LEAVING SEMPLE Stadium in Thurles following Wexford’s Senior hurling championship exit to Clare, one question stood out: Have the supply lines failed the game in the county?
Essentially Wexford were still relying on practically the same group of players who had served Davy Fitzgerald so well over the five seasons he was at the helm.
And it was never more glaring than in that game that the side needed an introduction of new and young players to freshen the squad for the challenges ahead.
When anyone is introduced to the squad the player needs more game time, but in what was a Covid-19 ravaged spell over two seasons it became more difficult. Still, the only way to assess new players and see whether they have the quality is through game time, particularly in the National League campaign.
So here’s the question: Is Wexford’s under-age system producing the type of player which is badly needed as some of the older brigade are losing power?
Wexford have won just one provincial Minor title recently, in 2019, having endured a barren under-age spell, while the current Senior set-up is backed up by many of the players that won the three provincial Under-21 championships in a row. But what’s happening in between is the burning question.
The appointment of Darragh Egan as hurling manager has been widely welcomed in the county given his coaching qualities. While he has no experience at inter-county hurling management, he has gathered wide coaching experience through being part of Liam Sheedy’s Tipperary backroom set-up.
And he also assisted in the coaching of his club, Kiladangan, to a fine Premier county Senior hurling title in 2020, before losing out this year in the semi-final to Thurles Sarsfields.
He has proved that he is more than a capable coach and there’s no doubt he will bring new ideas to his managerial role as he endeavours to freshen up the squad for the season that lies ahead, beginning with the Allianz League at end of January.
Right now Egan will be aiming to improve Wexford’s track record on bringing through young players if they are to continue competing at the top level.
Egan is very thorough and professional in his preparations and carries a quality coaching pedigree with him. There’s no doubt about that as he proved with Tipperary’s success under Sheedy’s management.
Now Wexford will be hoping that the younger players emerge from the club championship. He will be somewhat hampered by the lack of inter-county under-age success, as this year we dipped to a new low, losing in the provincial Under-20 championship to Kildare.
But looking further down, the county did qualify for the provincial Minor final only to lose to Kilkenny, so one hopes that some talent will emerge over the coming months.
It will be a big hurdle for Darragh and his management team to overcome, particularly to get more game time for the younger players. If you take Kilkenny as an example in the last few years, they have blooded younger players. Waterford have also introduced young players, although Galway are behind despite their under-age success.
Wexford, it must be said, does not have a strong production line, failing to secure sufficient success even at provincial under-age level. The coaching system must be questioned. We constantly hear boasts of the county having the best coaching set-up in the country. But where are the results? It’s certainly not seen at under-age level.
Darragh Egan will try to change all that and look at the quality available. That’s why it’s welcome to see that he is holding trials involving players on the fringe from each of the four Districts. This will give him a further opportunity to assess players and their potential to reach the top level.
Now on to the big ball game. Certainly the county football championships have not been without their surprises, so much so that Wexford will have new Senior champions in both codes.
Rapparees-Starlights having already won the Dr. Bowe Cup, were hoping to match the achievement of St. Anne’s (Rathangan) back in 2000 by winning both titles. However, their dream ended in dramatic circumstances, as they were shocked by HWH-Bunclody in a game that contained plenty of penalty drama.