Wexford aim to get out of the shadows

Wexford and the Dubs. On a week like this, you would expect someone like Colm Morris to be reminded of the 2011 Leinster final at every turn. Turns out it isn’t just this week.

Wexford aim to get out of the shadows

“I’d get that fairly often anyway,” says the county’s former captain.

What a day it was. What a day it could have been.

It had been three years since the pair had last met in the provincial decider, Wexford’s first in 52 years, and the result first time around had been a catastrophic 23-point loss for the outsiders even though just a goal separated them at the break.

Second time out they were a tougher nut to crack. Dublin motored into an early lead, but it was whittled away to just a point at the change of ends and a result of seismic proportions seemed on the cards soon after that.

It was Red Barry who rounded Stephen Cluxton to goal with 44 minutes played and take the lead. The impossible dream lasted seven more minutes. Until goalkeeper Anthony Masterson’s punched clearance rebounded to the net off his full-back Graeme Molloy. The gap at the end was just that: one goal. For a county like Wexford it was an agony exacerbated by the knowledge that such opportunities are afforded maybe once in a generation or two.

“Someone will get the chance to beat them again,” says Morris.

Few expect that to be Wexford in tomorrow’s Leinster semi-final. Morris is 35 now and confines his duties to the club. Barry has departed, too. So has centre-back David Murphy and more besides of the crew that served when Jason Ryan was on the bridge.

Aidan O’Brien took over two years ago. It was an unenviable task at an inopportune time. For six years starting in 2005, when they lost a Division 1 final to Armagh, the footballers had strained every sinew to compete at the elite level.

Everyone knew it wasn’t sustainable.

That push had not been prompted by a mushrooming of success at underage level, though Ben Brosnan, Shane Roche and Daithi Waters graduated from an U21 side that reached a Leinster final in 2008 and a title was won at the grade three years later.

That aside, the cupboard was bare. It is 1999 since Good Counsel won its Hogan Cup (with a fair smattering of Kilkenny hurlers) and a provincial minor final was contested, 30 years again since one was won at the grade. There is no conveyor belt. There never has been.

Though a Westmeath native, O’Brien knew more than anyone the health or otherwise of the game within his adopted county when he accepted the senior job from two years ago.

As deputy principal in Good Counsel, he had moulded many a Wexford footballer through their days at the famed academy. That 2008 U21 side was his, too, and he had a county title with Horeswood under his belt too.

One of the most remarkable aspects in the rise in the footballers’ fortunes a few short years ago was the trend that saw promising young hurlers stick around to join in the fun at senior level, but that lure has faded. The loss of key veterans has been compounded by the decisions of Lee Chin and Liam Óg McGovern to concentrate purely on hurling this year, something Morris believes is a blow in a county that has always held a foot in both camps.

“Under the current set-up, there isn’t that drive to go after a player and get him to play. It’s been sort of left to the players themselves and in a smaller county like Wexford that may not be the best way of going about it.”

O’Brien was still speaking of transition at the start of the current season and his words can hardly be doubted when 11 of the 12 players who started on the bench against Longford had never kicked a ball before in championship football. What Wexford do have is a starting 15 that is still flush with experience, one that has had big days at Croke Park.

Ten of those who faced Dublin in the 2011 decider saw action earlier this month in Pearse Park. It’s a team not without talent: Molloy has fared better on Bernard Brogan than maybe any other full-back; Adrian Flynn and Brian Malone will bomb up the wings and Daithi Waters and Paddy Byrne form an imposing midfield. Ciarán Lyng hit Longford for 1-6 and, in Ben Brosnan and PJ Banville, Wexford pose a greater spread of potential scorers than a gritty Laois did the last day against Dublin.

Will it be enough? Not likely. Not this time.

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