled out from the resultant puck-out.
And there was a huge moment four minutes after the re-start when Conor McDonald beat Pádraic Mannion in a tussle from a Fanning puck-out and fed Aidan Nolan who was fouled before his effort on goal was saved.
Referee Colm Lyons awarded a penalty and, rather oddly, the netminder wasn't summoned upfield to take it. Instead the responsibility fell to McDonald whose low shot into the ground produced a fine save from Colm Callanan who dived to his left and turned it around the post.
Even though Lee Chin pointed the '65 to narrow the gap to 14-12, the game was ultimately won and lost in a devastating nine-minute period that immediately followed when Galway reeled off seven points on the bounce.
They reacted a lot better to the penalty incident than a deflated Wexford, with Joe Canning firing over a '65 and a free while the outstanding Conor Cooney pointed from an Aidan Harte clearance in between.
McDonald hit a snapshot wide after a stray Harte handpass, but Niall Burke caught the puck-out and shook Simon Donohoe off before increasing the lead to 18-12.
All of a sudden a considerable gap had appeared for the first time, and there was no way back for Wexford.
A Paul Morris wide led to another Callanan puck-out caught cleanly, this time by Joseph Cooney who duly split the posts.
And after Thomas Monaghan missed the target for Galway, their backs underlined they were equally as strong in the air as their forwards when Pádraic Mannion grabbed Fanning's re-start and was fouled.
Joe Canning did the needful from 86 metres, and when Joseph Cooney didn't break stride with a brilliant pick-up and point on the run, Wexford were trailing 21-12 with just over 20 minutes left.
Clearly they were in dire need of a goal, and when it did come they were too far behind for it to have any meaningful impact.
Hawk-Eye intervened first to confirm a Lee Chin shot had gone over rather than wide, having ruled one out from McDonald earlier, and then David Redmond lobbed a ball towards Jack Guiney on the edge of the square in the 52nd minute.
The big Rathnure man's original connection on the ball took it away from the posts to the right, but he retrieved it on the endline and knocked it back across goal for the onrushing Diarmuid O'Keeffe to tap home from close range.
Galway were briefly discommoded, with Joseph Cooney hitting a shot short before Thomas Monaghan struck a wide, and when Conor McDonald pointed a free after a foul on Willie Devereux, the margin was down to 0-21 to 1-14.
That scoring burst of 1-2 without reply had renewed Wexford hopes, but the response from Galway was emphatic and underlined why it will take an excellent team to beat them in the All-Ireland series.
A Joe Canning handpass found go-to man Conor Cooney for yet another point to steady the ship, and the latter then tapped over his sole free after Conor Whelan caught a long line ball and was fouled.
Mark Fanning's attempted short puck-out went over the sideline on the Cusack Stand side, and Canning didn't need a second invitation as he promptly planted it back over the bar with interest (0-24 to 1-14).
Conor Cooney and Niall Burke piled on the agony with further points before David Redmond made inroads into the square in the 62nd minute, but he was bottled up quickly and the half-chance was lost.
Matthew O'Hanlon struck a wide from a Guiney handpass before McDonald pointed after a foul on Paul Morris, but Joseph Cooney responded less than 40 seconds later to underline one of the key themes of the game.
Young Cathal Dunbar, deservedly pushed up the pecking order after his Under-21 hat-trick against Carlow, scored a neat solo point on his first championship appearance off the bench this year, having been introduced in three of the four games in 2016.
It was a glimpse of promise for the future, but Galway substitutes Shane Maloney and Thomas Monaghan responded with points before Lee Chin converted a late consolation from a free.
The first-half had been tight and Wexford will have been very disappointed to have ended it three points adrift.
McDonald could only find goalie's Colm Callanan grateful hand from an immediate point attempt, and the netminder's clearance led to the opener from Conor Cooney on what was his best-ever day in a Galway jersey.
He was policed early on by Willie Devereux, with Liam Ryan pitted against Niall Burke on the edge of the square. Lee Chin partnered Jack O'Connor at midfield with Aidan Nolan on the '40, and Shaun Murphy's sweeping duties meant that Aidan Harte was free for Galway at the other end.
Joe Canning doubled their lead after James Breen held Conor Whelan, but Wexford got off the mark in the fourth minute when Chin made a superb catch from the puck-out and fed Paul Morris.
A stray Shaun Murphy clearance was planted between the posts by Pádraic Mannion in the seventh minute, but Conor McDonald responded inside 30 seconds before levelling from a free after Diarmuid O'Keeffe was impeded.
Conor Cooney caught a Joseph Cooney delivery over Willie Devereux's head and made it 4-3 but O'Keeffe recovered from an initial fumble after a Chin handpass to equalise on a day when three of the Wexford defenders contributed a combined 1-4 from play to underline the all-out attacking policy when the team has possession.
Conor Cooney restored Galway's lead, only for Paul Morris to latch on to a crossfield Harry Kehoe ball and feed it outside to Matthew O'Hanlon for the leveller.
It remained tight, with Joe Canning (free) and Conor McDonald swapping points, the latter after Aidan Nolan emerged from a ruck with possession (0-6 each).
Wexford hit the front for the first time from a Chin free in the 19th minute that he earned himself, and the gap rose to two when handpasses from Willie Devereux and Chin led to a Jack O'Connor point.
Joseph Cooney replied quickly, but a superb crossfield pass from Conor McDonald gave Paul Morris the time to make it 9-7 in the 23rd minute.
Simon Donohoe was on Conor Cooney at this stage, with Devereux following Jason Flynn, and Galway drew level with two quick-fire points from David Burke and Canning (free).
Matthew O'Hanlon grabbed his second point from a Devereux handpass, with Canning knocking over another free after James Breen was booked from Callanan's puck-out (0-10 each).
A vital flick by Simon Donohoe found Devereux who soloed away for the lead point once again in the 29th minute, but the remainder of the half didn't go well for the eventual losers.
Conor Cooney equalised from a crossfield Canning line ball despite the close presence of Donohoe, and a half-block on a Mark Fanning clearance led to a foul on John Hanbury and the lead point from Canning.
Lee Chin struck a free wide and the puck-out was controlled superbly and pointed by Joseph Cooney. Conor McDonald also missed a scoreable free and a late tackle by Jack Guiney in added time earned a booking and led to a handy Canning point for a 14-11 interval lead.
At that stage there was still good reason to be hopeful, but that devastating seven-point burst after the missed penalty proved fatal on a day when Wexford struck eight wides while Galway had 13.
The winners' midfield pairing of Johnny Coen and team captain David Burke held the upper hand in that area, and full-back Daithí Burke also deserves special mention for a very sound marking job on Jack Guiney who was held scoreless.
Wexford now have three weeks to lick their wounds and focus on the All-Ireland quarter-final.
All is not lost yet, and the experience gained last Sunday should really stand to this still-developing team in their next big test.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Willie Devereux (0-1), Liam Ryan, James Breen; Simon Donohoe, Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt., 0-2), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (1-1); Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-4, 2 frees, 1 '65), Jack O'Connor (0-1); Shaun Murphy, Aidan Nolan, Conor McDonald (0-5, 3 frees); Paul Morris (0-2), Jack Guiney, Harry Kehoe. Subs. - David Redmond for O'Connor (HT), Eoin Moore for Donohoe (47), Cathal Dunbar (0-1) for Kehoe (54), Shane Tomkins for Nolan (63).
Galway: Colm Callanan; Adrian Tuohy, Daithí Burke, John Hanbury; Pádraic Mannion (0-1), Gearóid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke (capt., 0-1); Joseph Cooney (0-5), Joe Canning (0-10, 8 frees, 1 '65, 1 line ball), Jason Flynn; Conor Whelan, Niall Burke (0-2), Conor Cooney (0-8, 1 free). Subs. - Thomas Monaghan (0-1) for Flynn (31), Shane Maloney (0-1) for Canning (68), Greg Lally for J. Cooney (69), Seán Loftus for Mannion (70+2).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).