Perhaps it was just the imagination, and the Wexford colours flying on the bridge in New Ross weren’t snapping in the wind a bit louder than usual, but that’s how it seemed.
That’s the effect a win like Wexford’s over Kilkenny last Saturday night can have: everything is imbued with significance when bathed in the after-glow.
Your correspondent didn’t spend all that much time in Wexford town ahead of the game, but the streets around the stadium were thrumming with anticipation ahead of throw-in, with every parking spot within a mile or more well occupied, and the North End United FC playing fields were chock-a-block with cars sporting decorations in either black and amber or purple and gold.
The obvious question to ask is how the proposed changes to the hurling championship next year may affect events like last Saturday night, because by any metric Saturday night was an event.
It wasn’t just that the Wexford supporters in the stadium made the girders shake when they got their vital goal in the second half, though the baying when Lee Chin performed some of his in-a-single-bound heroics wouldn’t have been out of place in the Coliseum.
The proposed home-and-away arrangements from 2018 on may facilitate more such games, and emotional outpourings, the joyous pitch invasions and bounce in the stroll down the hill into town afterwards.
But there’s every chance that initial enthusiasm may dim. The best comparison is probably the early days of the football qualifiers, when every year threw up a dark horse that supporters gladly adopted as their second team: if it wasn’t Sligo making it to Croke Park, it was Fermanagh taking an equally romantic route to headquarters, or Wexford scalping Armagh. For a while it was great.
Now? The old order asserteth itself, and the All-Ireland semi-finalists tend to be very familiar faces: Tipperary’s odyssey last year was an outlier.
Donal O’Grady of this parish has pointed out, moreover, that front-loading fixtures for the early summer months does nothing to address the overloading of Super 8 football games come August, when hurling games will be heavily outnumbered.
The knock against the provincial championships is that for every event like last Saturday’s there’s a back catalogue of punishment beatings handed out by Kilkenny for over a decade - underwhelming, one-sided games that enjoyed little of the buzz and flash we saw over the weekend.
You can’t have one without the other, though.
The years of misery endured by Wexford fans are what made eventual victory all the sweeter. In places like Barntown and Oulart it’s unlikely there were many people complaining about the Leinster championship this Monday morning.
We shouldn’t be surprised by that, either. Whenever the provincial championships come under serious threat they tend to produce something that functions as a completely articulated counter-argument, whether it’s a classic provincial final or a hyper-competitive series of games. Going on form, Galway-Wexford should be both a superb game and a massive event.
Will we be able to say the same of the new dispensation?
Michael Moynihan forgot to bring his laptop to Wexford on Saturday. He scribbled these notes in his notebook, though, and worked out what they meant when he got home.
Ger Aylward was substituted early on by Kilkenny on Saturday night after missing a few chances, but it’s still early in his return from a cruciate ligament injury. Predicting performance from the quality of a team’s warm-up is a losing game, butAylward’s striking was sweet before the game started: one sharp effort forced the umpire to duck sharply as the sliotar flew in under the crossbar.
The game itself didn’t go too well for him, unlike...
Chin’s athleticism has never been in any doubt, whether it’s in ice hockey, soccer or Gaelic football, but Saturday night he didn’t so much take it to another level as use that particular level as a stepping-stone to a level that . . . well, when you turned on the wind machine and blew away the mist generated by the man-crushes you’re left with an awesome display of power, but there was also his calm distribution inpossession, long and short, and long-range shooting.
And a cautionary tale...
The mysterious wooden compartment at the back of the stand last weekend was where Davy Fitzgerald was sitting, apparently, because of his suspension from the Tipp game. There was a resounding boom from that general area following one tight call against Wexford but the arrangement worked out well: perhaps it should be trundled up to Dublin 3 for the Leinster final.
Fitzgerald has been deservedly praised for his team’s tactics and belief, but what about their fitness? Lost in the gunsmoke after that Tipp defeat were Fitzgerald’s musings on letting the players away from the intensive physical preparations to keep them fresh.
Saturday night it looked like that had worked, unlike...
[timg=Wexford’s Conor McDonald tussles with Kilkenny’s Kieran Joyce during the Leinster SHC clash Wexford Park. Picture: Daire Brennan]KilkennyVWexfordClashJun17_large.jpg[/timgcap]
Colin Fennelly was in rampaging, Kitty-bar-the-door form on Saturday night but was just too remote from the action for much of the game, so Kilkenny had to depend on someone further out the field to carry the fight. TJ Reid’s routine excellence now is an indication of his progress from bit player long ago, but in a game like Saturday night Kilkenny needed him to do too much. He didn’t score from play, but his penalties were nerveless and he never shirked the physical challenge, which was unrelenting. Mind you, there was that uncharacteristic miss from a scoreable free early in the first half...
Kilkenny were playing into the scoreboard end of the ground in the first half, and obviously got the ideal start with that first-minute penalty.
That meant facing the wind, however, and whether that’s to blame for uncharacteristically wayward shooting, or wrong options, they hit poor wides which got quite the reaction from the...
Your metric for an engrossing match? The lack of Twitter activity from those viewing, or maybe the percentage of stewards watching the game from the aisles? A personal favourite is the queue for the half time loo.
A full bladder is as yielding as a DUP leader favoured by the maths.
That was the scenario at the break last Saturday night in Innovate Wexford Park, the crowds swarming on the whistle from the long uncovered stand to the toilets in the far corner...
The only people more relieved than those finally making it to the top of those queues? Leinster Council officials, who can look forward to a 40,000-plus turn-out for this year’s Leinster final, surely, unlike...
The counties which are now involved in the qualifiers. They include Tipperary, Kilkenny, Limerick, Dublin and they’ll be joined by either Waterford or Cork at teatime next Sunday. I’m not sure which of the aquatic threats above is the more accurate, but have those qualifiers ever contained such big fish so early?
(Note: K. Whales are mammals. I know that.)
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