Kehoe has Wexford on brink of history
IT was the statistic that made Kevin Kehoe seek out the Wexford U-21 football job.
Before the start of the 2011 campaign, their combined score difference from their last two years in the competition stood at minus 33 -- from just two matches .
As a PE teacher in Good Counsel, Kehoe had a good idea of what talent was around the county and came to the conclusion that 13 and 20-point defeats -- to Kildare (2009) and Louth (2010) respectively -- weren't representative of Wexford's players.
"We could compete at Colleges level so I thought there was no way we should be getting beaten like that," he said.
Kehoe coached many of the current Wexford U-21 side in Good Counsel and saw them lose a Leinster final at the death to Edenderry in 2009, who themselves would go on to lose the All-Ireland final to a last-minute goal.
A year earlier, they felt they left a Leinster semi-final behind them, while St Peter's Wexford and other schools around the county were also making inroads. He'd been at various underage county trials and knew what else was out there.
He threw his hat in the ring for the job, gathered his coaching team around him -- including inter-county referee Syl Doyle -- and now they stand on the brink of their own little piece of history as Wexford go in search of a first Leinster title at this grade in Portlaoise tonight.
"Originally we looked at it and saw were we going to have a home run right through to the final if we got that far," said Kehoe. "That was changed at some meeting that we knew nothing about. But the lads responded well to that and here we are. We're delighted, it's a dream for us."
They gained some measure of revenge on Louth and Kildare by beating them before Carlow were edged out in the semi-final. It was largely expected that the team that came out of the other side of the draw would prevail as it included reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin, Meath and a fancied Westmeath side, but Longford are the ones still standing.
It's the first time since 1995 that none of Meath, Dublin, Laois or Kildare have reached the provincial final and should Longford win tonight, they'll enter the summer as reigning Leinster minor and U-21 champions.
"You would have expected whoever came out of that side of the draw to be very strong," Kehoe agreed. "Once Meath beat Dublin they were fancied but Longford got the better of them after extra-time, fair and square.
"Then they beat a good Westmeath team so you can't doubt that they are there on merit."
With players on both the senior football and hurling panels, Wexford have had a little juggling to do over the course of this campaign. Kehoe estimates that he has only seen Matthew O'Hanlon on half a dozen occasions.
"That's the way it has to be. There has to be give and take in dual counties, otherwise no one will win," he said. "At minor level you might get some lads concentrating on their hurling and you wouldn't get them out for football but U-21 is played at a different time so it gives them a chance to do both."
Wexford have a clean bill of health ahead of the match and stick with the same side that beat Carlow in their last run-out. Kehoe's son Killian lines out at full-forward and James Breen captains the side from wing-back.
"Some people in Croke Park were talking about getting rid of this grade of football a while back. But I think that would have been madness and not just because we're in the final this year," said Kehoe.
"The standard of football across the competition this year has been excellent and I think the final will be another good game.
"One of the players said to me the other night that this could be the last time he wears a Wexford jersey. Hopefully it isn't but that's what a lot of these players are facing so it's very significant for them."