Agony of wilderness years driving Model back to the top
Published 25/07/2014 | 02:30
Did he see it coming? As Rory Jacob typed his thoughts on Twitter on a December afternoon last winter, could he have imagined the summer Wexford would have?
Jacob was hurting. His team Oulart-the Ballagh had just suffered a demoralising defeat to Mount Leinster Rangers in the Leinster club hurling final.
Few saw this coming. Jacob was scarred by the loss. And sickened by the criticism. "Our character and bottle has been questioned over the last few days," Jacob tweeted.
"It takes bottle and character to get to 10 county finals in a row, winning eight. It takes bottle and character to win five county championships in a row, something no other club in Wexford has ever done.
"It takes bottle and character to get to four Leinster club finals in a row and to be beaten in them all and still come back for more. We don't throw in the towel, we put ourselves out there to be shot at, but is it not a sign of character to do this (rather) than to crawl up and die?"
Jacob's words are part of the bigger story of Wexford hurling. Former manager Liam Griffin's eloquent equivalent of the 'I Have A Dream' speech to his players before the 1996 Leinster final is written into legend. He started by asking: "Who are you? Who are you? I'll tell you who you are."
Last winter, Jacob told us who they are. He took us through the looking glass. Stung by the strong zephyr of defeat, Jacob was still coming back for more. If his bottle and character are a microcosm of Wexford's, then we should have seen this summer coming.
Wexford are the story of the championship. The Boys of Summer. Their hopes are pinned through the advertising word on their jerseys. Gain. For years the verbal volley has been "Hurling Needs Wexford!" Not wants. Needs.
And now neutrals are giddy at the thoughts of a team 'doing a Clare' this summer. There's precedent too, we whisper. Clare's All-Ireland win in 1995 was followed a year later by Wexford's in 1996. When they beat Limerick.
The hype is back. But also the hope. Their '96 All-Ireland-winning captain Martin Storey smiles at a story he heard about a priest leaving Nowlan Park after their victory over Waterford last weekend.
"Are you okay father, do you know where you're going?" the steward asked. "I know where I'm going," the priest replied. "I'm going to Croke Park in September."
But what lies beneath? Our excitement at having a new team on the scene comes at the expense of that team's years in the hinterland. It's almost the price a team must pay to get the love when 'They're Back!' We welcome teams who shake up any sense of a stale status quo.
Look at Liverpool. Glen Johnson as good as crowned them the People's Champions in March when he said: "I guess neutrals will be packing a punch for us... nobody wants the same teams winning it over and over again".
The time since their All-Ireland title in 1996 hasn't been the lost years to Wexford. They felt every bit of it. They had to endure days like that 3-15 to 1-8 whipping by Offaly in the Leinster semi-final in 2000. Beatings at the hands of Kilkenny. And they watched on as Dublin started collecting silverware.
Finally, the conversation is changing. Storey gushes about how brilliant it is to have everyone talking about hurling again in the county. Their victory song 'Dancing at the Crossroads' is back on request lists.
"And kids are looking for autographs," Storey says. "They used to be looking for Brazil or Germany jerseys. Now they want Wexford jerseys with the names like Jacob, McDonald, McGovern on their backs."
Wexford have the style. The shimmies. The soundtrack of The Wexford Roar. And they hope to hit Semple Stadium at speed this weekend. Four games in four weeks – throw in a Leinster U-21 final – and they've got big momentum.
Storey doesn't want to heat up the expectation on the players. So he goes with the safety option that they have a 50/50 chance of beating Limerick.
"So, did you see this coming," I asked Storey. "I did," he assured me. He worked as minor manager with Wexford for three years. He was well aware of the talent coming through.
Storey doesn't believe that manager Liam Dunne will need to give a similar oration to his players like Griffin did in '96. By all accounts, Griffin finished that speech by saying: "We are the boys of Wexford who fought with heart and hand. That's real tradition. Let's go."
Jacob also told us that Wexford players have bottle and character. It's exhilarating to think of where Wexford could go this summer.
Ultimately, it's backboned by where they've been.
O'Donoghue 'fake it' admission a lesson to us all
Kerry forward James O'Donoghue is revealing more of his outrageous talent to us on the pitch. Off it, he's just as smooth.
He was one of four players at the launch of the All-Ireland Football Championship series at the Mansion House in Dublin this week.
Answering MC Dave McIntyre's questions on stage, he was ultra-refreshing to listen to. He even had the pauses nailed down in all the right places.
On being written off, O'Donoghue said: "It's tough being down in Kerry sometimes when it's like that. Because Kerry people are so (pause) forthcoming with their opinions."
Later when I interviewed him, we spoke about confidence. He said sometimes you have to fake it. Fake it 'til you make it?
Now that's a lesson for most people.
Top-class athletics at Croke Park would get pulse racing
For those with a great interest in athletics and Gaelic games, it's annoying to have to pick between the marquee day of the National Track and Field Championships in Santry and the GAA's offering at Croke Park as they clash nearly every summer.
It got me thinking. Will we ever see athletics at Croker again? GAA HQ used to stage athletics events like the Tailteann Games. When the 1924 Olympics were in Paris, some athletes stopped off in Dublin to take part in the Games.
As recently as 1966, the GAA staged an international event there.
Could you imagine watching athletics there on a grass track? Coming off the bend at the Hill 16 end and hitting the home straight down by the Hogan Stand? Fantastic. Now, where are my spikes?