Monday 22 January 2018

All hail the Harriers after a magnificent All-Ireland victory

On The Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

God knows our hurling landscape has been pretty bleak in recent weeks following those Senior and Under-21 disappointments, so it was fantastic to see such a welcome change in fortunes on the under-age scene over the weekend.

Pride of place without a shadow of a doubt goes to the magnificent Faythe Harriers Under-14 players who brought the Christy Ring Trophy home from the annual Féile na nGael in a triumphant blaze of glory on Sunday.

Our sports reporter, Dean Goodison, was dispatched to Cashel after their participation in the final was confirmed Saturday evening, and I think sportspeople everywhere will readily identify with the intro to his match report opposite.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to savour success at the highest level will read that and smile at the memories of their own special occasion.

As far as I'm concerned, the first minute after a big victory is simply irreplaceable in terms of the joy it brings to the participants.

The roars of delight, the bear hugs, the sheer unbridled ecstasy, and of course the tears of joy, because those who can't get emotional after a big victory must have hearts made of stone.

All that and much more besides was experienced by the Harriers contingent on Sunday, and they now join a roll of honour featuring some of the most fabled clubs in the land.

Indeed, final opponents Glen Rovers had won the title no fewer than five times before, in 1975, 1976, 1979, 1982 and 2002, and the fact that the trophy is in memory of probably their greatest-ever past player, Christy Ring, made them all the more determined to succeed.

Faythe Harriers had other ideas though, repeating their earlier group victory over the famed Cork city club from Blackpool to become the first Wexford club since Oulart-The Ballagh 15 years ago to attain the holy grail.

Their superb victory came less than 24 hours after both Wexford teams had travelled to Nowlan Park in Kilkenny and won their respective divisional finals in the inaugural Under-17 Celtic Challenge.

The North got the ball rolling with a 4-13 to 1-15 win over Dublin Plunkett in the Division 3 decider, and then the South battled back after an early sending-off to record an exciting 4-11 to 2-15 win over Kerry in Division 2.

The games were very entertaining as the scorelines suggest, and indeed this was the case in all five finals played on a marathon day for hurling enthusiasts at the well-appointed venue.

For the record, the Division 1 crown went to Offaly who defeated South Kilkenny by the minimum (4-10 to 3-12). Earlier our neighbours, Wicklow, beat Westmeath by 5-13 to 1-14 in the Division 4 final, while Waterford City were 2-14 to 0-14 victors over Laois in Division 5.

The idea of this superbly-organised competition was to provide games for 16- and 17-year-old players who are not involved in state examinations. It commenced on May 4 and, by the time it culminated on Saturday, more than 1,000 players all over the country had been provided with a seven-week programmes of meaningful matches, with 115 played in all.

It was structured on the basis of regionalised round robin groups, and teams were then able to find their own level as they were graded from Divisions 1 to 5 on the basis of those initial results.

This made for some excellent fare in the finals, and overall I feel the competition was a resounding success. Some innovative ideas also showed that the Hurling Development Committee put a lot of thought into the structures.

The 'best and fairest' award to a player on each team, chosen by the referee, was aimed at heightening on-field respect as much as rewarding the most skilful players.

The inter-change policy for substitutes made it more difficult for humble reporters to follow, but we got over it! O'Neills also entered into the spirit of the competition by designing attractive Celtic Challenge jerseys for all participating teams.

It was another very positive development as we look back on the type of weekend that doesn't come around on a regular basis for under-age hurling in the county.

Wexford People

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