IT’S BEEN A long 15 years for the Wexford hurlers.
Former Wexford forward Michael Jacob wheels away after scoring the winning goal against Kilkenny in 2004.
In 2004, they came up against a Kilkenny outfit that was seeking a seventh Leinster title in-a-row while also keeping one eye on completing an All-Ireland three-in-a-row later that year.
Amidst that search for more silverware, Wexford were in the throes of a barren spell since lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1996. They had picked up just one Leinster title since then.
The sides met in the Leinster semi-final during the 2004 season, a tight battle which culminated in Kilkenny boss Brian Cody falling to his knees in anguish.
“Wexford normally rise their game for Kilkenny,” says former Wexford forward Michael Jacob who scored a last-minute goal to swing the tie that day.
“They like to play Kilkenny the most.
“Coming into that game we knew [we had a good chance]. The league wasn’t great but we played four or five hard challenge matches coming up to it and things were going well in the camp.
Michael Jacob in action against Kilkenny.
“We fancied ourselves of having a good chance of winning the match.”
The Kilkenny team of that era was brimming with talent. They were dominating in Leinster and their reign looked set to continue with an all-star cast that included Henry Shefflin, DJ Carey and Tommy Walsh.
Eddie Brennan was in particularly lively form that day against Wexford, finishing with 1-1 from play.
But it wasn’t enough to stop Wexford’s standout performers. Oulart The Ballagh’s Rory Jacob hit 1-1 in a fine display but it was his brother who delivered the decisive blow in the final play.
With Wexford trailing by one point, Adrian Fenlon stood over a sideline puck. He sent the ball into what was then known as the Canal End goals in Croke Park where Jacob blocked an attempted clearance before rifling his shot into the roof of the net.
“In fairness, we were hoping the ball would go over the bar for a replay,” he recalls of the final moments in that Leinster semi-final. “Adrian Fenlon was always good at line balls and it just dropped short.
Fenlon standing over the sideline puck that led to Jacob’s goal.
“Peter Barry [Kilkenny defender] was unlucky, he caught a great ball. It was kind of lucky that I blocked it and it bounced out towards me.”
Kilkenny boss Cody was positioned behind the goals at the time, keeping his players on point to see out the tie before crumbling to the ground in despair at the sight of the score.
It’s something of an iconic image, but Jacob doesn’t replay the moment in his head too often.
“I didn’t think much about it at the time and I don’t think much about it now.
“I hurled a long time with Wexford, I don’t be thinking about just one day. It was a great time to get ahead of Kilkenny when time was up. There was no time to come back.
I don’t know how he ended up behind the goals but I don’t think he’d get away with that now. Hopefully it’ll be the same Sunday.
“It’s something I’m proud of but I’m just focusing on the hurling I’m doing now.”
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Offaly provided the opposition for Wexford in the decider after dispatching Dublin in their semi-final.
Jacob remembers the final as a “funny sort of day” where players were slipping in Croke Park due to the changing weather conditions.
Offaly made the brighter start, scoring the first three points while also peppering shots at the Wexford goal. Renowned shotstopper Damien Fitzhenry produced impressive saves each time to keep his net clear and keep Wexford’s chase for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup alive.
Damien Fitzhenry was superb for Wexford against Offaly.
“Offaly were a good team then,” recalls Jacob.
“They had a lot of exceptional hurlers and had the likes of Brian Carroll and Brian Whelahan on the team.
“We weren’t taking them for granted. We knew Offaly were going to be tough.
“It wasn’t particularly high-scoring. There was nothing more than two or three points in it. It was always in the melting pot.”
Jacob goaled again for Wexford that day while Paul Carley also found the back of the net to give their side a four-point win and clinch a first senior Leinster crown since 1997.
Joy and relief were the emotions of the moment, according to Jacob. But while fans made their way onto the pitch at full-time, the Oulart man says the celebrations weren’t extensive.
There was a massive crowd in Gorey and Enniscorthy as far as I can remember. There was no wild homecoming or anything like that but I remember they stopped the bus at the top of the street in Gorey and lads started shaking the bus.
“There was no big homecoming after the match but it was great. I’d say if they win on Sunday, there’ll be massive excitement coming back through Gorey and Enniscorthy as well.”
Following a chaotic final day in this year’s round-robin series, Wexford are back in the Leinster final again looking to end a 15-year wait for glory.
That outcome didn’t appear to be on the cards for Davy Fitzgerald’s side but the results fell in their favour. Reigning champions Galway were top of the table before the final round unfolded, but a defeat to Dublin dumped them out of the championship.
Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald after the drawn game earlier this month.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
And the drawn game between Wexford and Kilkenny sets up an intriguing rematch for the big prize.
“We will have to hurl to the end,” says Jacob of Wexford’s chances on Sunday, “and we will have to get a bit of luck as well because Kilkenny won’t die. It doesn’t matter whether they’re the best team ever or an average Kilkenny team.
You might have to kill them four or five times before they die. It’ll be heavy shots on Sunday.
“It’d be great if Wexford won on Sunday for all the young people who have never seen Wexford win Leinster or anything like that.”
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