Monday 11 December 2017

A promising and encouraging show from Banty's boys

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

New football manager Seamus McEnaney won't require a lot of time to get the loyal followers of the team firmly behind him if Wexford continue to produce displays on a par with last Sunday.

In fact, I'd wager a safe bet that the vast majority of that small group are already fully converted to the cause and hoping that we will emerge from Division 4 of the league and book a morale-boosting final date in Croke Park ahead of the championship opener against Carlow.

The players really wore their hearts on their sleeves on Sunday, and that's always a sure sign that they're happy with the work going on behind the scenes.

A satisfied camp is guaranteed to lead to full-scale effort on the field of play, and by all accounts the Wexford lads have been responding very well to the teak-tough training methods deployed by Martin McElkennon.

A hard taskmaster is exactly what this group needed after a disappointing year which never got off the ground. The Tyrone man has gained widespread respect from his previous roles across the province of Ulster, and when the chips were down on Sunday that ethos of relentless hard work he has already instilled came to the fore.

The real worth of any team is not to be seen when they are coasting in a game and holding a big lead. If you want to know what a group of players are made of, see how they respond when the chips are down.

In that regard, I liked the manner in which Wexford hit back on two occasions against Limerick; firstly when they fell 6-2 in arrears but brought it back to 6-6 by half-time, and secondly when Danny Neville flicked home the visitors' goal and the lead was reduced to just one point at a critical juncture.

Of course, it goes without saying that one win isn't enough to confirm that the Wexford players have completely turned the corner after the non-event that was 2016.

It was merely a promising and encouraging start, no more and no less. And judging by the manner in which Leitrim dismantled Wicklow in Aughrim on Sunday, the trip to Carrick-on-Shannon next Sunday will be a difficult hurdle to negotiate.

I was mildly suprised to see Westmeath were held to a draw by Carlow on their own patch too, but our neighbours have also acquired the services of an Ulster coach, Steven Poacher from Down, who is being used by manager Turlough O'Brien in a more regular capacity than was the case last year.

I wrote here seven days ago that Wexford, Westmeath and Limerick appeared to be the front-runners for promotion, but it looks like Leitrim and Carlow already have other ideas.

After Sunday's encounter, 'Banty' and his crew will have three matches of the 'must-win' variety, with a trip to Aughrim to face Wicklow sandwiched in between home ties versus Waterford and London.

It would appear that it may yet all boil down to what transpires in the last two rounds, with Westmeath visiting Innovate Wexford Park on March 26 before a short trip to Carlow for the concluding group game one week later.

A repeat of the footballers' good start would be a tremendous tonic for the hurlers in Sunday's Allianz League Division 1B opener at home to Limerick, and it certainly should be a lot more competitive than the tame affair under lights in the Gaelic Grounds twelve months ago when the home side romped home.

Hindsight would suggest that the way the Bord na Móna Walsh Cup campaign ended was no major impediment to progress. After all, nothing would have been gained from a phoney war in the final against Galway given that they will be our second league opponents in the game that really matters Sunday week.

Beating Dublin in a competitive fixture for the first time in nine years was more than enough of a positive nature to glean from the pre-season tournament.

Davy Fitzgerald has been keen to play down expectations ahead of Sunday's game, and he is right of course. There will be fire in his belly on the line though, make no mistake about it, and the players will need to have it in spades too to secure the result we require.

Wexford People

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