independent

Monday 22 July 2019

Fair dues to Davy, the new daddy of hurling in Leinster

Hop Ball

Brendan Furlong

Wexford ruled in the mother of all battles against their arch-rivals, Kilkenny.

After an early morning rise, to enable me take in the Leinster Minor hurling final between these great rivals, it was a journey to Croke Park that took me through a bunting-laden Oylegate and Enniscorthy.

It was on to Bray then as the roads began to get busy for such an early start, with those early rising supporters making it their duty to be in headquarters to give the young players of the future support.

With my dedicated wife, Irene, taking on the early morning driving duties, Bray was the first destination to pick up my two grand-daughters, Jessica and Rebecca, along with daughter Karen, before embarking on to Croke Park for what was to become a long but joyous day.

The sheer innocence of the two younger occupants in the car, taking in their first Leinster final, helped in highlighting what the game of hurling is really all about, and more particularly what it means to be a part of on such an important occasion.

They took in all the excitement of the Wexford-registered cars heading for Croke Park as the county prepared to face one of their biggest challenges since Davy Fitzgerald became manager.

As the journey rolled on, in what is such a material world, I was thrilled to see them following in the footsteps of their grandparents, as they gathered together their purple and gold headbands and flag, doing what their Wicklow neighbours have done for so many years - become loyal Model county supporters, which is now a badge of honour for them.

After a great journey, as I made my way to Croke Park my thoughts rebounded back to what this will mean to them as they took their seats in the Hogan Stand.

They had become dedicated Wexford supporters and could see only one outcome at that stage. Kilkenny meant so little to them.

For a county with such a strong hurling tradition as Wexford, it was such a long time without silverware. One has to go back to 2004 when the Bob O'Keeffe Cup last took its place on a Wexford sideboard, while it was some 34 years since the Hanrahan Cup for the Minor grade paid a visit to the sunny south-east corner.

So in an an era of systems, tactics, game management and so on, there is still that six-letter word that is never far from the manager's lips: hunger.

Under Davy Fitzgerald you just know that Wexford will have it in abundance. They turned up in Croke Park, on the back of an enthralling final round round-robin game two weeks earlier in Innovate Wexford Park. They were intent on cranking up the intensity to a higher level than in previous games.

As the glow of a marvellous Minor win over Kilkenny was savoured, I took my place in the press box where I was joined by my long-time colleague and friend, John Knox from the 'Kilkenny People'.

Yes, we have soldiered together through some great rivalry down so many years, but this was taking on a whole new pattern of its own.

Kilkenny had been the dominant force for so long, that confidence in their county would be high even through these transformative years, but I was quietly confident also without showing my hand too much. On such occasions it's difficult to know what to expect.

This was going to take brains along with big heart. Having watched Wexford in training, I knew that Davy had brought more than just heart to the set-up, as he instilled organisation, and a gameplan that both himself and the players believed in. But now they had to deliver.

Davy's influence on this tem can never be understated. There were rocky moments, along with spells of splendour, hurling through the Davy system that enthralled the supporters, not to mention intense pressure, as no one will ever forget those last tense moments as Kilkenny laid siege to goal.

Davy is the new master, and my grand-daughters learned so much on this glorious day. They spoke of Wexford supporters standing up in the stand on the final whistle of referee John Keenan, and giving a full rendition of Fr. Murphy.

Yes, it meant that much. Never have I heard so many Wexford songs enthralling supporters at one particular time.

Davy showed the ability and desire to drag this Wexford team over the line. That's why for now he will be known as the daddy of Leinster hurling.

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