A bleak week, but Minor match was a cast-iron classic

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

It certainly wasn't a week to remember for our inter-county teams, with no pick-me-up from our Senior hurling loss as the Minor footballers, Under-21 hurlers and Senior footballers all made championship exits, the latter two by runaway margins.

At least our Under-17 footballers managed to secure a win through the back door to set up a quarter-final clash away to Kildare on Wednesday, while the ladies will also get a chance to recover from the disappointment of their loss to Meath in the Leinster decider.

All of that activity left me with no shortage of potential material for this column. And, in an effort to be as positive as possible, I've decided to focus on that memorable Minor football clash with Louth in Innovate Wexford Park on Tuesday.

I know it was the first defeat in what we hoped would be a week of recovery, but those young Wexford men went down fighting.

Aside from outlining the facts, part of a reporter's brief is to accurately convey the general standard of a game and the prevailing atmosphere.

In that regard, I hope I did this match justice elsewhere because it was a cast-iron classic. Louth wildly celebrated reaching a first Leinster final since 1971, and good luck to them in Sunday's clash with Dublin because they deserve it.

They came through a titanic battle by the minimum margin, and no fair-minded Wexford person will begrudge them if they manage to pull off a shock result against the favourites.

As for the losers, I take my hat off to each and every one of them. I covered their first round game against Offaly on the Bank Holiday Monday in April when they were hammered and, as I rushed back to the office to file my report, I struggled to think of a worse Wexford display in the grade down through the years.

I was aware of some off-field problems at the time of course but, to be fair to the players and mentors, I didn't realise the full extent of it and I don't think I was alone in that.

They got back on the horse with wins over Wicklow and Carlow, and to come so close to reaching a first Leinster final in 18 years given the prevailing circumstances earlier was a remarkable feat in itself.

I know the tactical gurus out there will be critical of the decision to play an offensive game against Louth rather than clogging the backs, but that's what made the action so entertaining for everyone.

You couldn't blink for fear of missing something, and it was one of the best matches I've had the pleasure to witness in a long time.

And now for the negative part of this column: sadly, we will never see Wexford playing another Minor game as we know it since the grade, established in 1928, will revert from Under-18 to Under-17 from next year on.

What's the difference, some might say? Well, I was interested to hear the Cork and Tipperary Minor hurling managers, Denis Ring and Liam Cahill, both lamenting the change after their counties attracted over 8,000 people to Páirc Uí Rinn for their Munster semi-final replay on Monday evening of last week.

They both highlighted the vast difference that a year makes in terms of physicality and general development of players, and I couldn't agree more.

I've watched a lot of Under-17 inter-county games over the past two years, albeit in hurling alone, and they're simply not a patch on Under-18 in terms of intensity and general ability.

Apparently part of the motivation for the change was to ensure that less Leaving Cert. students were occupied with important games, although that seems a dubious reason in my view when one takes the Leinster-winning St. Peter's College footballers as an example.

That crew had a lot of players who were ineligible for Minor one way or the other as they will turn 19 this year.

It's certainly a huge change from my own era, and perhaps that's why I'm struggling to understand it. By my 19th birthday I was three weeks into a full-time job with two years of third level education completed, having started primary school on my fourth birthday and then wdoing my Leaving at 16. Nowadays the emphasis seems to be on starting school later rather than earlier, but at what price?

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