independent

Sunday 23 September 2018

Waters, Malone prove you'll win nothing with kids

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Fair play to the Wexford Senior footballers for giving their National League preparations a timely boost with that gutsy one-point win over a makeshift Dublin side in Sunday's third successive Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup encounter between the counties to be played in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy.

The visitors' bus driver mustn't have made the journey in 2016 and 2017, because when I arrived he was attempting to swing into the ground without doing serious damage to his passenger side.

After abandoning that plan, the only option left was to slowly reverse out of the cul de sac and back down Pearse Road, a process that would test even the most capable of drivers.

From my vantage point on the grass bank, I could see that his progress was extremely slow, and it prompted me to wonder if the footballers he had ferried to the south-east would feel the pressure to the same extent when the game began.

The answer was a resounding yes, with the reason for the transformation in Wexford's two displays in the space of eight days quite easy to pinpoint in my opinion.

Simply put, a football team with Brian Malone and Daithí Waters on board is a damn sight better than when they're not involved.

One-time football pundit and former Liverpool great Alan Hansen has never lived down his famous remark made in the early stage of the 1995 Premier League season, 'you can't win anything with kids'.

He spoke after Aston Villa had beaten Manchester United 3-1 in August, but of course those words came back to bite him when Alex Ferguson's young guns went on to claim the title nine months later.

Indeed, presenter Gary Lineker uttered the phrase again in the BBC's excellent Sports Personality of the Year programme recently, obviously pre-scripted with Hansen 'reacting' on cue in the audience.

To be fair to the Scot, nine times out of ten he would have been right. And in a Wexford football context, there was simply no way that the youngsters paraded against Offaly would have been able to gradually wade through the tough demands of Senior inter-county football without these two shining lights of experience to guide them.

I was delighted to see this pair with a collective 223 appearances return last Sunday, and one incident during the second-half summed up their worth to a generally very green set-up.

Daithí Waters had a free on the left flank at midfield and, with options limited in front of him, he looked back and called teenage defender Mark O'Neill forward to accept the pass.

'Give it back to me,' was his next command, and the promising Gusserane youngster duly did what he was told.

The full-back seemed eager to join the attack about to unfold, but Daithí, with ball still in hand, quickly put paid to that notion with an equally firm call of 'go back now'.

It was clear, authoritative guidance from a player who has seen and done it all before, and newcomers need that type of no frills direction in their formative development.

To inject a dose of reality to the situation, I don't for a moment believe that Sunday's win will make the daunting Division 3 Allianz League campaign any easier. It will certainly lighten the mood at training this week, and it was a nice reward for the hard work undertaken thus far, but that's as far as it goes.

Just eleven of the 26 players used in the 2017 championship have featured to datew, although I would expect the club-tied John Tubritt and Niall Hughes to return, hopefully not until after All-Ireland final victories for both with Fethard and Kilanerin respectively.

We know that P.J. Banville and Shane Roche have retired, while the smart money right now says Ciarán Lyng will follow that path.

Kevin O'Grady is travelling, Jake Firman and Colm Kehoe are giving hurling a shot just like Daithí did in 2015, while my understanding is that Mikie Dwyer will only be able to commit to the Under-20 squad as he is playing rugby at a relatively high level as well as preparing for Fethard's big hurling game on Saturday week.

The mentors have decided not to include Joey Wadding in the squad, and that is their right, but in an overall context the dearth of experience is still startling. That's why the influence of Waters and Malone will be so crucial in the weeks and months to come.

Wexford People

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