Mature reflection on another loss in a national decider

Alan Ahern

Published 22/09/2015 | 00:00

The recent Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland Under-21 hurling championship final took place in the exact mid-point of my two weeks of holidays from work.

Therefore, I watched the game as a spectator rather than the norm of being a reporter, although old habits die hard as the press box was still my vantage point for the action in Semple Stadium.

And it's no harm that I had a full week to gather my thoughts on the game before returning to work and putting pen to paper so to speak.

Being in a position to comment after a period of mature reflection is never a bad thing; it's certainly a far cry from the usual situation whereby deadlines are looming large within minutes of the final whistle.

On more occasions than I care to remember, I've looked at something I wrote in haste and cringed; time, or more to the point the lack of it, is the ever-present enemy of the journalist.

And, apart from a book review written in advance, last week was one of those rare occasions when I had no contribution on these pages. I was given a byline on a St. Martin's v. Glynn-Barntown Minor football game that I wasn't next nor near alright, but that arose from a minor production error and these things happen!

So, to return to the Under-21 final, first and foremost let me state that on all known evidence available, I didn't expect Wexford to win. I didn't state that outright in my last column before the game because negativity in advance of a big match is counter-productive

Nonetheless, I did express certain concerns in my summation, and that was based on seeing every minute of all four Wexford games in the flesh, starting in Newbridge in late May.

What I did expect was that our young men would be competitive, but that wasn't the case from an early stage I'm afraid.

And rather than trying to apportion blame to individuals who all went out to do their best, it has led me to ponder a few more far-reaching questions during my last few days out of the office.

There seems to be a worrying trend emerging whereby we don't just lose in the bigger games, we flop completely and end up being in arrears by double figures.

It has happened to the Seniors as well as the Under-21s, and it indicates a general malaise which needs to be addressed. The trouble is, I cannot put my finger on why this is the case, and I'm sure the situation is exercising the minds of many ardent followers of Wexford hurling.

Our general record in finals in abysmal, but it still must be noted that it takes a serious amount of hard work and talent to get there in the first place.

The current crop of Under-21s treated us to the most comprehensive win by a Wexford hurling team over Kilkenny since the Leinster Senior final of 1976 earlier this summer, and we shouldn't lose sight of that fact in our rush to find reasons for the Thurles collapse.

Two aspects of the game in general are causing us ongoing problems, and once again these don't just relate to the Under-21s in my view as all teams appear to be afflicted and encumbered by them.

One is our struggle as a county to time a leap into the air and make a clean catch of the sliothar amid a forest of hurleys. Conor McDonald is the one notable exception and thank goodness for that, but unfortunately he hasn't much company in perfecting what is a difficult, yet basic, skill.

The second problem is our general inability to emerge from a ruck for possession with the sliothar. Whether it's through an absence of physicality or a bit of pig ignorance required to win a ball on the ground, Wexford teams are constantly playing catch up because we struggle time after time in those 50-50 tussles.

I don't have answers to those problems, but I'd love to find out what some of the coaches closely involved with our inter-county teams think. I'm sure they spend lots of time in training on those two aspects of the game, so they must be tearing their hair out like the rest of us when we are found wanting in the games that really matter.

There is no alternative of course but to plough on and keep working hard in the hope that the tide will turn and our glory days will return. The years are moving on though and every additional defeat makes it that bit harder to take.

Wexford People

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