Hurlers not too far off the mark
MANY SUPPORTERS, even those loyal ones, were not so sure as to where Wexford hurling stood following the end of their championship campaign for 2013.
But there is something very wrong when Wexford hurling has been practically written off despite the progress made in Liam Dunne's second year in charge. The reason for gauging this progress is simple, one has just to look at the All-Ireland semi-final line-up.
Dublin, still in the mix, had to go to a replay to overcome the Wexford challenge, while Clare, whom Wexford brought to extra-time in the qualifiers, also won their way through with a hugely-impressive victory over last year's finalists, Galway.
Somewhere in the minds of supporters the thought must be that Wexford are not that far off the big sides, and now that Kilkenny's reign has ended, it opens up the hurling race for everyone. Somewhere a bit further down, supporters must believe that with more experience this young side is ready to announce it is back on the big stage with a realistic chance of mixing it once again with the 'big boys'.
Not that we are looking for a return to the good old days immediately. Wexford have not looked out of place in this year's championship. They may have attracted some unwarranted criticism following the Dublin replay but that being said they went on to show the county is back on the right road.
We'll start with the turnaround that hurling has enjoyed in the county this year. We had a Minor championship victory over Kilkenny, although unfortunately there was a slip-up to Laois in the provincial semi-final. Then came that marvellous Leinster Under-21 final victory over Kilkenny, while only last week the Under-16 hurlers won the provincial title.
That's just a start. Liam Dunne has introduced much young blood to his set-up. Wexford showed a flash of the future in young Conor McDonald, regarded as the brightest prospect in the county for a long time. He didn't look out of place when introduced against Clare in Semple Stadium having won an Under-21 provincial medal earlier in the week. Conor was the leading forward in the Minor side, having played this grade for three successive years.
Wexford may still have progress to be made before they become serious title challengers once again. They may have some questions to answer after their extra time fade-out to Clare, but the loss of Tomás Waters through injury was huge, while Clare have been building momentum over the past three years at Under-21 and Senior levels.
Wexford have suffered more than most at under-age level, but Liam Dunne will know better than most that All-Ireland champions are not made overnight. He is on the right road and should the Under-21 hurlers bring off All-Ireland glory it would go a long way towards hardening his youth policy for the 2014 National League campaign.
It's now time to raise the bar at club level. The prophets will be out in force for the respective hurling and football championships.
The football championship returned last weekend without any real surprises, but the presence of so many dual clubs will see these sides run the risk of injury over the coming weeks as the hectic pace of activity continues.
Silence may be golden for many at this stage, considering they are returning following a break, brought about because of inter-county activity. But Clongeen really took this silence an extra step for their Intermediate football game against Glynn-Barntown on Saturday evening.
With programme teams bearing little resemblence to what takes the pitch in every game, Clongeen were not in the mood for releasing their starting 15, even to the press prior to their game.
So determined were they in their unrealistic approach that I had to cover their game without a line-out, as even the players did not wear numbers as per the programme, while two players were not even included in the 31 names printed.
Fast forward. Clongeen won the game with a late rally. As I was taking teams for the second game a Clongeen mentor approached to see if I needed a line-out. What a victory means to some. Did the victory bring a change of minds? And it's only July yet.
New Ross Standard