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Tuesday 20 August 2019

Heroes get rousing reception

Supporters out in force to celebrate three Leinster titles

A.J. Redmond, seen here receiving the player of the match award after the Minor final, was later crowned National Minor Hurler of the week
A.J. Redmond, seen here receiving the player of the match award after the Minor final, was later crowned National Minor Hurler of the week

Brendan Furlong

The Wexford Senior and Minor hurling teams along with the ladies' Intermediate footballers were given a rapturous reception by more than 10,000 supporters when they returned home to Innovate Wexford Park on Monday evening of last week.

Brilliant sunshine marked the occasion as supporters young and old, with thousands of young children prominent, greeted their heroes.

Manager Davy Fitzgerald came in for special attention from autograph-seeking youngsters, while the players from all teams were treated as real heroes as they entered the grounds with three pieces of long-awaited silverware.

Wexford had secured the Bob O'Keeffe Cup for the first time since 2004, while the Minor hurlers bridged a 34-year gap with provincial glory.

The ladies' footballers were not to be left out as in Netwatch Cullen Park on the previous afternoon, just before their male counterparts stormed to glory, they maintained their upward curve with the winning of the Leinster Intermediate title after a twelve-year wait.

Fitzgerald spoke of his thrill at bringing silverware back to the county which was greeted by a huge roar from the crowd, a roar that no doubt could be heard on the Kilkenny borders.

After 15 years of hurt, Wexford celebrated in style which one would expect from the good men and women of the Model county.

The players were introduced one by one to the adoring supporters, but the best was kept until last, with the rallying call of supremo Davy Fitzgerald.

His appearance at the front of the stand sent the crowd into raptures, matching the roar which had greeted the final whistle in Croke Park.

'You have stood beside us and with us over the three years. This is a special group of players who I love from the bottom of my heart,' he said.

'You don't realise what they have been through.

'For three years these guys had trained four and five nights a week as we wanted them mentally strong.

'A lot has been said. People said I was mad to come here, but I always knew Wexford was a mad hurling county.

'They tried to keep Wexford down long enough but those days are over,' Fitzgerald said, greeted with a huge roar.

'I promise you we will be back training this week.

'I also promise you we will play our hearts out as I have a special feeling and we'll not let you down,' he added.

In a special appeal to parents, Fitzgerald exhorted them to have their children play sport.

'One of the things about Wexford is when I come down here for the league games, [and] look out on that pitch before the game and during half-time, [I see] the amount of children hurling on the pitch.

'Computer games may be the rage but I appeal to parents to keep the kids playing sport. It's very important for them and for their future.'

Diarmuid O'Keeffe spoke of various motivational tools over recent weeks that drove the team on.

'We had so many factors over recent weeks, [including] the loss of the great Ned Wheeler, a great friend of the family.

'We all have heard of the achievements of the past and Ned Wheeler of the fifties and sixties. It proved inspirational,' he said.

Joint captains Matthew O'Hanlon and Lee Chin thanked the supporters.

'That roar in Croke Park throughout the game drove us over the line,' they declared.

It was fitting that the evening ended as the three teams entered into a rendition of 'Purple and Gold'.

'We're back training Thursday evening,' Davy reminded his adoring fans.

Gorey Guardian

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