Thursday 23 November 2017

Players will learn a great deal from this leap to higher level

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

The Wexford support in Croke Park on Sunday was wonderful, and I believe it was loosely divided into two categories.

On the one hand, you had those who perhaps hadn't been at a lot of games in recent years and who were intent on re-living the glory days of 1996.

They were carried to Dublin on a wave of optimism and the belief that our win over Kilkenny was a definite sign of bigger and better things. They brought great colour and noise to the occasion, and I for one hope they're here to stay as it was an uplifting sight to see headquarters in such a vibrant state on Leinster final day.

On the other hand then, you had those of us who have seen the development of this team from its first Walsh Cup game onwards, not to mention the many campaigns full of highs and lows since we last tasted All-Ireland glory 21 years ago.

The people in this category were more cautious in their outlook, acutely aware that Galway were a step ahead in terms of development and had the considerable advantage too of experiencing so many big occasions on the hallowed turf before.

It must be a daunting task for any mere mortal to line out for his county in a provincial final, and I have the height of admiration for the Wexford players who couldn't be faulted in any way for effort or desire.

My own belief was that we needed to stay in the game for the first 20 minutes and take it from there, so I was more than pleased to see the lads going toe-to-toe with the favourites throughout the early exchanges.

My only concern was that Galway appeared to be getting their scores a lot easier, and more than once they responded immediately to a hard-earned Wexford point with a reply from the puck-out.

Their fielding ability was awesome, and we were always going to struggle ultimately when they were winning primary possession in the air with such grace and style.

Every game of course will be followed by what ifs, and many wondered in the hours after the full-time whistle if a penalty goal early in the second-half would have made a difference.

We'll never know of course, but I genuinely believe that Galway were playing at a level slightly above us and they would have recovered.

They certainly would have had more than enough time, but it was immaterial one way or the other as Colm Callanan made a vital save.

Naturally disappointment is the over-riding emotion given that the expectations were so high, but Sunday's game showed that this Wexford team is still a work in progress and the players will be all the better for the experience.

We're still in the last six in Ireland and have a Division 1A league campaign to look forward to in 2018, so there is certainly no reason to be downhearted right now.

We were very competitive for a long stretch of our first Leinster final appearance since 2008, and that has to be a positive considering the base we started from back in January.

Now that the appetite is clearly back among supporters, it would be nice to see even a small fraction of our following getting behind the three inter-county teams with big games to play over the coming days.

The Minor footballers are first up with a Leinster semi-final against Louth in Innovate Wexford Park tonight (Tuesday), and Nowlan Park is the destination for Wednesday's provincial Under-21 hurling decider against Kilkenny.

Saturday afternoon will see Seamus McEnaney's native Monaghan travel to the south-east for round two of the football qualifiers, so there's a lot to be potentially gained or lost over the next five days.

We've a great deal to be positive about and thankful for, with so many teams still involved in championship action in early July, and there may be a few twists and turns yet before we reach September.

Well done to Galway for the moment on a richly-deserved win, but we haven't gone away yet!

Wexford People

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