County teams all set for promotion ahead of schedule
Here's a brain-teaser to test your knowledge of Wexford G.A.A., dear reader: when was the last time that the county Senior teams won the first seven games combined between hurling and football in a National League campaign?
I will supply the answer at the end of the column, but for the moment let's reflect on the pleasant fact that both sides will be promoted and earn final places if they win their next matches, away to Offaly in hurling next Sunday, and home to London in football on March 19.
To be in that position at this relatively early stage in the campaign is nothing short of fantastic, and it was certainly more than I hoped for or expected at the start of the year.
I felt that the hurlers would find it very difficult to beat both Limerick and Galway, but they weren't found wanting when the stakes were high and now just need that one more win to be sure of that much sought-after sole available spot in Division 1A.
Indeed, because of the head-to-head rule, they could even afford just one win from the last two outings to go up, although the thought of losing won't even be entertained, and rightly so.
As for the footballers, I expected a repeat of last year's scenario where we would be one of three teams in contention for two promotion places.
Louth and Antrim provided that rivalry in 2016, and I reckoned the two relegated sides, Westmeath and Limerick, would be our closest challengers this time around.
As it stands though, if results go a certain way our second-last group game at home to the midlanders could even be a dead rubber at that stage, with the strong likelihood that both will be promoted already and qualified to meet again in a league final in Croke Park.
Our first round win over Limerick was absolutely crucial in the context of the group overall, as the Shannonsiders then flopped in their next two games and are out of the running.
We have won our football games by margins of three, two, two and three points respectively in that order. Some followers have expressed concern with the narrow margins, but I believe that those encounters will steel the players, especially the newcomers, for the tougher tests to follow come championship time.
Certainly, a lot more will be learned from the hard-earned win over Wicklow last Sunday than the 4-23 to 3-14 triumph over the same opponents in 2016 when both sets of defenders decided to stay in the dressing-room and a score-fest ensued.
Don't forget either that the two tight contests last year away to Louth and Antrim were both lost, so clear progress is being made.
Incidentally, last week I noted that Ronan Devereux was the first Crossabeg-Ballymurn clubman to play Senior inter-county football since Niall McDonald in 1985, and I can provide more information now as it has provoked some comment and debate.
Niall never played league or championship, but did make his debut in the Ford Open Draw away to Longford in Pearse Park. This competition was a follow-on from the Centenary Cup held in 1984, a straight knockout where all 32 counties were thrown into the hat.
I trawled through my memorabilia Sunday night and for once found the proverbial needles in the haystack, namely the match programme and newspaper report from Wexford's 0-6 to 0-5 win over Longford on March 10, 1985. Niall was listed to wear the number seven jersey but actually started in the forwards.
The team was: John Roche (Geraldine O'Hanrahans, father of Shane, the current goalkeeper); Mick Caulfield (Gusserane), Jack O'Leary (Blackwater, R.I.P.), Liam Cullen (Gusserane); John Curtis (Sarsfields), John Dunne (HWH-Bunclody, 0-1), Larry Roche (Sarsfields); Louis Rafter (Duffry Rovers, 0-3), John Lacey (Shelmaliers); Martin Hanrick (HWH-Bunclody), Noel Swords (HWH-Bunclody), Garry Byrne (Ballyhogue); Niall McDonald (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 0-1), Ger Halligan (Sarsfields, 0-1), Micheál Keevans (Gusserane). Sub. - Eddie Mahon (Gusserane) for Keevans.
ANSWER: The last time the county teams combined won the first seven National League games played was in 1979-'80. On that occasion the footballers were actually successful in all eight Division 2 South ties, home and away versus Kilkenny, Waterford, Wicklow and Carlow respectively. In addition, the hurlers won their first two games against Kerry and Laois.