Unrest in Under-21 camp didn't help cause versus Dubs
The quest for four-in-a-row continues to haunt counties, with the Wexford Under-21 hurlers proving no exception.
It is very easy to criticise a team in defeat, but one cannot take from the fact that the Model county's Under-21 players gave us three exciting years winning provincial titles. While the elusive All-Ireland title may have slipped away, one cannot take from the heroics of this young set of players who represent the future of Wexford hurling.
The sharpness was simply not there on the night for whatever reason. Wexford were honest and hard-working but this was a trip too far, perhaps for a variety of reasons.
There were rumblings of discontent in the camp in the week leading up to the game. Many believe it was built around the Kevin Foley saga, with the Rapparees player being eventually included in the substitutes after an earlier text message had declared him not being considered for a place in the squad, with management citing examinations and being unable to train in the two weeks leading up to the game. In the end player power won out, with Foley included in the substitutes, and being the first man called upon shortly before the interval.
Player power is becoming a common scenario on the inter-county scene. One can relate back to the Galway saga leading to the exit of Anthony Cunningham. But the Wexford situation, in my opinion, goes much deeper.
Wexford had so many of their Under-21 players included in the Senior squad, in stark contrast to Dublin, resulting in those players undertaking strenuous training demands since last October, giving them eight months of hard slog, training and games ahead of their Under-21 opener last Wednesday.
This training with the Senior squad is added to by the demands of the Under-21 team management, leaving one under no illusions as to why the players were so flat when it came to their championship opener, their most important game of the year thus far.
This is in stark contrast to Dublin, who only have a couple of players involved at Senior level, leaving Wexford native Joe Fortune with a clear run of preparation to meet the Model county challenge. While Wexford players have also been involved at club level in both hurling and football, the Dubs concentrate on one code with no club championship action, which explains their sharpness on the evening.
Perhaps it will be time for Wexford to take stock once the hurling and football qualifiers are over. Last year a return to high-powered training in October was far too demanding, giving no time for players' physical recovery. County management should now insist on a closed two months in the interest of player welfare, before a return to inter-county activity in January.
A review of the All-County Leagues should also be undertaken with a reduction in divisions. Now is the time to reduce divisions to Premier, Division 1 and Division 2, with meaningful reward for the eventual winners, but more importantly, relegation in each division should determine a club's championship status. Three competitive divisions would increase the overall standard, unlike Coiste na nOg who have created a division for every club in the audience, leading to an erosion of Premier Minor hurling in the county.
Last week my opinions on the standard of refereeing cause quite a stir, but following the weekend gone by my thinking has not changed.
Having covered four games, three Senior and one Intermediate football, the gap in standards was even more mesmerising.
Saturday evening saw consistency in rules application win out, with both Damien Donovan and Seán Whelan deserving credit for their evening's work. But come Sunday evening one witnessed a completely different scenario as one would believe the games were being played under different sets of rules given the stark contrast in the decision-making.
If one was marking out of five stars, one would give four stars to Saturday evening's men in black, Donovan and Whelan, while for Sunday evening the ratings dropped dramatically with Brian O'Leary and Barry Redmond deserving of just two stars each given their controversial decision-making.
Now is the time for the grading of referees to be revisited, particularly after learning that the 2014 Senior football final referee, Brendan Martin, has been demoted despite an excellent exhibition on that occasion.