Tuesday 23 January 2018

First 25 minutes will be vital

Tom Dempsey, guest analyst

Diarmuid O'Keeffe (second right) at the championship launch with Colm Callanan, Mark Schutte, Walter Walsh and Charles Dwyer
Diarmuid O'Keeffe (second right) at the championship launch with Colm Callanan, Mark Schutte, Walter Walsh and Charles Dwyer

For us of a different generation it's hard to believe that it is eight years since Wexford contested a Leinster Senior hurling championship match in Croke Park.

As I prepare for the now much shorter trip to the capital I have been laid low somewhat by feelings of nostalgia and the memories, some happy and some not, of the countless family outings to Wexford games in the '70s and '80s.

The sun always seemed to shine (on the way up to the match anyway), and the journey at that time was frustratingly punctuated by traffic jams in Gorey, Newtownmountkennedy (that hill) and finally Bray with the welcome relief of tea and sandwiches in the Glen of the Downs.

The excitement would grow steadily on the approach to the stadium with the pre-designated parking spot secured (you didn't have to pre-book that time), and with the parking attendant suitably recompensed your heart would miss a beat when you caught first sight of the big sheds.

The memories took care of themselves inside and the excitement of a high ball in Tony's direction, a Martin Quigley assist or the inevitability of a Ned Buggy penalty would determine your back garden practice routine for the coming year.

Though we had our success, a lot of the games of that era were characterised by the great Wexford comeback, only to be denied by a late Kilkenny score. The sight of Eddie Keher coolly tying his lace before nailing a match-winning free will probably live with me forever. A great man and player but I don't think I will ever forgive you Eddie.

Then in '76 we destroyed them (if Carlsberg did Leinster finals). Despite some of the disappointments, they were the best days of our lives.

On to the '80s and '90s and I experienced things from a different perspective with Offaly becoming a particular nemesis. I met Johnny Pilkington (a great hurler and character) after a particularly heart-breaking defeat in which I played opposite him at midfield for the second-half.

We discussed some of the ins and outs of the game after which he asked me: 'were you up at the game yourself Tom?' Suffice to say it is a long road without a turning and I hunted him down a couple of years later after a Wexford reverse and he wasn't as inclined to see the funny side.

As I look forward to Saturday I worry that circumstances surrounding our preparation may deny Wexford a glorious opportunity of victory. Andrew Shore, Shaun Murphy, David Redmond (the list goes on) are huge blows to our chances, and at the time of writing the peerless Lee Chin amongst others are doubtful.

In my estimation the Harriers man gave the best exhibition I've seen in club hurling for over a decade last week, and hopefully he will be available to grace an environment that is made for his type of talent.

Dublin for their part have had an up and down league. They didn't perform against Limerick in the quarter-final and having seen the dismal Shannonside display in the semi it would suggest that the men in blue are far from unbeatable.

They are not without their problems and the loss for various reasons of Danny Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney and Peter Kelly leaves them slightly vulnerable. On the flip side however, a team with mobile forwards like 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan, Eamonn Dillon, Mark Schutte and David Treacy can cause major problems if they get on a roll.

The key to our performance lies in the first 25 minutes and producing a Waterford-like obstacle, because if we hand the initiative to the Dubs we will have major problems turning things around.

To sum up I feel that it is a winnable game but taking all factors into account I think Dublin will come out on top. Wexford need to approach things like we did in Ennis two years ago, and if we do anything is possible.

Finally, well done to Eamonn Scallan and his Wexford Minor team on qualifying for the provincial decider, and as I predicted last year there may be another chapter to be written on Wexford camogie after a wonderful performance against the league champions last weekend.

Up Wexford.

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