All-Ireland SFC Qualifier(R3)
Wexford v Cork, Tomorrow, 3.30pm (Wexford Park)
THE consensus is that the events in Croke Park last weekend sounded the death knell for the outpouring of joy that is the post-match pitch invasion.
It was a day filled with ghastly images as referee Martin Sludden was hounded by furious Louth fans, isolated and terrified.
But here’s another pitch invasion take from last weekend. There were far fewer supporters in Pearse Stadium last Saturday for the All-Ireland qualifier tie between Galway and Wexford, a game distinctly lacking in glamour. Yet the visitor’s bold and confident style saw them claim the honours, and justified the long trek from the south-east which their diehard fans had made. This was a momentous triumph and the final whistle signalled the onset of a celebratory union between player and supporter alike on the Salthill surface.
“It was just great to see,” recalls Wexford manager Jason Ryan. “Being able to have a pitch invasion after our game was brilliant. The people who’d made the effort to come all the way up to Galway were able to instantly congratulate our players. Otherwise they wouldn’t meet each other until the hotel a couple of hours later.
“I realise there are health and safety issues but it is a great tradition. Sadly it seems that just a minority are going to end up ruining it for the majority.”
It has been a strange championship for Ryan and company. Their season could have collapsed after a dispiriting provincial quarter-final loss to Dublin but the manager was determined not to allow that happen.
His freshman season had been a glorious and epic run which saw Wexford reach an All-Ireland semi-final in 2008. But in his sophomore campaign in 2009, the fall came and it was hard to take. They plummeted down to NFL Division Three and exited the championship at the hands of Roscommon last summer. The objective was that 2010 would be different.
Ryan continued: “2008 and 2009 were different extremes really. You had the sheer joy of one and then the absolute devastation of another. I think what last year did is give the players more wisdom and appreciation. They realised that after losing to Dublin that we couldn’t let the thing drop. The approach was to go out and show that we’re better than 2009. Our first qualifier out against London was a banana skin and we were aware of that. We thought of the problems we encountered against Offaly and Roscommon last season, and sought to rectify them.
“Wexford’s qualifier record is traditionally very poor. So achieving the wins over London and Galway have reinforced our belief in ourselves.”
The victories are not solely down to Ryan’s management skills. He delegates the responsibility elsewhere in order to inspire his players and this season has added former Irish rugby international Bernard Jackman to their set up.
“Bernard comes in at various stages in an advisory capacity for us. We met last year and I felt he was someone who could benefit the team. We’ve looked to tap into his experience with Leinster, Connacht, Sale and Ireland in professional sport.
“We use it to see how he’s learnt with his difficulties. The players have built up a great rapport with him and he’s a very good speaker. He gives us an interesting outlook.”
Tomorrow represents a difficult challenge for Ryan. Entertaining last year’s All-Ireland finalists Cork is an arduous task yet he looks for the positives..
“It was a case of prior to it that we looked at the draw and saw a lot of tough scenarios. Getting Kildare away was hard as they’re good at home, while both Derry and Down would have been very long journeys.
“There didn’t seem to be too many games that were pleasing. So the home draw was the main thing and it’s good for south-east football that we have that. Cork are a very good team, no doubt about it. But it’s the stage of the season where it’s great to be still in it. The hard slog is over, it’s about enjoying the games. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Meanwhile Ryan and his management show faith in the starting 15 that overcame the Tribesmen in Pearse Stadium last weekend.
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