JJ Doyle was 21 when a Wexford hurling team last celebrated All-Ireland glory.
The county had the U21 final against Galway to look forward to the week following Martin Storey’s ascent up the Hogan Stand in September of 1996, a unique double very much on the cards.
Galway cruised to a 10-point win and 19 years on, Wexford are still searching for their next national championship triumph.
With their last underage All-Ireland arriving back in 1968, U21 manager Doyle says the wait for national honours is both sad and unacceptable.
Doyle, a three-time All-Ireland-winning camogie manager with Wexford (2010-12), was at the helm for last year’s final defeat to Clare. This Saturday he hopes to bridge the gap to the glory days.
“I remember being on the Hill in ’96. It was one of the best days I have had in a sporting context. I was 21, I was the same age as the boys are now. They don’t remember it. Some of them weren’t even born. It is too long ago.
“Next year is 20-years (since that All-Ireland win). It is sad for a hurling county. We haven’t won an underage All-Ireland, a minor or U21, since 1968. That is 47 years. It is a long time for a hurling county. It is time now.
“We had a decent summer last year, but I was saying to someone recently that we didn’t win anything really. For it to be a really decent summer you have to win an All-Ireland.
“We are the last chance in the county this year to do it. That is what we are aiming to do. It is time for us now to take the step. But I am sure Limerick are thinking the same thing.”
Now in his third year in the role, Doyle has delivered three successive Leinster crowns, incremental progress enjoyed outside of the province with each passing summer.
“We won Leinster and got beaten in a semi-final (in 2013), we got beaten in a final (in 2014).
“It’s about time we went and finished the job. The final defeat will be a motivation to some lads. Three of them are now in their third year, while there are 10 from last year.”
Eight of his panel juggled the demands of senior and U21 training for much of the spring and summer. Doyle reckoning that players subscribe to the increased commitment demanded of an inter-county panellist purely out of love for the game.
“I saw a clip of Mags D’Arcy (on RTÉ’s Páirc Life) talking about the commitment, but they love it. We were at a presentation last year, it was an awards night for Wexford GAA. The guy doing the MC was asking the same thing and one of the Wexford seniors, Liam Óg McGovern, gave the best answer I’ve heard when he said ‘we don’t have to do it’. It’s as simple as that. They love it, they love the commitment of it.
“People on the outside find it very hard to understand the commitment to it, but none of them have to do it. They are there because they want to do it. The comradery among our lads, there are guys there mixing who in general walk of life if they weren’t involved in the GAA would have never come across one another or maybe not have the opportunities they have had in college or in work-life that they are getting.
“I know from my own perspective, I get more back than I ever give to it.”
Meanwhile, Limerick forward Robbie Hanley has been ruled out of the final due to injury.
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