Sobering reminder of the hard work ahead in Wexford
Rarely have I seen such pain on Wexford faces as that on Saturday evening exiting the All-Ireland Under-21 final after a Limerick domination that nobody had really seen coming.
When I thought back of the scene 12 months previously there was a feel good factor about our battling performance against the highly rated Clare men, but this game provided few consolations having being comprehensively out hurled in almost every area of the field.
Firstly, I must offer sincere congratulations to the Limerick men who like ourselves are no strangers to heartbreak and compliment them on as good a display as has been seen at this grade for many years.
For our own part this group of players it should not be forgotten that they have provided us with some wonderful memories over the past couple of years and although hard to take we have no option but to try to yet again learn from the experience.
From the off the John Kiely's men seemed to be very tactically astute. Number 15 Cian Lynch played as a third midfielder and we elected to send our corner back Simon Donohoe after him.
This in effect left us with five defenders which had a two pronged effect.
Firstly it created a very crowded environment in our half forward and more importantly it served to create oceans of space for a talented and mobile Limerick forward line. It left our defenders in an almost impossible situation and in retrospect (hindsight is always a great thing to have) we would have been more secure with our six defenders holding their structure and looking to pick up young Lynch from the other side of the field.
In the overall context of the game however it would be unfair to Limerick to suggest that any side line interventions would have swung the clear advantage that Limerick possessed all over the field.
At this point I need to refer to a clarification that is needed on the advantage rule.
Johnny Ryan had a good day on the whistle but his decision to recall a goal on either side to give a free in clearly penalised the team sinned against.
In the Limerick case it can be argued that the whistle had been blown but certainly I could see now reason to rule out Kevin Foley's goal other than to balance the earlier decision. In fairness had the Limerick score stood it would have had an even earlier fatal effect on the Wexford challenge whereas the Wexford effort would have given them more of a fighting chance going into half time.
One cancelled out the other but surely they are examples of a rule that would lead to overall improvement if properly implemented.
Oliver O'Leary manned our goal well and can probably look forward to another All Star at this grade. We could have possibly went shorter with our puck outs a little earlier and in front of him I felt that Jim White and the ever impressive Padraig Foley held up well in the face of a semi tidal wave. Up front Andrew Kenny battled manfully and Conor McDonald took his goal well.
Overall, however this game was about a tremendous Limerick display and despite attempts to analyse what went wrong the simple fact is that they were superior in all aspects of play.
Whilst not offering it as an excuse our route to the final possibly didn't help with a relatively comfortable Leinster campaign followed by an Antrim game of little intensity compared to the pressure cooker Limerick game through. Their intensity levels seemed to rack up with every game they played and I have no doubt we will see many of these players progress to senior level.
It is important to remember that we had an off day at the weekend and I have no doubt that this group of players hold the key to a good Wexford future.
Saturday was a sobering reminder of the hard work ahead.