Dunne stuck to his guns and now the rewards are clear
Published 16/07/2016 | 00:00
It was a nice feeling to wake up Sunday morning with the realisation that I had finally witnessed a Wexford Senior hurling team defeating Cork in the championship for the first time in my life.
And if I was more than happy with the outcome, I can only imagine the absolute elation which must have enveloped everyone within the confines of the dressing-room after that excellent result against the Leesiders.
It hasn't been easy to be a Wexford hurler or mentor over the past twelve months after the gloss of those 2014 championship wins over Clare and Waterford gradually faded.
Manager Liam Dunne in particular faced a torrent of criticism, a lot of it completely unwarranted and over the top in my view.
We all knew he had a very thick skin from his playing days, and thankfully he never lost it because he dug in and remained diligently in pursuit of his stated aim of rebuilding Wexford hurling.
A person of a more sensitive disposition in his role may well have thrown in the towel, but I'm delighted he stuck to his guns and the rewards were clear for all to see in Thurles.
Of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer and all of that, and it would still require a repeat of that 2014 win over Waterford on Sunday week to finally shut up the most extreme members of the anti-Dunne camp, all of whom appear to be pursuing personal agendas in one form or another.
It's also no insult to the current team to state that superior Wexford outfits of the past had tried, and ultimately failed, to achieve what they did in the Semple Stadium cauldron.
For example, the side of the 1970s came up short in three All-Ireland finals against the Leesiders.
And for those who will quite rightly point out that the Cork team of this era is a long way removed from that crew, let's not forget that you can only beat what's put in front of you on any given day.
However, after all that has happened since the start of the year, and even going back to last summer when the Rebels dumped us by eight points on our own patch, isn't it amazing to reflect that we have an All-Ireland quarter-final to look forward to while Cork, Dublin and Limerick are all twiddling their thumbs and watching on forlornly from the sidelines?
Would you have taken that scenario on the night of May 21 after the tame collapse to the boys in blue in Croker? I certainly would, dear reader.
One point is worth making, and it first struck me in a very significant way in Portlaoise of all places at the Leinster Intermediate semi-final recently.
While Liam Dunne's hand has been forced in many respects given the injury crisis, it is actually no harm that others have decided to leave the squad - or not join it in the first place in the case of the Intermediates - of their own volition.
Personally, I'm not a fan of individuals who don't want to play for their county regardless of the reason, because I see it as an insult to every young boy who grows up dreaming of getting that chance.
I will use Richie Kehoe as an example. I think it's fair to say he wasn't best pleased about his omission from the Senior squad, but he was man enough to accept the request to play with the Intermediates because putting on a Wexford jersey at any level still means so much to him, and no doubt he felt he had a point to prove too.
He deserved the captaincy for that reason alone as much as for his ability and experience, and I was delighted to see him doing so well in the win over Galway.
Hopefully he will lead his team to Leinster success now against Kilkenny in Innovate Wexford Park this Wednesday, but, whatever happens, his strength of character should be noted and admired.
That's the type of attitude we need to move the county forward in hurling, and Liam Dunne knows that too.
On Saturday he had that in spades, with 20 players used who were willing to die for that jersey because they realise what it means to the people of Wexford when they represent us with such pride and desire.
That's all we can ever ask for from amateurs. They delivered in spades and deserve nothing but praise as a result.