Ten-minute reality check won't steer Wexford off course
Innovate Wexford Park excepted, Nowlan Park is by far my favourite hurling venue, and as I entered the home of Kilkenny hurling on Sunday I was reminded of the many reasons why.
Firstly it is a hugely atmospheric stadium with a playing surface and surrounds that can't be matched anywhere else in the country. It is very accessible for followers of the purple and gold, but most importantly the officialdom within its confines are as friendly and welcoming as anywhere you are likely to visit.
It's a real museum of hurling and people dedicated to the ancient game. When entering the gates the conversation immediately turns to hurling at every corner, with my first port of call a 20-minute chat with an old friend and a man who has done so much for Kilkenny hurling, Paul Kinsella. Everyone is busy (Ned Quinn rushes by with a quick hello), with the only aim being the comfort and enjoyment of the visiting fans.
When I entered the stadium proper I was again taken aback by the colour and air of excitement outside, and in no way surprised at the wonderful backdrop that Slaneyside support brings to occasions like this. Familiar faces and G.A.A. talk everywhere; for me this is paradise.
That little feeling of pride that has been growing very steadily over the past few months, that we can look forward to many days like this, was there.
And after a league campaign that delivered so much, a ten-minute scoring blitz from the best and most potent team in the country has not shaken my belief that, although silverware may be a little away just yet, Wexford are comfortably ready to hold their own with any challenge that may present over the next few months.
Yes, there were mistakes made and the Tipp challenge (as we expected) was a totally different one than we had met to date with an intensity, goalscoring threat and strength in depth (point in case the Michael Breen and 'Bubbles' substitutions) emphasising why they are considerably ahead of all oppositions.
Shaun Murphy did another good job on the sweeper role, particularly in the first-half, but with the option of direct ball to the best full-forward line in the country, Tipperary (as shown with Clare and Waterford last year) are no way fazed by a tactic such as this.
With 58 minutes gone we had a free opportunity to go within a point playing with the breeze, but within 30 seconds found ourselves five down courtesy of John McGrath who has probably been the player of the league so far, and it was game over.
Diarmuid Kirwan's decision not to award James Breen a free in the lead up to the second goal was devastating to the underdogs who were striving manfully at the time, but it must be accepted that all through Michael Ryan's men were always able to keep Wexford at arm's length even before the scoring blitz at the end.
The national media make me laugh sometimes in their focus on Davy's frustrated entry in the first-half after the inexplicable decision to allow play continue for the second goal. Whilst not condoning the action, we all know that part of the Clare man's strength is his passion, and the boys in the press box wouldn't be very busy without Davy-like characters in the game.
The last four months have seen incredible achievements for this group of players, with promotion and a semi-final appearance against the All-Ireland champs being something that would scarcely have been contemplated last December.
Last Sunday was a little ten-minute reality check which will make them stronger and, on a day that brought our first defeat, Willie Devereux, Damien Reck, Jack O'Connor and particularly David Redmond showed up best.
What made me happiest was that they kept going manfully until the final whistle, and the brilliant Wexford supporters stayed with them to the end. It emphasised the respect and appreciation they have for this young group of men and their achievements, a respect that has been hard-earned and well-deserved. Up Wexford.