Friday 20 September 2019

Football relegation likely now in this most historic year

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball column

This is no simple time for Wexford football. It's nice to be reminded that this is the one hundredth anniversary of that great four-in-a-row winning All-Ireland side, 1915-'18, but not in a year when the county is facing relegation to the lower reaches of league football.

It is now pretty obvious that Wexford, with just two points from games played, face a daunting finish to the league, with a home game with promotion-chasing Fermanagh before ending the campaign away to Tipperary.

It will take two surprise results for Wexford to avoid the drop as they face a massive task in their two remaining games against sides still pushing at the top for promotion along with Armagh.

For the moment at least the best days of Wexford football are seemingly behind them. We had what was a promising spell, beginning under the reign of Pat Roe, who led the county to a Division 1 league final, while Jason Ryan brought his side to provincial finals along with an All-Ireland semi-final, but since then there has been a continuous slide that not even new manager David Power could halt.

Looking back on the golden era of Wexford football, it all began in 1913, but it was from 1915 that success began to come the way of the Model county men.

Wexford figured in six successive All-Ireland finals between 1913 and 1918, and became the first team to achieve the four-in-a-row (1915-18) in Gaelic football, a feat later equalled by Kerry (1929-'32) and repeated by the Kingdom side of 1978-'81, which would of course have completed a five-timer in 1982 but for Seamus Darby's late winning goal for Offaly.

And if you take in the drawn game in 1914, men like Aidan Doyle, Rich Reynolds, Gus O'Kennedy, Tom Doyle, Jim Byrne, Tom Murphy and Paddy Mackey actually figured in seven successive finals for Wexford.

Wexford had the honour of winning six Leinster titles in a row (1913-'18), a record they held until Kildare came along and also made it six between 1926 and 1931, but Kildare did not reach six successive All-Ireland finals. Dublin emulated the Wexford and Kildare feat by recording a six-timer in Leinster between 1974-'79 and were beaten by Offaly when aiming for the seventh-in-a-row in the 1980 Leinster final, while in the intervening years they have gone on to dominate Leinster football championship.

That remarkable era in Wexford football is something we will re-visit in time over the coming months, but for now the big ball game is in crisis in the county, as a drop to Division 4 football would be a disaster.

This was obvious from the opening game against Clare, followed by a heavy defeat to Armagh. The decline in standard was there for all to see, and apart from that late victory over Limerick it has been a continuous struggle for the team.

There are now major issues to be addressed with Wexford football. These are made all the more difficult by the upsurge in hurling in the county once again, with such progress being made at Under-21 and Senior levels, while the Minor grade has also seen steady progress, with much talent emerging in recent years.

That's a minor quibble though as football should be big enough to stand on its own feet.

Researching back over the golden era of Wexford football, I suppose Gus O'Kennedy was right when he said that it all began for Wexford in 1911 when they won the Leinster Junior football championship (the All-Ireland championship in this grade had not yet been inaugurated). Five or six of the side were promoted to Senior ranks the following season. and it was from there that it all began.

This approach is not prevalent in present-day Wexford football. Just lip service has been applied to the Junior grade with appalling displays in the provincial championship that even included a defeat to Kilkenny, yes Kilkenny, where everyone claims no football is played.

When it comes to Wexford football the county's conscience cannot be clear. Much is talked about regarding the game and its current state, but now it's going to take much more than talk to resurrect the big ball game in the county.

There's a huge gap there at the moment. Personally I believe that it's going to take many years for football to regain its status. It's going to be a long and winding road.

Wexford People