Tuesday 21 January 2020

Wexford boys are back in town!

Catherine, Annie, Gemma and Jenny Dempsey from Murrrintown at the match.
Catherine, Annie, Gemma and Jenny Dempsey from Murrrintown at the match.
Delighted supporters aafter the game: Ciara McDermott, Katie O'Sullivan and Deirdre Kearney from Piercestown
Sarah Nolan and Noah Basham from Murrintown were at the game.
St Mary's, Rosslare supporters at the match.

By darragh clifford at Innovate Wexford Park

They came early, and they came in their droves. Hours before the official 7 p.m. start time, eager Wexford fans from all four corners of the county descended on Wexford Park, hoping, praying, believing, that this was going to be our day.

By 6 p.m. the Park was effectively full - the Clonard End terrace in particular was heaving with fans hoisting purple and gold flags in a stiff evening breeze. Never has Wexford Park been so full so early before a match, and the excitement and tension was palpable as we got nearer to game time.

By the time referee Fergal Horgan threw the sliotar in, the roar of the crowd could probably be heard on Forth Mountain - for the 18,467 fans lucky enough to get a precious ticket the talking was over, it was time for battle.

The talk among many seasoned Wexford supporters before the game was that Kilkenny were going to come out all guns blazing, and like a ruthless prize fighter, hit us hard, hit us early and hit us often. Following our exploits in the League in Nowlan Park back in April, Kilkenny were the bruised beasts waiting to exact revenge in the coldest manner possible.

So when the referee signalled for a penalty to Kilkenny after less than a minute, it looked like this doomsday prophecy was going to be fulfilled. Sharpshooter TJ Reid duly rattled the net, giving the Cats the start they craved, and for a brief moment it looked like the joy was going to be sucked out of the home fans before the game had really warmed up.

But this Wexford team had other ideas. In six short months, Davy Fitzgerald has already carved himself in to Wexford folklore, such is the galvanising effect he has had on this team, and the manner in which his team went about their business on Saturday was a revelation. They responded to that early setback by hitting the next five points. Wexford were dialled in, with leaders emerging all over the park and the fans were loving it, the decibel levels rising every time we split the posts.

To do this against any top-ranking time would be credible. But this was Kilkenny, the team who have spent many a summer's day over the last 13 years casually stepping over our weak challenge as they marched onwards to All-Ireland glory. But Davy has injected something into the DNA of this team - a steely determination, a never-say-die attitude and and teak-tough mental resolve.

Concede a first-minute goal? No problem. See your lead slip from eight points to one in a manner of minutes when the game was in the melting pot? No problem.

Wexford fans have always adored their heroes, and on Saturday night, we had plenty to chose from. Liam Ryan, Jack Guiney and Paul Morris were immense. James Breen shackled former Hurler of the Year TJ Reid brilliantly, often wielding his hurl with one arm like a samurai warrior, keeping Reid scoreless from play in the process.

But the man of the moment was definitely Lee Chin, who by the end of the game was making normally sane, grown men, weep with joy. When Reid slotted home Kilkenny's second penalty to leave just a point between the teams midway through the second half, the alarm sirens were ringing among even the most optimistic of Wexford fans.

What happened next will go down in Wexford GAA legend - Chin plucks a Mark Fanning puck-out out of the salty sea air, pivots and pings a point over the bar in the face of a strong swirling wind. With that point, Chin had drawn a line in the sand. Not tonight, Kilkenny, he said. Not on my watch.

When the ref blew it up, all hell broke loose. Delirious fans invaded the pitch hoping to lay their hands on one of their heroes. Davy came out from his box in the stand to be greeted by deafening cheers. The tannoy blared Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back In Town'.

All over the pitch fans of all ages danced with excitement - Saturday Night Fever had come to Wexford Park, and the fans savoured every moment of it.

The fans eventually drifted away from Wexford Park to be greeted by long tailbacks in all direction. But it didn't matter a jot. We went home smiling and dreaming, hoping and believing that 2017 could be a special summer.

Wexford People

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