Sunday 26 January 2020

Super resurgence has arrived well ahead of schedule

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

On the Line with Alan Aherne

One of the most heart-warming aspects of our hurling resurgence is that it has been achieved ahead of schedule.

While the squad had certainly shown glimpses of what they were capable of during the Liam Dunne era, only once did they manage to put big championship results back-to-back.

That was in 2014 of course when that replay victory over reigning All-Ireland champions Clare was followed by success against Waterford before Limerick emphatically burst the bubble at the quarter-final stage.

When Davy Fitzgerald arrived it's fair to say his track record alone, and the passion he brings for the game, left many keen onlookers more than hopeful that he would bring a degree of consistency to the team that had been missing in previous campaigns.

However, did anyone realistically expect or envisage that we would beat Kilkenny twice in major games in the first six months of the year?

I sincerely doubt that, but the players have been making clear statements of intent from day one.

It was so important to hit the ground running, and in hindsight that first round league win at home to Limerick was priceless in the overall scheme of things.

Seeing off Galway on their own patch against all the odds was another clear indication that there was something refreshingly different about the approach to 2017.

Still, much of the narrative in the hurling world after that major win was dominated by the view that the westerners threw it away from a commanding position.

The credit Wexford deserved wasn't forthcoming from some quarters, and it was a similar story after that gripping league quarter-final dismissal of Kilkenny, the county's first success in Nowlan Park against our keenest rivals since 1957.

Once again we heard that winning that game would result in a backlash on the big day of June 10 that everybody had pencilled into their diaries, with all due respect to the round robin contenders.

Some felt that the comprehensive defeat by Tipperary in the league semi-final offered a more realistic appraisal of where we stood in the hurling world.

Given what happened the Premier county against Cork though, it's clear at this point that there's an open-ness and unpredictability to the championship that will make for compelling viewing between now and September.

The prospect of a trip to Croke Park for a Leinster decider for the first time in nine years, not to mention a quarter-final outing regardless of the outcome, will leave supporters counting down the days until they're on the road again.

It's often the case that a new manager on the scene flourishes in his first campaign, getting the very best out of his charges until familiarity sometimes breeds contempt.

Still, considering the base Davy was starting from, to be so far ahead of schedule at this early stage is a great tribute to the man himself, his fellow mentors, and most of all the players.

They're the ones who have to perform between those white lines in the heat of battle, and it's no easy task against a team and a county of the calibre of Kilkenny.

While it's always easy to quibble about certain aspects of a collective team performance, it would be churlish in the extreme to do so in the aftermath of Saturday's wonderful win.

I've written before that the minimum Wexford folk demand is to see a group of players on the field clearly giving everything they have for the cause.

Sometimes that passion, drive and desire can lead to poor decision-making at critical stages, and we have paid a costly price for such a headless approach more than once in the past.

Yet, the composure shown even when Kilkenny looked like getting a run on us last Saturday had to be admired.

It was the sign of a collective team spirit that will hopefully carry the players on to even greater heights when they meet Galway or Offaly in the Leinster final.

We owe them our sincere thanks for a truly magnificent effort, and here's hoping it's only the start of a summer to savour!

Wexford People

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