Monday 22 July 2019

Mantle passed on from ’85

Last Minor winners can finally step aside for new breed

Alan Aherne

Take A long look at the team photograph adorning this page if you please, dear reader, because the faces contained therein are about to be finally consigned to the dusty pages of Wexford G.A.A. history.

I don't mean any harm by that statement, and in fact I'm sure the 14 surviving players in the frame won't mind being cast to one side either.

You see, that snap from the old Croke Park is of the last Wexford Minor hurling team to win a Leinster title prior to Sunday's superb success.

And while they will always hold a special place in the annals of local G.A.A. lore, those young men of 1985 are now finally able to step to one side - all in their early fifties by now - and let captain fantastic Richie Lawlor and his talented colleagues assume centre stage.

For a county with such a strong hurling tradition, we are dwarfed by Kilkenny in terms of Minor honours. Indeed, given the dearth of titles in the old Under-18 grade (Under-17 since last year), it's a wonder how we managed to produce Senior teams good enough to compete with the best on such a consistent basis.

Prior to 1985, Wexford had only six Leinsters to their name, starting with the 1963 team the blazed an outright trail to All-Ireland glory, clearly inspired by the exploits of the great men of the fifties.

The period from 1966 to 1968 was the golden era for the county at Minor level, with titles number two and three claimed in the former and latter years, along with a final loss to Cork in between.

Of course, the young guns paved the way to Senior success on the first Sunday of September in 1968, and two years later Wexford claimed its last provincial double until the weekend's escapades.

Unfortunately in 1970, the Minors were surprised in the semi-final at the unusual venue of Páirc Chiaráin in Athlone by a Galway team including future Ireland rugby captain Ciarán Fitzgerald.

Another ten years elapsed before the next Leinster win, at the expense of Dublin, but Tipperary proved too strong in the All-Ireland final.

Fast forward, then, to 1985 when the campaign started with a 2-16 to 1-3 dismissal of the boys in blue in Carlow on May 11. The championship was straight knockout at the time, and the semi-final victims were Offaly at the same venue by 1-20 to 2-10, with one of the consolation goals scored by Michael Duignan.

Then, as now, the acid test for any Wexford hurler on the provincial scene came against Kilkenny, and so it proved in a low-scoring tussle that was the middle game in a Croke Park triple-header.

Free-taker A.J. Redmond was on his best form last Sunday, and that was a mirror image of 34 years ago when the accuracy of Vinny Murphy from Ferns St. Aidan's via placed balls paved the way for a 0-12 to 0-8 success.

He contributed seven points in total, with Ger Cushe adding a brace after starting at centre-back, giving a display that his clubmate, Cian 'Patsy' Molloy, more than matched.

The scoring was completed with a point apiece from Eamonn Sinnott of Buffers Alley, who captained the Seniors in the Leinster final seven years later, Eddie Broaders from Faythe Harriers, and Brian Moran of Kilmore.

The side was captained by Paul Nolan from the Island Road in Enniscorthy, the goalkeeper who had to make a mad dash from the old Croke Park dressing-rooms located at the corner of the Canal End and Hogan Stand on his first big Senior test three years later.

The reason? Offaly referee Gerry Kirwan - father of Cork whistler Diarmuid - had re-started the second-half of the Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny (another one we won, by the way!) without realising that Nolan wasn't back on the field!

Paul was also a speedy wing-back on the Wexford Under-21 football team which took Offaly to three replays in the provincial decider of 1988, and he went on to join a large group of Slaneysiders domiciled in Dublin who threw in their lot with the Cuala club as they took the first big steps to where they are today - as one of the foremost operations in Ireland with the titles to prove it.

The Kilkenny team Wexford had to defeat in 1985 were no slouches either, with the likes of full-back Willie O'Connor, wing-back Liam Keoghan, midfielder Michael 'Titch' Phelan and corner-forward Jamesie 'Shiner' Brennan going on to represent the Seniors with distinction.

Before I list the 25 players named on the Wexford panel in the match programme, I think it's only fitting to remember a duo no longer with us.

We have since bid a sad farewell to two great characters from Enniscorthy, Billy 'Hutchy' Dwyer and Robert 'Tex' Byrne.

The full squad from 1 to 25 on the day the seventh Leinster Minor crown was won featured: Paul Nolan (Rapparees, capt.), Larry O'Gorman (Faythe Harriers), Jack Redmond (Rapparees), Vin Reddy (Rathnure), Jay Codd (Duffry Rovers), Ger Cushe (Naomh Eanna), James O'Connor (Cloughbawn - father of Josh, the Ireland under-age rugby international), Phil O'Callaghan (Taghmon-Camross), James Bolger (Marshalstown), Eamonn Sinnott (Buffers Alley), Vinny Murphy (Ferns St. Aidan's), Billy Dwyer (Rapparees, R.I.P.), Eddie Broaders (Faythe Harriers), Seán Wickham (Cloughbawn), Brian Moran (Kilmore), Johnny McDermott (Taghmon-Camross), Paul Carton (Cloughbawn), James Quirke (St. Martin's), Seán Flood (Cloughbawn), Hughie O'Connor (Oulart-The Ballagh), Diarmuid McDonald (Crossabeg-Ballymurn), Pat Doyle (Adamstown), Nicky Hanlon (Faythe Harriers), Robert Byrne (Rapparees, R.I.P.), Georgie Kearns (Ferns St. Aidan's).

After a bruising All-Ireland semi-final against Down in the odd location of the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, won by 7-17 to 2-2, the bid for a first outright title since 1968 was spoiled by a smashing Cork team on a 3-10 to 0-12 scoreline.

They included such decorated future Seniors in their ranks as Cathal Casey, Kieran McGuckin, goal machine John Fitzgibbon, plus a deadly inside attacking line of Ger Manley, Mark Foley and Michael Mullins, so it was certainly no shame to lose to such a strong team.

As I noted, it was also a triple-header on Leinster finals day in 1985, but the less said about the first game, the better, as Kilkenny hammered us in the Under-21 decider by 4-18 to 1-4.

Still, there was a direct link between this game and last Sunday, as the panel featured another Enniscorthy man who passed to his eternal reward at a very early age - Kevin Foley's late father, Michael.

The complete squad of 25 was: Michael Foley (Rathnure), Joe Doyle (Rathnure), Liam Turner (Faythe Harriers), R.J. Blake (Naomh Eanna), Kevin 'Kerdoc' Murphy (Faythe Harriers), Brendan Doyle (Taghmon-Camross), Dermot Prendergast (Monageer-Boolavogue), Pat Barden (Adamstown), Niall McDonald (Crossabeg-Ballymurn), Johnny Murray (Ferns St. Aidan's), Martin Storey (Oulart-The Ballagh), Tom Dempsey (Buffers Alley, capt.), John Harding (Shelmaliers), Matty Foley (Buffers Alley), Ray Murphy (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Seán Dunne (Oulart-The Ballagh), Colin Whelan (Buffers Alley), Michael Foley (Rapparees, R.I.P.), David 'Bomber' Kennedy (Naomh Eanna), Pat McGrath (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), John Rossiter (Oulart-The Ballagh), Paul Bridges (Faythe Harriers), Lar Ronan (Rathnure), Paul Whelan (Adamstown), Eddie Sutton (Oulart-The Ballagh).

That Under-21 game was refereed by Pat Delaney from Rathdowney, who was called up to the podium by Laois captain Paddy Purcell after their Joe McDonagh Cup success on Sunday as a thank you for his Trojan contribution to hurling over the years.

The Minor man in the middle was none other than John F. Bailey from Dublin, whose daughter, Maria, had a swinging time of it recently, while our own John Denton took charge of the big game 34 years ago.

And younger readers might find this hard to believe, but that clash saw Offaly defeating Laois in the Leinster Senior final en route to All-Ireland glory. We had been shocked by the O'Moore men in the semi-final, while the Cats bowed out after a replay on the other side of the draw.

Finally, let's remember the Minor mentors of 1985, starting with team trainer Fr. Jim Butler of Buffers Alley fame who was based in Rathgarogue-Cushinstown at the time.

A straight talker in an era when delegates to County Board meetings engaged in some colourful debates, he ruffled plenty of feathers on top tables at the time with his outspoken comments.

Fr. Jim was joined by a shrewd quintet, including Jim Carr of Shelmaliers who has spent time in hospital recently and is wished a speedy recovery.

Future All-Ireland referee Dickie Murphy (Rapparees) was a youthful mentor, while another Enniscorthy man, Michael Murphy - a veteran of the selection committees of the 1960s - was a member of Geraldine O'Hanrahans at the time.

The Gorey District representation was supplied by Joe Cullen of Liam Mellows (Coolgreany), whose fruit and vegetable vans are familiar sights on the roads of the county to this very day.

It's always nice to look back, but it's even better to look forward with such a bright future on the horizon after Sunday's double success.

Fair play to the Minor teams of 1985 and 2019 - they came up with the goods on Leinster final day, and we'll always remember them for their exploits.

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