Sunday 17 December 2017

Strong and unified approach was so pleasing to witness

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

Well, after cautioning not to get too carried away by the outcome in last week's column, I'm the last one who should be getting over-excited after that outstanding performance in Nowlan Park on Sunday.

However, it was very hard not to be lifted by the sheer quality of the display as we finally beat Kilkenny on that immaculate ground for the first time in a National League game since October of 1957 when we triumphed by 3-10 to 4-4.

We had drawn there in the last match of the shortlived second phase in 2003, but to pull off a victory of that nature in a knockout match and with a lot of inexperienced players was something special.

There was a steeliness to the entire team that was a joy to witness, particularly after the interval when Kilkenny kept nipping away at us by picking off the odd point here and there.

Unlike other years, when we tended to capitulate so easily, it was extremely encouraging to see that strong unified approach which ensured that we were within sight of success moving into those heart-stopping closing minutes.

Not alone did Wexford produce a superior brand of hurling, they also took the game physically to their arch-rivals and there was no standing back when the occasion demanded it.

The dogged and tigerish James Breen set the tone with his exemplary man-marking job on a completely subdued T.J. Reid, and the rest of his colleagues followed that fine example.

'An absolute animal of a man,' was one of the most accurate comments I heard about the Adamstown defender afterwards, and if anyone's in any doubt let me stress that it was intended as the ultimate compliment.

Without the magnificent netminding of Eoin Murphy it's entirely conceivable that we might have rattled the net five times. He was the one shining light for Kilkenny on a day when the shackles were put on so many of their big guns, but let's take it all in its proper perspective.

As a stand-alone achievement it was something to behold, but we mustn't lose sight of the likely repeat meeting on June 10.

Anyone thinking this win will make us favourites for that hoped-for championship clash would need their heads examined.

Of course, it will increase the confidence of the relative newcomers in particular, but Kilkenny will devote some time to club activity now and will be gunning for us if we get over our round robin opponents first.

However, the result last Sunday just adds another layer of intrigue to what hopefully will be a night to remember in our main county ground.

I can almost anticipate it now fully two months away from the date, and it's the first time in ages that I've looked forward to taking on the Cats in the white heat of battle with such relish.

The players and mentors have already done so much to lift the county, and for that we should all be thankful.

Even before Sunday's throw-in, as I observed the packed stands and the beautiful playing surface, the thought occurred to me that next year we are now guaranteed five big league games back in the top flight against the cream of hurling.

There is a tremendous appetite for matches between the leading teams, and it's so important to be a key part of it once again.

And what better preparation for that expected re-match with Kilkenny than to be facing All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the league semi-final on Sunday week back in Nowlan Park?

Testing yourself against the very best at this time of year is worth a full month of training sessions to any team. We have been frustrated for so long by our lowly league standing that it's now time to completely throw off the shackles and go for it.

The irony of three Division 1B teams reaching the last four isn't lost on keen observers of the game, not to mention the fact that one of the teams we beat to gain promotion will now be guaranteed a final place.

It's an exciting time for hurling in Wexford, and the year is young yet. Who knows where this roller-coaster ride will end?

Whatever happens, let's enjoy every single minute.

Wexford People

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