Changes worked a treat as 'Banty Factor' yields win
Last Sunday the silly season began again as the winter woollies were warmed in the hot press before donning them for the trip to Innovate Wexford Park.
The 'Banty Factor' added to the anticipation and a large Wexford crowd turned up to see what the new set-up had to offer. The loss of Ben Brosnan from the starting 15 was a blow, as you need every experienced player and especially one with his scoring ability.
But the strength of a team includes the replacements ready to step in at any time, and young Paul Curtis acted as an able deputy.
Playing against a stiff breeze in the first-half, Wexford were level at two each after seven minutes and playing okay. However, for the next 13 minutes they were outplayed and out-thought by a lively Limerick forward line and trailed by 0-6 to 0-2.
Things were not looking good at this stage but a couple of very smart positional changes by the management team changed the game for Wexford. James Stafford had been playing a withdrawn role despite being named at full-forward, and he was placed even further back in the half-back line to help out the defenders.
Brian Malone moved from corner-back to a position between full- and centre-back, and as a result Wexford severely curtailed the threat posed by Limerick's two best players, Ger Collins and Seamus O'Carroll.
Confused? That's okay because so was I. There were other changes which were too difficult to explain or work out, but all I know is that they were very effective.
From the 20th minute of the first-half Wexford improved as a team and were the better side for the majority of the remaining time. They were level at 0-6 each at half-time and kept Limerick scoreless for almost 30 minutes, an exceptional turnaround considering the way the game had been going.
They looked comfortable with a five-point lead, but missed a couple of good chances to put the game beyond reach. As always happens at this level, you can often get punished for not being clinical and Limerick dragged themselves back to within a point with three minutes of normal time to go.
However, despite the pressure and a number of inexperienced players, Wexford showed immense character to extend their lead and hold out for a deserved three-point win.
The biggest improvement that I saw in the team was the outstanding workrate of every player in a Wexford jersey. Their willingness to chase back to close down their opponents or run forward in support of a team-mate was great to watch.
The amount of tackling and the intensity of the tackle were also evident. No player is exempt from doing the hard yards if they want to keep their place.
The younger players like Stafford, Curtis, John Leacy and especially Eoghan Nolan acquitted themselves well, while the experienced Michael Furlong, Brian Malone and the colossus that is Daithí Waters showed their value to the team.
It is only the first game of the year but it was important to get a home win against one of our main rivals for promotion. An away match to Leitrim next Sunday is no easy game considering the difficulty we had beating them last year.
But this team looks up for a challenge and there is a new optimism around the squad at the moment. As selector David Murphy said, the hard work has been put in so it's up to the players to reap the benefits. Another two points next Sunday would be the perfect start to the year.
Innovate Wexford Park are currently building a new press box and I would like to make a public appeal to the designers. Would you please include a step suitable for two people right where Liam Spratt and I stand on match days? Stretching up on our toes to peep over the front wall for almost an hour and a half is just too uncomfortable at our age. We might see more of the game and the commentary might make more sense...although on second thoughts!