Leinster U21HC final: incredible drama as Bleahane strikes 81st-minute winner

July 04, 2018

Galway's Evan Niland and Damien Reck of Wexford.
©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo.

Sean Bleahane's goal at the tail-end of extra time handed Galway a dramatic 4-21 to 2-26 victory over Wexford in an absorbing final at O'Moore Park.

The game was an incredible advertisement for hurling and neither team deserved to lose. But thankfully both progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals. On August Bank Holiday weekend, Galway will face Tipperary and Wexford take on Cork.

Galway seemed to have prevailed in an enthralling contest when leading by three points deep into injury time at the end of normal time but on this occasion it was a last-gasp Ian Carthy goal that secured extra time for the spirited and highly-skilled Wexford lads, 2-20 to 3-17 after an exhilarating hour-plus of wonderful hurling in the summer sun.

Seven unanswered points before the break from an inspired Wexford side saw them come from six down to assume a 0-13 to 1-8 interval advantage.

Kevin Cooney and Garry Molloy swapped the first two scores and Galway roared ahead by five points to two inside five minutes, Brian Concannon on target twice, while Mark Hughes and Cianan Fahy also pointed, Rory O'Connor replying at the other end.

Following an exchange between Sean Loftus and Seamus Casey, a monster Casey free from deep inside his own half had the Model County back within two, 0-6 to 0-4. The dangerous Evan Niland then opened his account for the Tribesmen and the scoreboard had barely stopped moving when Thomas Monaghan penetrated the Wexford defence on twelve minutes to plant the sliothar in the net.

Casey (two frees) and O'Connor pulled three points back but Fahy registered for Tony Ward's side in between. Twice Wexford came tantalisingly close to goals before a huge O'Connor strike from distance and another Casey free halved the deficit to a mere two points with half time approaching, 1-8 to 0-9.

Stephen O'Gorman made it a one-point game and the momentum remained with the Slaneysiders as Casey (free) and Rowan White pointed them ahead for the first time with 30 minutes played. Another Casey free doubled the difference in first-half stoppage time. Having controlled the second quarter, the Model men led by two at the short whistle.

Niland (free) halved the gap when the action resumed but the winners kicked on with points from Joe O'Connor, O'Gorman and Rory O'Connor - the latter after Eanna Murphy saved a Wexford penalty.

Two Niland frees and a Monaghan point had the westerners back within the minimum, only for Casey to halt that comeback in its tracks with a Wexford goal - 1-16 to 1-12! The outstanding Rory O'Connor made it a five-point game but then came the first of many stings in the tail…

Galway captain Fintan Burke lifts the trophy. ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo.

There was high drama as Galway pounced for two goals in as many minutes to steal ahead - Kevin Cooney hitting an incredible 47th-minute goal before Niland edged the Tribe in front. Niland's free doubled their lead, 3-13 to 1-17 - and captain Fintan Burke replied to a Casey free before Casey drilled a goal effort inches wide.

The action was frantic as both teams strived to add to their tallies but there were no more scores until Casey, then Niland, then Casey, then Niland popped over injury-time frees and substitute Conor Caulfield seemed to have closed the scoring…

But the action continued beyond the four additional minutes announced until Carthy forced extra time with a late, late Wexford equalising goal - 2-20 to 3-17 at the end of normal time.

After a lengthy delay, the weary troops re-emerged for 20 additional minutes of action and the floodlights came on at O'Moore Park.

A Casey (1-9) free had Tom Mullally's men back in front two minutes into extra time and Higgins doubled the Wexford led after Jack Cushe made a superb stop to deny Jack Canning a fourth Galway major. A couple of Rory O'Connor frees to a Fahy reply left the Model three to the good at half time in extra time, 2-24 to 3-18.

Niland (1-7) fired over a free at the start of the second ten-minute period and, with both sets of players out on their feet, Joe O'Connor's point was cancelled out by Fahy. Fahy made it a one-point game as we went into a minute of injury time at the end of the 80 minutes and Rory O'Connor's inspirational eighth point from the other end of the field seemed to have surely won it for Wexford.

No: instead there was one final twist as Bleahane - who had been substituted 18 minutes from the end of regulation time after failing to score but was re-introduced after 77 minutes - caught the ball and blazed it to the net to win it for the westerners at the end of a truly remarking sporting contest.

Galway - E Murphy; I O'Shea, J Fitzpatrick, S Bannon; J Grealish, F Burke (0-1), M Hughes; T Monaghan (1-2), S Loftus (0-1); B Concannon (0-2), C Salmon, C Fahy (0-5, 1f, 1'65); E Niland (1-7, 0-7f), S Bleahane (1-0), K Cooney (1-2). Subs: P Foley for C Salmon, C Caulfield (0-1) for M Hughes, J Canning for S Bleahane, C Connor for S Bannon, R Murphy for B Concannon, M Lynch for T Monaghan, S Bleahane for E Niland.

Wexford - J Cushe; S Reck, D Byrne, I Carthy (1-0); A Maddock, D Reck, G Molloy (0-1); C Firman, R White (0-2); Joe O'Connor (0-2), R O'Connor (0-7, 2f), L Stafford; S O'Gorman (0-2), R Higgins (0-1), Seamus Casey (1-11, 0-9f). Subs: M Dwyer for S O'Gorman, O Foley for L Stafford, D Codd for R White, S O'Gorman for S Casey.

Referee - J O'Brien.

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