History awaits the Clare team facing Wexford in this evening’s U-21 All-Ireland final in Thurles as the Banner county look to join a select band of counties to have landed three successive titles.
If successful, Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney’s young charges will take their place alongside fellow Munster counties Cork, Tipperary and Limerick in landing the Cross of Cashel Trophy three times in a row.
Even before such a feat has been achieved, this Clare team are being spoken about as one of the greatest in history, however.
Their previous two successful campaigns put them in the shop window in that regard and since then they’ve continued to awe fans with their imperious performances; annihilating opposition en route to this year’s decider.
Victims of their march thus far have included, Limerick (2-20 to 1-14); Tipperary (5-19 to 1-25); and Cork (1-28 to 1-13) – ironically the same three Munster rivals to have claimed a hat-trick of successive U-21 titles – and Antrim (4-28 to 1-10), in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Their claim to greatness at this grade is hard to deny.
Standing in their way, however, is a rehabilitated Wexford team having exercised the ghosts of last year’s semi-final defeat to Antrim.
The opponents that day, the Wexford set-up has since conceded, were taken for granted as the Saffrons came away with an unlikely victory before falling to Clare on a scoreline of 2-28 to 0-12.
Some soul searching was done in Wexford in the aftermath of that defeat the result of which has been the second coming of this team built by JJ Doyle and backboned by a number of senior stars such as Conor McDonald, Liam Ryan and top-scorer Jack Guiney.
Between them, Guiney and McDonald have notched 3-38 alone in wins over Kilkenny (2-14 to 0-10); Offaly (2-17 to 0-13); Dublin (1-20 to 0-18) and Galway (1-21 to 1-19) in what was a thrilling semi-final.
A six point second half swing in favour of The Model County saw them over the line against Galway that day and completed the process of atonement for last year’s failings.
The net result of which is a mouth-watering decider in Semple this evening between the two best teams in the country.
Wexford, perhaps buoyed by the senior side’s magnificent victory over the Banner County’s All-
Ireland champions earlier in the summer, certainly seem ready to take the opportunity to follow suit.
Certainly, their manager thinks so.
“If we give a performance, we will win. We are going down to Thurles to give a performance to win. It will be all about performance and we are not going down just to give a display and be gallant losers. We don’t accept that tag any longer, that’s been hanging around us far too long,” said Doyle earlier in the week.
The comprehensive defeat the senior suffered at the hands of Limerick in this year’s quarter-finals aside, it has been a summer of huge progress for Wexford –something that is clearly evident in the mind-set of Doyle and his players this week.
An All-Ireland title would be apt recognition of that progress and drive the county on to further success, especially given the emerging talent in their ranks.
One small matter of a Celtic Cross-laden, record-chasing team stands in their way. Would we, the neutrals, want it any other way?