How good are Wexford? It’s a question that throws up a lot of variables after their thrilling 180-minute brawl with Clare. The amount of times they had to go to the well and still came out ahead of the All-Ireland champions tells us that this was no fluke. They are back-to-back Leinster Under-21 winners for a reason, and will take some beating next Saturday.
On other hand . . . what the hell was that?! When Waterford were trying to make the breakthrough back in the late 90’s, it often felt like we needed to be four or five points better than the opposition just to break even. Wexford’s performance against Clare was this mentality turned up to 11. In both matches they found themselves with twin advantages that you’d normally expect to be decisive, ten points and a man up in the first game in Ennis and two men up yesterday in Wexford, and on neither occasion could they make those advantages stick. Even the satisfaction of finally getting over the line having played 15 v 15 in extra time should be tempered by the reality that the Clare dirty baker’s dozen were really dirty, really knackered after a quite Herculean second half had seen them somehow cling on to Wexford’s coattails. Liam Dunne routinely displayed a curious contempt for Waterford in his newspaper column over the years, always seeing us a soft touch to anyone looking for a morale-boosting win. Having dispatched the All-Ireland champions Wexford will be favourites, but if Derek McGrath isn’t drumming into his panel that these guys are more brittle than a poppadom lacework, he’s not doing his job right.
Before then, we have the underage teams attempting to keep alive the dream of the last county who have a chance of winning an All-Ireland hurling treble, a statement that manages to be both totally factual and utterly meaningless at the same time. For the second year running the Minors enter the lions den of a match against a Limerick team who will be bolstered by the presence of a large contingent following their Seniors. It’s always hard to predict with Minors, the teams being so different from one year to the next, but that quasi-home advantage still applies and the sense of injustice that is surely still smouldering in Limerick over the Hawk-Eye debacle can also be transmitted from one set of young fellas to the next. While the day has not yet arrived where we can blasé about a Munster underage title – seven hurling cups in our entire history – the fact that defeat today wouldn’t be the end of the road does take the edge off proceedings. More interesting is the prospect of a tilt at the Under-21 title. Having given the eventual Munster and All-Ireland champions the biggest rattle they received last year, and with the chance to incorporate a smattering of last year’s Minors, is it too much to hope for that we might get it right after such a woeful record in recent times? Probably, but that won’t stop me hoping.
A final thought before the trouble begins. In order to clear the decks for televised coverage of the Clare-Tipperary semi-final, the Under-21’s of Waterford and Cork were initally due to play on Thursday. This meant the game was only two days before the Seniors were due to play Wexford. In a shocking outbreak of cop-on, the Under-21 match was brought forward 24 hours. You can imagine that, if they had been so inclined, Cork could have made it very difficult for this change to take place, a change that obviously benefited Waterford. Fair play to them for their sense of fair play. And that’s the last time you’ll ever read me saying that.