A wide smile colonises Lee Chin’s face at the mention of 2004.
He was only 11 at the time. Just another impressionable kid from Wexford up in the big smoke for the provincial final against Offaly. Pockets of the day still stand out in stark relief against the ensuing passage of time.
“I was up at the back of the Davin Stand, right in the corner of the top tier, with a big bunch of my own family. All the bottom was covered but there was hardly anybody up that far. Damien Fitzhenry gave an exhibition in the goal that day too. They are all great memories.”
It’s well past the time they sculpted more and well they know it.
Seven years had already passed from their last Leinster title by the time John O’Connor raised the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in ‘04 and the prospect of a 13-year gap being bridged this Sunday is sure to unleash a torrent of traffic up the M11.
Chin has seen the ebb and flow of support and expectation in his six years on the panel. The wave of near hysteria that threatened to envelop the county when, under Liam Dunne, they dethroned All-Ireland champions Clare as well as the all-too-familiar stagnant campaigns either side of it.
“We have had small margins of success over the last few years, hints of a breakthrough, and people going ballistic. I wouldn’t say we are used to the feeling at the moment but you could understand why the people of Wexford are the way they are and the excitement they are bringing to the table.”
Nobody expected this giddiness. Not yet.
It’s only a matter of months since Davy Fitzgerald’s side returned from Pearse Stadium with a narrow but vital two league points but the momentum built up by their charismatic boss has been mirrored and even exceeded by an opponent that has claimed a league title and perforated both Dublin and Offaly.
Chin can see that. He doesn’t object to the underdogs tag which did Wexford no harm back in March when they sacked Nowlan Park, or again earlier this month when they answered doubts as to their ability to back that display up with another statement defeat of Kilkenny.
“A team like Galway has pretty much everything,” Chin explained. “They have all the hurlers that can turn up on any day and be as good as any hurler in Ireland. They have pace, they have power, they are a big, physical team, a very big team. They can run the ball, they can play the ball short, they can play it long. They have guys up front who can win their own ball, 50-50 ball. That’s the way I assess Galway at the moment. They are a team that are really in form at the moment and are rightly seen as favourites to win the All-Ireland.”
It makes for a final of real note and interest.
There is a realisation that both Galway and Wexford are at the vanguard of a championship that is energising the entire hurling community and beyond.
New faces, new contenders, new hope that we may be again on the verge of a democratic revolution in hurling to echo the 90s.
It’s a possibility that has been tantalising the game ever since Clare and Cork emerged from the pack to contest the 2013 All-Ireland decider but few counties can match Wexford for sheer hurling romance and Chin admits to being somewhat taken aback by the lead role they are playing in the unfolding drama.
“In some ways we probably are but, when Davy first came in, one of his first engagements, he set out a lot of stalls for us and we assessed ourselves more than anything as players. And we always thought that we could reach a Leinster final and be competing there in some way.
“To get promoted in the National League was a big thing for us and beating Kilkenny in the quarter-final, that was great for us and that just kept building confidence and building confidence. And through those kind of victories it makes you believe even more where you can go.
“At the moment, we are in a Leinster final. It is something we wanted to do and we are here now.”
Hold on to your hats.
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