ALL-IRELAND SHC ROUND 1 REPLAY:
Wexford v Clare
Irrespective of this evening’s outcome, insists Liam Griffin, the most important result concerning Wexford hurling arrived on Wednesday.
JJ Doyle’s U21 outfit travelled to Parnell Park bidding to turn over the home outfit in stringing back-to-back Leinster U21 titles, a feat last achieved by a Wexford team at the turn of the millennium. It proved a successful sojourn, Conor McDonald’s second-half goal clinching a 1-20 to 0-18 win.
Peering in from outside, the consensus would be that Wednesday’s win teed up perfectly this replay fixture, a timely injection of confidence and the groundswell of momentum it heralded. Mind you, neither seemed to be an issue in Ennis. If anything, it was Davy’s crowd who lacked confidence.
Nonetheless, Griffin is at pains to stress the significance of the U21 final win. As far as Wexford hurling is concerned their main goal for 2014 has now been achieved. Anything else is bonus territory.
“You ask most people what their ambition for Wexford hurling would have been this year and it would have concerned the U21’s,” said the former All-Ireland winning manager and member of Liam Dunne’s backroom team.
“There is such a focus on Wexford doing well at U21 level and retaining their provincial title. They are seen as the most promising Wexford team this year. They have proved that by retaining their U21 crown.
“It gives you hope for the future that we can start producing senior teams. We have been inconsistent for decades trying to stay at the top, hit and miss, up and down. To win two consecutive U21 titles is a good sign, we have a stronghold in the province and hopefully that will stand to us for the next few years.”
Fair enough, but surely last weekend’s display, laced as it was with unstinting spirit and passion, has raised senior expectations. Griffin’s “no” is a firm one. Here’s why.
Since their 2009 Leinster semi-final defeat by Dublin in 2009, Wexford have emerged victorious in only six of the 18 championship games. What’s more, the successful outings came at the expense of Antrim (three), Carlow (two) and Westmeath. Hardly elite opposition.
“I think for years supporter’s expectations were far above what was going on on the ground. Those of us involved in the game would absolutely know that. I think the fans eventually caught up to the reality. They realise Wexford are not a superpower.
“There is a fairly pragmatic approach and a lot of people are delighted to see the All-Ireland champions coming to Wexford Park. They know Wexford hurling has had a bad time and they know that was because of the way we organised ourselves. The expectation is not huge now. People are realistic.
“I think Wexford should keep their heads down, keep working. I wouldn’t worry about taking a big scalp such as this evening. I think that day will come if we all keep working and everyone keeps doing their job. To dwell on who we have beaten or not beaten is not an issue, it doesn’t help. It would be great to beat Clare, but Wexford’s ambition should be to get back into Division 1A next year. This year should be about competing and acquitting ourselves well, do well in the All-Ireland U21 series and then make a big effort to get back into Division 1A next year. That is as much as we should be wishing for. Anything after that is a bonus. ”
Griffin’s comments are almost a carbon copy of what Liam Dunne remarked when leaning against the wall in the Cusack Park tunnel: “I met our trainer Gerry Fitzpatrick last year after we got beaten by Clare and outlined our plan for the following 12 months. He said we are going to need three years to get this team where they need to be. I said to Gerry I need it in two because I might not be around. It is a work in progress and no one is getting carried away.”
Dunne’s charges assembled on Monday night to analyse the pulsating extra-time clash which had played out 48 hours earlier. A sense of opportunity lost?
“The players were sensible about the whole thing,” said Griffin.
“They knew they had another game to look forward to. They knew they had been involved in a game which they could have but didn’t win. It was time to move on from that game. That was it. It was a fair result.
“Wexford will go out to stand up today and perform again to the best of their ability and see can they get the best from themselves. If that brings us into bonus territory we will accept it graciously and we will be humble because we do not have any massive expectation or do we believe we have any God given right to progress.”
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