Saturday 25 January 2020

Hail to the champs!

Homecoming for Wexford Senior, Minor Hurlers and Ladies Football champs

At the homecoming celebrations were Mary Rose Kelly, Ladies Football Captain, Minor Hurling Captain Richie Lawlor, and Senior Hurling Captains Lee Chin and Matthew O'Hanlon
At the homecoming celebrations were Mary Rose Kelly, Ladies Football Captain, Minor Hurling Captain Richie Lawlor, and Senior Hurling Captains Lee Chin and Matthew O'Hanlon

Pádraig Byrne

The sun was shining on Wexford GAA in more ways than one as parents splayed out on the Wexford Park pitch, while youngsters armed with hurls attempted to recreate the heroics they had seen over the weekend as Wexford overcame the cats.

There was a carnival atmosphere at Wexford Park last week as Wexford fans young and old gathered on the site of many hard fought wins to welcome back our three teams of Leinster Champions.

Things seemed to get a little tighter as MC Alan Corcoran took the mic, looking out over a sea of thousands of purple and gold jerseys from the stand. First for a rapturous welcome was Wexford's Ladies Intermediate Leinster Champions who overcame Meath in Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow to bring home some silverware.

As all of the players were introduced, there were particularly big cheers for player of the match Clara Donnelly and captain Mary Rose Kelly who spoke of the work that this group of players had put in to get to this point before triumphantly lifting the trophy to rapturous applause.

From there it was over to the Minor hurlers who put in an amazing display in the early game in Croker to beat Kilkenny in some style. Nobody was in any doubt as the names were called out that we would be hearing plenty about these lads again, with the likes of AJ Redmond and captain Richie Lawlor already capturing the attention of hurling hacks all over the country. Once again there were massive cheers and applause as Lawlor held the trophy aloft in front of the huge crowd.

With excitement having built, it was the turn of the seniors to take a bow. They had given it all on the Croke Park pitch and this was thoroughly recognised by an appreciative purple and gold army. Blown away by the reception they had received with the Bob O'Keefe Cup, joint Captain Matthew O'Hanlon spoke of the heart the team takes from the legion of Wexford fans that follows them into battle every time.

'It's hard to put into words,' he said. 'You've no idea the impact ye have had on us. It's ye that drive us on to the next level.'

Fellow captain Lee Chin echoed the comments of the St James' man, noting that the scenes that welcomed them as they came back to the model county the night of the game will never be forgotten.

The loudest reception of the night was reserved for manager Davy Fitzgerald who again thanked the fans. He spoke of how some people had advised him against taking the helm at Wexford, saying he'd achieve nothing and noted that these people are no longer audible. He did add a word of warning however, before getting the pulses racing ahead of an All-Ireland semi-final.

'It's very important as a county that we stay humble,' he said. 'Let's take every step as it comes and go up to Croke Park and enjoy it. I have a feeling we won't let ye down!'

Tributes were also paid to the late, great Ned Wheeler, who is sure to have been looking down with great satisfaction as the cup was held aloft and the Wexford fans went wild on the scarcely visible green of Wexford Park. When the cheers died down, there was the first recorded instance of the Icelandic clap at Wexford Park as Cornerboy's Mick D'Arcy got the crowd going ahead of a stirring rendition of 'The Purple and Gold'.

Of course, there are the neigh-sayers too. There are those who will say that a Leinster title doesn't warrant such scenes of celebration. However, who could deny a county steeped in hurling and starved of success some moments of reflection after a momentous weekend? For the children looking on as O'Hanlon and Chin held the cup aloft, it provides a source of inspiration and the hope that big days out in Croker and homecomings at the park won't be isolated incidents in the future.

Wexford People

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