Monday 11 December 2017

That we lost by 16 points and never led tells its own story

Brendan Furlong

Who'd be a manager? Perhaps that Wexford lost by 16 points and never led in the game tells its own story.

A well executed and well coached Limerick side simply blew away the Wexford challenge with such ease that Manager J.J. Doyle must have felt in a lonely place on Semple Stadium turn with over 18,000 eyes peering down on him as his sides challenge was embarrassingly dismantled.

This was a let-down of huge proportions. It was a let-down that could impact on the future of Wexford hurling and where it takes the 'small ball' game in the county. Wexford did not come up to the challenge in the physical stakes, but even more alarming their hurling quality was way below that expected on such an occasion, as Limerick delivered an uppercut of the Mike Tyson proportions with the quality of the first touch, score taking, support play, and even more importantly a supreme team effort.

Wexford were simply bowled over. This was a game that hit Wexford hard. The death of Wexford hurling has so often been preached in the past, yet the county has bounced back, but the succession of heavy defeats suffered by the county this year must be setting alarm bells ringing.

The suffocation of Wexford hurling has been lamented upon, bemoaned and cursed. Yet again. What are we do do at all?

By the time the championship arrived expectations had reached unrealistic proportions. Then came the heavy defeat to Kilkenny, after struggling over a weak Westmeath outfit, followed by a disappointing qualifier defeat to Cork. End of the senior campaign.

This was followed by the minors shock and embarrassing championship exit to Westmeath. So it was left to the Under-21 hurlers to regain some pride for the game in the county. A struggling win over Kildare, followed by an unimpressive display against Offaly, and an easy provincial final victory over Kilkenny. This I would say was one of the weakest sides to emerge from Kilkenny in the past decade.

Then it was on to another laboured performance against Antrim. After that we all now know fully well what happened in the final against the Shannonsiders.

It is a treat for any young hurling enthusiast to follow their heroes. We had hundreds of youngsters proudly attired in the purple and goal assemble in Semple Stadium. Well it's a thing of beauty to see the purple and gold take the pitch on All-Ireland final day in any particular grade. But that is where it disappointingly ended.

When the game was over the long wait continues. One could not but feel a heavy heart for those young followers who have yet to see a Wexford captain lift a trophy on All-Ireland day. That said not even the players on the pitch can resort back to the glory and all that comes with of of having achieved an All-Ireland victory.

The last success goes back to 1996, the 50-year gap at Under-21 level is still there following nine final defeats in this grade, while our last All-Ireland minor success was back in 1968.

One can leave serious analysis for another day. One can be highly critical of what transpired in Semple Stadium but at the end of it all ones heart would go out to those young supporters cladded in purple and gold. Imagine the disappointment. I have been there down the years, celebrated the highs at provincial and All-Ireland levels, but this alarming gap since our last All-Ireland success is becoming more and more difficult to accept. So what does it feel like for those young aspiring players of the future?

By all means have a review but the young players of the future are not interested. We have been through reviews over so many occasion that many of them are just gathering dust at GAA headquarters in the county. Trial by media isn't the way to go about it but as an organisation the G.A.A. in Wexford is coming out of all this looking bad - particularly given the amount of monies not just spent on inter-county teams, but the alarming spend on coaching, with so little in return.

True who have come some way over the last four years - three provincial Under-21 hurling titles, a Leinster intermediate hurling success, along with a Leinster junior football success. It smacks of progress. But once we hit the elite sides our shortcomings are exposed.

Now the time has arrived as an organisation to take action - not action to please the circling of wagons, now is the important stuff. Now it's time for Wexford to buck the trend, eliminate the politics, judge players on their merits no matter what their club, and eliminate the politics that is rampant in Wexford G.A.A. particularly at under-age levels.

J.J. Doyle has had his under-age charges up for a fight so must have been frustrated and shell-shocked with his sides response. Points could be argued only for so long but the key question to be asked - Is Wexford hurling suffering from a poor minor return? Given the poor return at provincial minor level Wexford players are unable to step up to the top level Under-21 standards once removed from Leinster to the might of Munster hurling. Suddenly they come up against sides playing at a different level.

Perhaps some thought should be given to rectifying minor hurling before asking the players to step into bigger shoes.

Perhaps the appointment of a hurling co-ordinator at under-age level, to link under-age squads with the colleges would help achieve the county's ultimate goal. This has to be run alongside the development of the senior side whose ultimate goal should be promotion to the topflight of the league.

Action is needed urgently. It can no longer be placed on the long finger or the game will continue too die in the county. No one said it was going to be easy but the lack of progress is quite startling.

Wexford People

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