Saturday 21 September 2019

Sport is so cruel on days like this

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

There is no dressing it up - we endured a grim 70 minutes in Nowlan Park on Sunday afternoon.

No one saw this coming but it was an afternoon that will live long in the memories for some years to come - our heaviest ever mauling at the hands at the aristocrats of hurling, reigning All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny. It's days like this that bring home how cruel sport can be.

Wexford's performance was their most disappointing in many years. They were comprehensively bullied, which won't have slipped under the radars of their upcoming opponents.

Kilkenny put their league struggles behind them, only salvaging their Division 1 status through a relegation play-off victory over Clare, but they will now be energised by this win. Many had believed that Kilkenny were a team in transition, but what transition?

Manager Brian Cody was able to field twelve of last year's All-Ireland winning team, while in the process introduce both Joe Holden and Ger Aylward, two players who not alone stood the test, but destroyed their immediate opponents.

The extent of this setback is difficult to predict at this point. As ever, past wrongs and personnel will play a major part, and no doubt there are some serious issues to be addressed in this regard, but time is against any window dressing or excuses since the qualifier opening game at home to Cork is less than two weeks away.

Never before have I seen a Wexford side on the receiving end of such a mauling at the hands of their great rivals. Wexford hurling is left staring into the abyss, but the blame cannot rest solely at the feet of team manager Liam Dunne.

Dunne, somebody who is dedicated heart and soul to Wexford hurling, took over the challenge four years ago when the game in the county had reached its lowest ebb. In truth, Wexford had become accustomed to bowing out of the championship race as the swallows arrive.

Last year following a provincial championship defeat to Dublin, Dunne managed to re-charge the batteries, going on a qualifier route that helped rejuvenate the game in the county. But less than twelve months later as some ten thousand model county supporters left Nowlan Park silently, their confidence in Wexford hurling had taken such a battering that one is left with the feeling that, as one loyal supporter said, 'a single swallow never made a summer' - referring to last year as being perhaps a once-off.

Dunne was left to start from scratch with the back-up support of County Chairman, Diarmuid Devereux. But for previous years the structures, so important at under-age levels, had not just been neglected but thrown out the window.

However, it's now blatantly evident that Wexford are light years behind other counties at the Under-18 grade, as evidenced by the defeat to Westmeath recently. Dublin comfortably accounted for the midlanders in Mullingar on Saturday, so major problems lie in the lower reaches of the game.

Liam Dunne asked for charge of the Intermediate hurlers, to have as a development squad, similar to David Power in football this year, but he was rejected by County Board. Wexford are no long contenders at Minor level, leaving a review of that grade under way, with all of this only covered over by success at Under-21 level over past two years.

Plenty of Wexford hurlers and supporters will be asking questions this week. It's blatantly obvious that Wexford hurling is trying to build at the top without any foundation in place.

Back then to Nowlan Park, where one witnessed the verbal abuse hurled at County Chairman, Diarmuid Devereux, following the game by a group of individuals. When Devereux took charge Wexford were whipping boys, the county was financially starved with huge debts, and hurling was completely devoid of a plan, while some of those hurling the abuse had served at under-age through that valley period when Minor hurling dipped to an all-time low, even enduring a defeat to lowly Carlow.

In terms of preparation Wexford enter at a level playing field but it's still simply not good enough as evidenced last Sunday.

So perhaps these same people would serve the county best by directing their energies towards having the best available talents represent our county rather than adopting the 'family favourites' policy.

It's time for change at under-age level with the hope that it will build a solid foundation for future Senior teams. Wexford need the best players no matter from what club they represent. The day of the so-called elite club, and elite families, is best forgotten.

Wexford People

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