Friday 20 September 2019

Dressing-room was a special place after Rebel hoodoo lifted

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

The jubilant scenes in the background, that is the sanctity of the dressing-room, brought home just why I love the G.A.A.

Seeing team-mates and mentors showering congratulations on each other is the real indicator of what it means to this particular bunch, who have shipped so much criticism over the past two years.

So much of it was unjustified, particularly in recent months, when it seemed that luck had deserted them given the ongoing injury crisis that had hit the squad.

The Wexford dressing-room was a special place. Manager Dunne was only hitting the ground with every second stride, while the broad smile on his face was reminiscent of that September day in 1996 back in Croke Park.

There was an elated County Chairman, Diarmuid Devereux, who really tested those heart arteries, while County Secretary, Margaret Doyle, was overjoyed at having the inter-county season further extended.

It was the underdog weekend - few gave Wexford any chance, and few gave Longford footballers any chance, but Wexford answered the critics and I am glad to see them rewarded in what was an historic occasion. Where better than in the home of hurling that is Semple Stadium to set the record straight, ending a 60-year barren spell without a Senior championship victory over Cork.

Nothing is won yet, of course, but we will still savour every moment of it. If you can prove yourself on this stage then you have what it takes. To do so in the most adverse circumstances, after the unfortunate lengthening list of injuries, is all the more laudable, and makes an amazing achievement all the more remarkable.

Let's deal with the season so far. Somehow Liam Dunne managed to put a controversial County Board meeting behind him, where club delegates refused (or failed) to back his proposal for another term in charge.

He eventually won over a proposer and seconder and was endorsed for a further term, amidst silence from the floor and the majority of the top table. Dunne's glory days in purple and gold were forgotten, but like his career as a player, he moved on and overcame much criticism and back stabbing along the way, and we are now in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

He is bringing to the managerial table what he showed as a player - pride in the purple and gold. That's a positive answer to those critics.

I have been an avid supporter of Dunne and his backroom given the work they are undertaking in trying to bring the young players through.

Some five years ago, Wexford hurling was on its knees, but Dunne in his time has brought his sides to two All-Ireland quarter-finals, and right now he has one of the youngest teams in the championship.

Wexford made a massive statement in Semple Stadium. With the injured players back next year, Dunne has created a squad the county has been craving for for so long. I have been fully behind the three-time All Star centre-back in the arduous journey he was undertaking.

So many times in the past, in even less demanding circumstances than this, Wexford teams have somehow found a way to shoot themselves in the foot with a famous victory in their sights.

What got Wexford over the line was the inspired work of Dunne and his backroom over the past number of weeks.

All Dunne has faced in the county was a constant barrage of negativity, but like in his playing days, he took all of this on his small frame and soldiered on.

One sensed that the players were buying into his growing belief in their ability, and this was never more clearly demonstrated than against Cork.

If Dunne made a massive statement, then so did his coach, Willie Cleary, who provided the perfect foil for Dunne, working with the players and getting the team organised with a vastly improved gameplan, but also with a return to traditional Wexford hurling - direct striking, passion and commitment - and a pride in the purple and gold jersey.

Wexford will face bigger challenges, but Liam Dunne and his machine is rolling on.

Let's hope the second string machine continues to roll this Wednesday evening in Innovate Wexford Park with the lifting of the Leinster Intermediate title at the expense of great rivals, Kilkenny.

Wexford People