Thursday 17 October 2019

Croker date for our hurlers after eight-year wait

Alan Aherne.
Alan Aherne.

Alan Aherne - On The Line

Praise the Lord, at long last it's finally going to happen! Regular readers of this column will be aware that I have bemoaned the lengthy absence of our county Senior hurlers from Croke Park more than once.

Therefore, it was with immense pleasure that I learned on Wednesday night of the decision to stage our Leinster quarter-final against Dublin in headquarters on May 29, 2016, immediately after our footballers play Kildare at the same stage.

The provincial council announced on social media that our hurlers were returning to Croker for the first time since 2007, but they were wrong. Whoever looks after their Twitter feed needs to start abiding by the dictum that 'comment is free, but facts are sacred' - the famous quote of C.P. Scott, Editor of 'The Guardian', written in 1921.

In the interests of accuracy, our last Senior hurling game in Jones' Road was in actual fact the Leinster championship final on July 6, 2008, when Kilkenny scalded us on a 5-21 to 0-17 scoreline.

And to jog memories a little further, the Wexford line-out was: Damien Fitzhenry; Malachy Travers, Paul Roche, James Tonks; Michael Jacob (0-1), David O'Connor, Darren Stamp; Eoin Quigley, David Redmond (0-2); P.J. Nolan (0-2), Willie Doran, Diarmuid Lyng (0-7, 6 frees, 1 line ball); Stephen Doyle (0-1), Stephen Banville, Rory Jacob (capt., 0-3). Subs. - Barry Lambert (0-1) for Nolan, Colm Farrell for Roche, inj.

A fortnight earlier, on June 22, the last Wexford double-header in Croke Park had seen the hurlers beat Dublin by 2-15 to 1-15 in a semi-final replay, while the footballers saw off Laois by 0-18 to 0-12 to also qualify for the decider.

That was arguably our last really good day at one of the finest sporting venues in Europe. And a quick glance at the team listed above suggests that David Redmond is highly likely to be the sole Wexford hurler with past experience of playing a championship game on the biggest stage of all in just over six months' time, assuming he's still involved of course.

That stark reality highlights how long we have been out of the limelight. Soccer players, rugby players and American footballers have all performed there in the intervening years, but our hurlers haven't had a chance even though we're just down the road and among a relatively small pool competing at the highest level.

Of course, the simple truth is that if we were good enough, we wouldn't have been waiting for so long. Every Leinster hurling final is played in Croke Park, so our failure to qualify for one since 2008 is a sad indictment.

I know we have competed in a number of quarter-finals in Thurles, and Semple Stadium is widely acknowledged as being a special hurling venue with the best playing surface in the land.

However, my argument about playing in Croke Park has always been based around the promotional value of seeing our flagship hurling team in action in our All-Ireland final venue.

No child playing Under-10 Go Games this year has a clear memory of watching Wexford playing there; thankfully that will finally change in May, and I hope that club mentors at that level will make it their business to get those youngsters up to Dublin 3 on May 29.

I always love poring through the Leinster championship fixtures when they are announced and working out the matches I am likely to attend. It somehow shortens the winter for me and, as a regular at O'Byrne and Walsh Cup games, it won't be too long at all before the inter-county scene starts all over again.

Indeed, both Wexford teams are scheduled to play at home on Sunday, January 3, with the footballers set for an appetising clash with All-Ireland champions Dublin, while the hurlers will face I.T. Carlow.

Given the condition of pitches at that time of year, it's probably too much for me to hope that both games take place as a double-header in the comfortable surrounds of Innovate Wexford Park. However, I wonder if some club out there would be willing to run that risk?

We're going to be following both teams in Croke Park on May 29, so why not start out on January 3 in the same vein?

Wexford People

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