The year was 2007…
It was early June and a blistering hot day. In Kilkenny, Wexford fans gathered by the thousands to support their troops against an up and coming Dublin side. The car journey on the way up was particularly memorable; “Dancing at the crossroads” and “The purple of gold” were the regular sound waves blasting out of every WX registered number plate on route to the game. On arrival, the surrounding areas of Nowlan Park was filled with beautiful purple and gold jerseys, the people were laughing and the sandwiches were being eaten out of the boots of cars in numbers.
The general Wexford perception was that Dublin possessed some quality hurlers and they certainly posed a threat to our hopes with David “Dotsy” O’Callaghan being their main target man in attack. The fact that David “Doc” O’Connor was the embodiment of our full-back line gave the Wexford fans that extra little scare and Dublin focussed on exploiting O’Connor’s pace by placing “Dotsy” on him.
Our team was managed by John Meyler, we were playing in the Guinness Leinster championship, and our main players were Darren Stamp in defence and Rory Jacob in the attack. St Martin’s Eoin Quigley was in the form of his life too, and overall we felt confident going into the game, knowing that it was going to take a rasper of a shot to get past our saviour in goal, Damien Fitzhenry. Importantly, many of the team that played have already tasted what it was like to bring the Bob O’Keefe cup back to the crossroads, after winning the Leinster championship in 2004. At the time, Leinster championship glory wasn’t a distant memory in our minds.
It was a pulsating game, a game that we needed to win. Since the incredible year of 04, we relished and believed that we could put it up to anyone that stood in our way. As fans, we knew that a win here against Dublin in Nowlan Park would inevitably place us in a Leinster final against the Cats. Throughout the game, the Yellowbellies fought with their hearts on their sleeves, but the Dubs never shone away. Not once, did the game look likely of drifting away from either side and with each score came another cancelling one from the opposition.
As the game neared its closing stages, there was no splitting the sides and it seemed like a draw was the inevitable and fair result. That was until the referee awarded the Model county with a free on the sideline of the 65. Initially, the crowd felt it was a sideline cut, and shades of Adrian Fenlon’s memorable ball in 2004 instantly came back. However, Wexford fans dared to believe and the referee was adamant on awarding the free. The Wexford crowd was electric, yet in a state of shock, tranquillity and nervousness too.
A point would secure us a place in the Leinster semi-final. We dared to believe.
Out strolled St Martin’s, Barry Lambert. As he stepped up to take the free, he decided to take off his distinct blue Cooper helmet and put it on the ground at the open stand side of Nowlan Park. Although he was not renowned for his big physical presence, every single person in the crowd was looking at him as the sweat dripped from his head.
He was facing the Nowlan Park equivalent of Hill 16, with the Dubs packing out the terrace behind the goal in a sea of light blue jerseys. Lambert rolled the ball in what felt like super-slow motion, he kept the ball on the bás for a millisecond before striking it with absolute conviction in the right direction.
As the ball travelled over the bar, Lambert looked and then turned his back with confidence. The umpire rushed over and raised the white flag. Wexford fans were in complete jubilation. As memories continue to flood back, the most distinctive one was at full-time, as every purple and gold man woman and child unified through the hugs, kisses and cries of happiness that filled the stands.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be in the Leinster final but we will never forget that game and that free for as long as we live.
Full time: Wexford 2:14 – 3:10 Dublin
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