Wexford ruled football one hundred years ago
Last week Wexford's fixtures for Division 4 of the Allianz Football League were confirmed, as the current team sets about building again from the bottom up in 2016.
It's all a far cry from this time one hundred years ago when the county was basking in the glow of being crowned All-Ireland Senior champions for the first time since 1893.
After successive final disappointments to Kerry in 1913 and 1914, it all came gloriously right on November 7, 1915, with a 2-4 to 2-1 win over the Kingdom in Croke Park.
The game attracted a crowd of 30,000 who paid £1,004 for the privilege, and the build-up was nothing short of intense.
It was billed as 'The Game of the Century' in the press previews, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Wexford had been knocking on the door since 1913 when Leinster success was followed by a 4-4 to 0-1 All-Ireland semi-final win over Antrim and a 2-2 to 0-3 loss to Kerry in the decider.
Provincial honours were retained the following year, with Monaghan overcome before the proud wearers of the green and gold broke Wexford hearts once more. However, they needed two attempts that time around, and there was a growing feeling that the Slaneysiders were getting even closer to the biggest prize.
The 1915 campaign featured wins over Kilkenny in Waterford by 0-9 to 0-4 and Offaly by 1-7 to 0-2, before a thrilling Leinster final ended in a 2-2 each draw with Dublin. Record gate receipts of £225 were paid, and this was bettered for the replay when the takings were £350 and the holders completed the three-in-a-row on a 2-2 to 1-3 scoreline.
Cavan were seen off in the All-Ireland semi-final by 3-7 to 2-2, setting the scene for another tilt at Kerry. This game was seen as the real decider between the counties as Kerry had won those two championship games, one was drawn, and Wexford had prevailed in two challenges.
Sportswriters labelled it the 'most exciting and scientific' game ever played, with Aidan Doyle almost bursting the net near the end of the first-half to give the challengers a 1-2 to 1-0 interval lead.
The standard of football rose to even greater heights on the re-start, and the teams were deadlocked (1-3 to 2-0) after 18 minutes. Wexford were awarded a free 30 yards from the Kerry posts and left corner-back Jim Byrne was called up to take it by team captain Seán O'Kennedy.
After initially moving towards the ball but stopping, Byrne took a second run at the leather and hit it with everything he had, with the shot crashing to the net like a bullet just under the crossbar.
Four minutes later Byrne stepped up to take a '50 which sailed sweetly between the posts. While Kerry managed to pull back a point, Wexford were not going to be denied this time and held on for a fantastic 2-4 to 2-1 win.
Three players - Seán O'Kennedy, Paddy Mackey and Jim Byrne - were carried shoulder-high from the field by ecstatic supporters, with O'Kennedy holding the Great Southern and Western Railway Silver Cup with an iron-like grip (the Sam Maguire Cup wasn't presented to the All-Ireland winners until 1928).
After finally getting to experience the sheer joy of outright success, these Wexford players had no intention of loosening their stranglehold.
Over the next three years they would complete a six-in-a-row of Leinster titles and maintain their grip as the best team in the land for four years on the trot.
The 1915 win was the start and, while the victory on November 7 wasn't marked in any way by the County Board, they will get ample opportunities to recognise the great team of that era between now and 1918. Perhaps next year might represent the best time to honour them to tie in with the many ceremonies planned to mark the 1916 centenary.
The 1915 line-out was: Tom McGrath (Volunteers); Paddy Mackey (New Ross), Fr. Edmund Wheeler (Blue and Whites, who had to play under the assumed name of James Furlong), Jim Byrne (Blue and Whites); Ned Black (Rapparees), Tom Mernagh (New Ross), Tom Murphy (Enniscorthy); Frank Furlong (Blue and Whites), 'Tearing' Tom Doyle (Ballyhogue); Gus O'Kennedy (New Ross), Seán O'Kennedy (New Ross, capt.), Rich Reynolds (Blue and Whites); Martin Howlett (Gusserane), Aidan Doyle (New Ross), John Wall (Bunclody).