Saturday 21 September 2019

Progress is being made but it's still at a very slow rate

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

One cannot be blinded by statistics but the evidence is that Wexford hurling is making progress, however slow, and the time is now right to prepare to get rid of the 'bridesmaid' tag.

We have bluffers who will be top of the class when it comes to discussing the future of Model county hurling, particularly between the four walls of County Board meetings, but come up with little or no positives as to what is required to bring the game to another level in the county - their only mantra being 'management change' without offering a positive alternative.

But many of those at County Board meetings believe it's more important to be heard rather than offering an alternative.

Wexford were once hailed as a really strong hurling county, but from 2009 to 2011, we fell away as a hurling force. This was a period when players were even reluctant to wear the county jersey during Colm Bonnar's era in charge, following upon the ugly dismissal of John Meyler as manager. This was a period when under-age neglect was at its highest, subsequently coming back to haunt the county.

Imagine Wexford fielding poor-quality Minor and Under-21 teams, yet expecting to be a real force in current day hurling, having fallen so far behind the big guns. Those observers who argue the present status of Wexford hurling is way off the leading counties were the self same people who neglected the game during their period in office.

Now to judge the worth of Wexford hurling one has to just go back five years to when Liam Dunne took over at the helm. The game was in a sorry mess in the county, not knowing where it was going, or even if it could survive the lesser rigours of Division 1B.

Wexford may have failed to win promotion under Dunne, but there are always two strong counties competing to achieve that goal. Next year we have Galway and Limerick down there with Wexford, and Galway are now in an All-Ireland semi-final.

One should also remember that the National League winners of the past two seasons have emerged from Division 1B, which is an indication of the difficulty in arriving at promotion.

During this five-year resurgence of the game in the county, we have won three provincial Under-21 titles in a row, a provincial Intermediate crown, and only last Sunday had two sides competing in All-Ireland quarter-finals, with the Minors (albeit disappointing) joining the Seniors in Semple Stadium.

I know that now the inter-county season is over for the Model county, there will be many post mortems, more to do with management than with players. But before they come to management conclusions it would be worth considering that no manager like Liam Dunne encountered such an injury crisis as in this year's campaign.

And there are people out there who believe a change of management will cure the ills of hurling in the county. While Wexford had to accept defeat to Waterford, it's still worth looking at the broader picture, as Wexford as a county contested two All-Ireland quarter-finals over the past three years - few would have thought this possible just five years ago given the sorry state of the game in the county.

The Wexford management will take a battering from the critics. The dust has to be allowed settle before one contemplates a debate on the future management of Wexford hurling, and that's not just Senior.

Some believe that Liam Dunne should be given another year and an opportunity to present a full squad, having encountered such an injury crisis this year, while others believe the time for change has arrived. Whatever decision is arrived at, Liam Dunne should be allowed retain his dignity, and make a decision as to his intentions without the back stabbing of people who know little or more importantly care little about Wexford hurling, only pursuing personal agendas to further their own G.A.A. careers.

Unlike those who have made so much noise at management and County Board level, Dunne has given unstinting service to Wexford hurling over the past 28 years, 16 as player, and from under-age manager to Senior manager, while also guiding his own club Oulart-The Ballagh to county titles both as a player and a manager.

It has been a difficult five years for Dunne but he has been genuine in his approach to Wexford hurling. He has always acted in the best interests of the game. Now is the time for reflection but in whatever discussions take place it should not be forgotten the major contribution he has made to the game of hurling in the county.

It's important that he is not lost to the game as that would be the begrudgers' dream come true.

Wexford People

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