Jacob seeks better fortune for sons

MICK JACOB has a simple wish for his sons Michael and Rory ahead of next Sunday’s Guinness All-Ireland SHC semi-final.

He hopes that they will enjoy better luck against Cork than he did at the height of his own brilliant playing career.

At the start of it, he sat on the substitutes bench while a Wexford team that included his brother Christy scored a memorable triumph over Tipperary in the 1968 All-Ireland final. Two years later he lined out in the final against Cork but was on the losing side and twice more he was to suffer the same experience against the Rebels.

"Looking back at those years, you would have to say that Cork had a great team at the time. We had good teams, too, but we didn't have great luck. The 1970 final was fairly clear-cut, but in the 1976 and 1977 finals we were near enough to winning," he recalled.

Late in the '77 decider he was involved in an attack which saw Cork goalkeeper Martin Coleman bring off a marvellous save from Christy Keogh. He has no doubt had they scored Wexford would have been champions.

"The effects of losing two finals took a lot out of us. We had played for a good few years against one of the best Kilkenny teams at that time and were also coming up against a great Galway side. Wexford were there or thereabouts all the time and to lose two finals together was a setback. It took a long time to get a new team back again because most of the fellows went around the same time."

Predictably, Wexford's win in the 1976 provincial final remains one of his happier memories from that particular era. Kilkenny had won the All-Ireland final the previous year, followed up with the league title and were firm favourites to make history in Leinster by winning a sixth consecutive title.

"I remember we were given very little chance, but we won by 18 points.

"Wexford really got stuck in and showed great determination and character that day. I f you can get a Wexford team to do that we're hard to beat."

The win over Waterford in the qualifier competition one that was not generally expected was achieved in this fashion. And, he feels that a repeat performance could very well see them cause another surprise on Sunday.

"In the Leinster final, they were within four points of Kilkenny for three-quarters of an hour. I felt Kilkenny got two 'soft' goals, which came against the run of play. And, the first goal made a big difference to the game because Wexford were just about 'coming' at that stage. But, I'd agree that Kilkenny played the better hurling overall. Kilkenny are strong all over the field. If you are to beat them you have to be able to get the better of them at midfield and at half-back!"

His impression of the Cork team is that they, too, have a formidable half-back line. "I saw Ronan Curran play in the Fitzgibbon Cup final, on my own lad (Michael). He has been doing well for them and so has Tom Kenny. Their forwards look dangerous and tricky and they have a lot of pace in the half-forward line. Wexford will have to do a lot of work all over the field. The backs are going to have to do an awful lot of 'hassling and tackling,' if they are to keep a good supply going down to the forwards. That might be vital in the game."

While accepting that Wexford weren't over-impressive in their quarter-final win, he himself had been quite fearful of Antrim, based on how well they had hurled against Tipperary the previous year.

"If you back to that game, Tipperary got two goals near the end. I also felt that Wexford were at a disadvantage going against Antrim because it came only a week after the Waterford game. They would have needed another game. Antrim came in fresh. Some fellows hadn't fully recovered, and of course they had lost Darragh Ryan and Adrian Fenlon beforehand. You would have to credit Antrim with playing some very good hurling. They're as good a team as any around."

Jacob is as proud as any father would be to have two sons playing inter-county hurling at this level. And that pride is shared by his wife Breeda, who is a teacher in the local primary school and PRO with Oulart-the-Ballagh. The club has six players on the panel and all six are products of the school, to which Mick devotes a considerable amount of leisure time in coaching.

He says he always felt his two sons would make the grade because they had the necessary commitment and the skill. "They're good strikers and they're very keen on hurling. Like most young lads of their age, they want to be the best. That makes a big difference. You have to have that within yourself. You either have it or you haven't!"

What's probably most interesting but not too surprising because of their physique is is that neither of them followed in Mick's footsteps and played in defence.

His only experience of playing as a forward came at the very end of his playing career with the club. When he tells you that he was then aged 54 you can begin to understand what he means when he says that his lads are 'keen'!

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