Season steps up a notch with county sides getting busy
Published 29/01/2016 | 00:00
I don't know if you'll agree with me dear reader, but the month of January has flown by as far as I'm concerned.
And as we prepare to bid it farewell this coming weekend, our Senior county teams will lock horns with Dublin and Leitrim respectively as the playing season steps up a notch.
It's a nice bonus to make our hurling return to Croke Park four months earlier than planned, and the opportunity to claim some silverware is something that an experimental team should try to grasp with both hands.
I attended the corresponding Walsh Cup final at the same venue last year between Galway and Dublin, and an odd atmosphere prevailed.
Scarcely 200 people made the effort to be there for the 5 p.m. throw-in, and from my vantage point in the press box on the seventh floor of the Hogan Stand it was possible to hear the shouts of the players on the field as if I was standing beside them.
That doesn't happen too often at headquarters, but whether it's the same again next Saturday is besides the point. The main thing is for Wexford to treat the game as the best possible dress rehearsal for the Allianz League opener against Limerick which will also be played under floodlights a fortnight later.
In an ideal situation Liam Dunne would have a full deck to choose from apart from the Oulart-The Ballagh contingent, but that's not possible due to our college-tied players.
I've been banging that drum since the Walsh Cup started and, to be fair to the management, they've simply got on with it as that particular situation is beyond their control. It's alright for me to moan about the structures, but the backroom crew have concentrated on the job in hand and are deservedly through to the final.
What shouldn't be forgotten though is that Limerick and Clare, our first two league opponents, had unfettered access to their college players for the Munster league which concluded with the latter beating the former by a point under the Gaelic Grounds lights on Saturday.
Hopefully the Leinster Council will follow that lead by restricting the Walsh Cup to county teams only next year. On that note, I was pleased that Eddie Brennan was challenged on the bizarre comments he made after the Kilkenny side he managed suffered successive losses to D.I.T. and Offaly.
He felt that the competition should be scrapped due to the demands placed on young players at this time of year, but conveniently ignored the most obvious point: the Cats had chosen to put those self-same players he was so concerned about directly in the firing line by using them in the competition.
If they really wanted to lighten their load it would have made far more sense for the All-Ireland champions to use an Intermediate squad minus all Under-21 players.
The Leinster Council gets a bad press at times, but its members should be commended for organising these tournaments which have funded hardship cases since the mid-1950s. Provincial Chairman John Horan made a robust defence of their worth and he was correct in everything he said.
No doubt Wexford fans in Croker on Saturday will stay on for the football clash of Dublin and Kerry. And from that glamorous tie it will be back to reality in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday when we begin our quest to make an immediate leap out of Division 4 with only the second-ever Allianz League clash against Leitrim.
Manager David Power is without some experienced stalwarts but used 28 players in the O'Byrne Cup including ten newcomers to Senior level, the vast majority of them also part of the Under-21 squad which prospered from four high-quality games in the well-organised Peter McNulty Memorial tournament.
It was noticeable that just four players started all three O'Byrne Cup ties: new captain Brian Malone, midfielder Colm Kehoe, and attackers Ben Brosnan and Kevin O'Grady.
A lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of this quartet, particularly in the absence of some long-serving colleagues, but I've no doubt they will be equal to the task. And if we're serious about making progress, then a win next Sunday is a must.