Thursday 18 January 2018

County finals are extremely special

FINALS ARE different. Managers, coaches and players attempt to play them down - to form the mindset that it's just another game. But it isn't.

There's a certain atmosphere around a county final. Many fans turn up to the training. Hundreds of youngsters over the course of the week seek out the autograph of their club heroes, not just on their team jersey but also on their hurleys and sliothars. Many of the team are in demand, visiting schools and local sponsors as interest around the parish reaches fever pitch.

Journalists, print and radio, also seek to make contact with various players, and, of course, the captain is always in constant demand. The players, being amateurs, must also go to work, and, as such, may be surrounded by the public, many of whom are fans on a daily basis.

Talk of the match is everywhere but none more so than in the competing parishes of Oulart-The Ballagh and Ferns. It's easy to get distracted and it's a huge balancing job to make sure that players are protected from the hype, while ensuring that they don't come across as haughty or arrogant to others who have experienced it.

This can be a fine line. Team management learn this from experience, or from listening to others who have experienced it. There is no doubt that external pressures surround Sunday that only appear at final time, and Oulart-The Ballagh have a huge advantage over Ferns in this regard.

Playing in county finals is second nature to them. All of the Oulart-The Ballagh management, players, and particularly the fans will be relaxed about their almost annual visit to Wexford Park on county final day. Let's be honest, short of something going drastically wrong, although they used up some of their nine lives on this occasion, most felt they would always be there.

Ferns are in a different situation as they are appearing in their first Senior hurling championship final since 1969. All the players are 'new' but at least they have come through a rigid under-age system. They have been knocking on the door over the past few years. There may be external pressures, but players feed off these also. There's a great atmosphere in the parish - almost Christmas-like.

However, it can also be a little distracting if it's not managed properly, and instead of feeding off the positive benefits, it can consume one or two, distract their focus from the game, which is the main priority, and they may serve up a performance which is less than their ability demands on the day.

The Ferns management have got everything right so far, mostly things that they could control. These external issues are somewhat out of their hands, but they are fully aware of them, and that's half the battle. We'll only know after the game if they got things right.

But the experience of Martin Storey and John Barron should see them through these pre-match challenges.

The rural parish is the heartbeat of the G.A.A. Thousands will flock to Wexford Park on this final day. Good luck to both outfits.

It was good to see that Central Council saw the light of day and decided to scrap their new National Hurling League proposals.

Wexford's County Chairman, Diarmuid Devereux, came out strongly against the new proposals which if they had been introduced would have been detrimental to hurling in the county. He put himself on the line as he took Wexford's battle to the top echelons of the G.A.A.

The support he received in the county and beyond was tremendous. There are still people from inside the county and outside who still take Wexford hurling to their hearts and the massive contribution they bring to the game.

With the support of Leinster Council's Joe O'Shaughnessy they never relented in their battle to save Wexford's National League. Both myself and Liam Griffin batted for the county on RTE Radio's Thursday night programme, 'Game On', while Sheamus Howlin gave his solid support at national management level, and the County Board also supported the county Chairman.

The end result is that Wexford can take a huge credit for saving the game of hurling outside the elite counties. Eliteism has no place in the G.A.A.

Wexford People

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