Saturday 17 August 2019

Three's the magic number for these fine young hurlers

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball column

Three is the magic number for Wexford as far as the county's Under-21 hurlers are concerned, having completed a hat-trick of back-to-back provincial titles for the third time at Innovate Wexford Park on Wednesday.

Rewind back to 1964-'66, and then to 1969-'71, when the hat-trick was completed before prior to the exploits of the current squad. Wexford lifted the provincial crown but went on to lose five of the six All-Ireland finals played, with the only exception coming in 1965 with the win over Tipperary. The same county had beaten us in 1964 while Cork prevailed in 1966 (after two replays), 1969, 1970 (after a replay) and 1971.

Cork had barely taken flight from the county grounds with their eight-point Senior qualifier defeat of Wexford, reminding us of what a horrible championship record we have against the Rebel county. Also through that decade of the seventies we lost two successive All-Ireland Senior finals to the Leesiders, so it has been a similar story when these counties meet in championship action irrespective of the grade.

But with Cork having been dismissed from the Under-21 title race with a defeat in the provincial championship, it's hoping that this will open up the door for Wexford, leading to ultimate success, which would give us only our second All-Ireland title in this grade

It was always a big test for Wexford to compete with the big guns in the 1960s and early 1970s, but given the success at colleges level, particularly by St. Peter's, it was a challenge they always met with a high degree of success, as the All-Ireland Minor-winning team of 1968 backboned the '69 Under-21 set-up.

This flow of under-age success was guided by Ned Power (since deceased), a Kilkenny man teaching in St. Peter's College. He took the training helm for both the Minor and Senior successes of 1968 and was such an influential mentor in the hurling set-up of that era.

For the record, the All-Ireland final team in 1971 was: 1971: Pat Cox; Jim Higgins, George O'Connor, Peter O'Brien; Aidan Kerrigan, Larry Kinsella, Liam Bennett; Martin Quigley, Andy Dwyer; Brendan Dunne, Tom Byrne, Seánie Kinsella; Pat Flynn, Martin Casey, Mick Butler. Subs. - Jack Russell for Dwyer, Brendan Murphy for Higgins.

Despite those early mixed results, Wexford kept pushing on, especially in Under-21, with the heroics of last Wednesday evening's side when they dismantled Kilkenny bringing back memories of those famous three-in-a-rows of old.

It was huge justification for the celebrations that followed given the lengthy wait for a repeat of those heroics.

For those Wexford players in those previous three-in-a-row title wins, most of them went on to represent the county at Senior inter-county level, with a number figuring in subsequent All-Ireland finals.

It just shows the importance of this grade as a breaking ground between Minor and Senior levels.

On another topic, the missing flags in Innovate Wexford Park have been brought to my attention through the summer series of important games in the county grounds.

It seems as if Wexford Park has no flag appeal as it is one of the few county grounds that fails to display their county colours along with those of the visiting team(s).

The flag poles are in place behind the Clonard goal but the national flag casts a lonely figure, especially for the televised games.

I have also noticed a real emphasis on stewards targeting motorists and instructing them in how to park their vehicle (at what cost?).

But the promotion of our games, such as flags of competing counties adorning the ground, and a quality match programme, seems of little interest to those responsible for ground management.

Wexford G.A.A. officers, when making a trip to away games involving the county such as in Owenbeg on Saturday, should be alert as the majority of county grounds become immediately noticeable with the display of the national flag along with those of the competing counties.

Perhaps Wexford may deem themselves capable of making this small step-up in games presentation.

And to add to the presentation of games, a coat of paint on the goalposts would also be beneficial as they seem the worse for wear following the winter months.

Wexford People

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