Hurlers earned plaudits in loss
I AM not one who usually sits back to display serious admiration for a losing team.
But Saturday evening was just one of those days when the 'gallant loser' accolade isn't patronising. It wasn't a victory after extra-time but anyone who knows anything about hurling will appreciate the magnitude of the detail and effort that went into Wexford's attempt at toppling pre-match favourites Clare, one of the teams to emerge over the past three years.
This group of players contributed to what was a marvellous evening in Semple Stadium in Thurles where spectators were entertained for more than four hours, and the quality of hurling demonstrated that the ancient game is more alive than ever.
We had to go to extra-time in the Wexford/Clare opening game to resolve the issue, while immediately afterwards we were entertained to a marvellous game involving reigning All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny, and neighbours Waterford. What a great occasion to have three counties, all neighbouring each other, take over what was an evening to savour in this famous stadium, with Kilkenny also requiring extra-time to win their way through to the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
Back to Wexford. Let's not forget that this same group of players have had some unsteady days over the past two years as Liam Dunne, along with selectors Murty Dempsey and Tomás Codd, re-built a side to bring the county back into the big time. Wexford hurling has come in for much criticism but seeing this young side put up such a marvellous display was heartening, with a marvellous return from the dead to force extra-time in the most dramatic of finishes.
Wexford finished the game with possibly the youngest-ever side to represent the county at this level at such a crucial stage of the championship. We witnessed a young man who has played Minor and Under-21 for his county this year make his Senior debut, in Naomh Eanna's star of the future, Conor McDonald. He certainly did not look out of place in the cauldron that he was introduced into late on in the game, contributing one point while seeing a goal attempt flash just narrowly wide.
There is no point in hiding behind the bushes any more, as Wexford is no longer a side in transition. Dunne now has a squad of youth at his disposal that can only put Model county hurling in a better place. Following the untimely dismissal of John Meyler, who had set out on a re-building programme, we went on to have a three-year barren spell under Colm Bonnar. It was a fruitless period for Wexford hurling for which then County Board officers must take full responsibility.
Dunne in his first year set about casting aside the shadows of those three years. Now he can take credit for the tremendous amount of work completed in the space of two seasons. No doubt he will introduce more players from the Under-21 and Minor squads for the 2014 National League campaign. Disappointed at such a valiant effort failing, Dunne can look forward to 2014 with pride and optimism.
It was a marvellous week all-round for football and hurling in the county.
On Wednesday evening our Under-21 hurlers under J.J. Doyle treated us to a marvellous occasion in Wexford Park when defeating arch-rivals Kilkenny to win our first provincial title in this grade since 2002.
It was an occasion of colour in the county grounds enjoyed by passionate hurling supporters. The long-starved supporters were given something to celebrate and how they enjoyed it. Well done J.J. and your backroom team that included '96 All-Ireland winner, Larry Murphy, along with former outstanding Senior defender Niall McDonald, and Tommy Roche.
Now let's get out with full support on August 24 for the All-Ireland semi-final against the Ulster winners.
Wexford footballers displayed courage and skill in travelling to Pearse Park to achieve a tremendous extra-time victory over Longford in the qualifiers.
I was not present to witness this marvellous achievement by the 'big ball' men which in the end was thoroughly deserved. Well done Aidan for keeping the purple and gold flag flying in the championship campaign.