For those who follow hurling in Wexford, 2022 can aptly be described as an emotional rollercoaster of sorts…
Overcoming Brian Coady’s Kilkenny in Nowlan Park to Wexford snatching a draw in a thriller against the Tribesmen in Chadwicks Wexford Park were no doubt some of the highlights of what was an encouraging first season of Darragh Egan’s reign, yet equally so, disappointing results against Dublin and Westmeath in Leinster and a devastating second half revival from Clare in Thurles which saw Wexford crash out in the All-Ireland Quarter Final.
The bitter disappointment which lingered following Wexford’s exit at the hands of the Banner seemed to have tainted Wexford hurling enthusiasts’ view of the year. That was until the beginning of the Wexford Senior Club Championship restarted.
It is often said that the Wexford Senior Hurling Championship is among the most competitive in Ireland and week after week of drama, tight encounters, and upsets have proven that this reputation is most certainly deserved. Week in, week out, spectators have been treated to physical and skilful displays and many close encounters between fierce rivals on the club scene. As a weekend of exhilarating quarter final clashes draw to a close, it seems appropriate to reflect on what exactly has made this such a consistently riveting and closely contested Senior Club Championship.
Even from the earliest days of this year’s club championship, the intensity has been evident. Even from the first round of the round robin games such as St. Anne’s narrow win over Crossabeg Ballymurn on a sun-soaked June evening in Taghmon really typified the standard of hurling which has come to define this year’s championship. Throughout the round robin many upsets and tight clashes between evenly-matched sides were observed with delight by the Wexford public. The high standard and lack of predictability of this year’s championship was typified by the fact that in Group A, coming into the final round each team except for the Faythe Harriers and Naomh Éanna were on 4 points each.
The story of the Harriers in this year’s championship is another prime example of the sheer drama of this year’s championship. Coming into the second last round of fixtures, the Harriers were yet to attain a single victory, they had slumped to defeat after defeat, and they looked poised to join Rathnure in the relegation play-off.
It seemed as if 2022 would be yet another underwhelming season for the Harriers, and very few gave them a chance of progressing to the quarter finals. Still, a last minute free from talisman Lee Chin gave the Harriers a shock win against high flying Saint Anne’s. This coupled with a comprehensive defeat of Cloughbawn not only saw the Harriers avoid relegation, but saw them advance to the quarter finals due to their superior points difference. An impressive victory over Naomh Éanna saw St Anne’s top Group A while county champions, the Rapparees, topped Group B by the slimmest of margins.
Some may have believed that the momentum would begin to peter out of the championship following some exhilarating clashes in the round robin stage. However, hurling supporters in Wexford were treated to a displays of skill, determination and physical intensity throughout the August Bank Holiday weekend.
St. Anne’s vs. St. Martins:
The first of the quarter finals took place on a damp and overcast Saturday evening as local rivals St. Anne’s and St. Martin’s faced off against one another for a spot in the semi finals. St. Martins were without their talisman – the injured Rory O’Connor – however, a tightly contested match was still expected between an in form St. Anne’s team and a talented Martin’s side. For the 70 minutes of normal time, the two teams seemed rather evenly matched. Joe Coleman proved very difficult for the St. Anne’s defence to handle and was generally accurate from placed balls, Eoin Ryan was a dominant presence in the half back line for St. Anne’s consistently turning over possession. For most of the game it was tit for tat as the two teams matched one another blow for blow.
As normal time drew to a close Joe Coleman was presented with a chance to snatch victory for the Martins in the dying moments of the game. Coleman had been in red hot form with rather impressive accuracy throughout the game. It seemed St. Anne’s season would be over as Coleman stood over a free in an opportune position to end the game. However, to the surprise of most everyone, the usually accurate Coleman drove the ball wide. Following an exhilarating 70 minutes of hurling, the two teams could not be separated. At the end of normal time, another one of the major talking points in the crowd was the ‘ghost goal’ by Aidan Rochford, which was not awarded by the umpire.
Extra time proved just as tense although it seemed as if the Annes were beginning to gain a certain sense of momentum. Yet, as the second half of extra time drew to a close the Martins showed their grit and resilience to race back into a 3 point lead. The Annes launched one final attack in an attempt to once again find parity; it seemed like this attack would be in vain, but as the ball was launched into the square a scramble ensued and seasoned full back Tomás Cullen bundled the ball into the net. The Annes crowd rejoiced and the two teams remained inseparable on a score line of 2-23 to 0-29.
The already palpable tension was heightened knowing that the game would go to penalties. The crowd sat on the edge of their seats as the penalty shoot-out began and with each miss and each converted shot the tension grew. St. Anne’s corner forward Liam Rochford stepped up to take the decisive penalty. Rochford had to score to send the shootout to sudden death and to keep the Annes in the championship. Rochford’s penalty was saved and therefore following a titanic clash the Martin’s prevailed. I feel this game perfectly captured the excitement which has come to define the Wexford Senior Hurling Championship.
Naomh Éanna vs Shelmaliers:
Following the thrilling clash of the Annes and the Martins, Naomh Éanna and the Shelmaliers took to the pitch at Wexford Park. Both teams boasted a star studded line up with the likes of Conor McDonald and Simon Donohoe set to duke it out for a place in the semi-finals.
The first half perhaps did not live up to the high expectations for this game as it was dominated by the Gorey side with the likes of JJ Twalmey proving difficult to handle for the Shelmaliers defence. Despite that, the Shelmaliers ensured that they never let Naomh Éanna beyond their reach.
The Shelmaliers side seemed reinvigorated in the second half and played with an abundance of energy and intensity. They began to eat away at the Naomh Éanna lead and marshalled Conor McDonald quite well.
A saved penalty from Conor McDonald gave the Shelmaliers a renewed sense of hope as substitutes bred new life into the Shelmaliers team. Naomh Éanna, however, showed both their experience and their depth as they established and maintained a comfortable lead, a gap which proved insurmountable for the Shelmaliers. The game finished on a score-line of 1-13 to 0-13 points in favour of Naomh Éanna. Although the game took some time to get going, the outcome was unpredictable to the very end.
Faythe Harriers vs Rapparees:
As the crowds poured into Chadwicks Wexford Park ahead of the hotly anticipated clash between the Harriers and the Rapparees for many the game seemed a foregone conclusion, a mere formality for the county champions.
Many neutrals sat beneath the warm July sun as throw in drew ever closer and as they discussed the match did not give the Wexford town side the slimmest of chances against the defending champions and believed that the presence of skilled hurlers such as Liam Ryan, Kevin Foley and Oisín Pepper in the ranks of the Rapparees would simply be too much for the Harriers.
As the Enniscorthy side raced into the lead and dealt a devastating blow with a well placed finish to raise the green flag in the first, the predictions of a complete wipe out seemed to have been prophetic. Yet the Harriers rallied and found parity with county champions and from then on the two could hardly be separated. It seemed for large periods of the second half as if the Faythe Harriers side were dominant with big performances from many of their key players.
Yet, as the end of the game neared the firepower and resilience of the county champions proved unassailable and the Rapparees prevailed on a score line of 2-14 to 1-16. This game to me really captured the competitive nature of this year’s championship a team who looked destined for a relegation dog fight pushed the county champions to the pin of their collar and very nearly caused a shock upset, losing by the slimmest of margins.
Ferns St. Aidan’s vs Glynn Barntown:
The penultimate quarter final saw Ferns St. Aidan’s take on Glynn Barntown. Ferns had notably been in excellent form in the round robin stage edging out the county champions by three points. Equally so Glynn Barntown had enjoyed a solid round robin campaign edging out last year’s beaten County Finalists St. Anne’s in a pulsating encounter. It must be said that this game did not quite have the same excitement and intensity which had defined the previous quarter finals.
With key men such as Paul Morris and Ian Byrne firing well for Ferns St. Aidan’s they took a decisive lead keeping Barntown at arm’s length. It was no doubt a rather frustrating game for Barntown as although they rallied with a late goal they were more often than not trailing their opponents by 3 points, a gap which proved impossible to bridge. Although the aforementioned late goal served to cut Fern’s six point lead back down to three, an error from Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning saw Ferns re-establish total dominance and in the end Ferns came out as comfortable winners on a scoreline of 2-18 to 1-14.
It was in the end a thoroughly disappointing performance from Barntown and a very tough way to exit the championship for a team who no doubt had serious ambitions of making an impression on this year’s championship. Ferns played a fluid, clever, agile and physical style of hurling and simply outclassed Glynn Barntown in the key areas of the pitch. Veteran Ferns player Benny Jordan served not only as a moral boost for Ferns drawing a rousing cheer from the Ferns’ support but also chipped in with some impressive shooting at crucial points in the game. Ferns may be the dark horses of this year’s championship and will certainly give the county champions a very good game in the semi final.
Ferns St. Aidan’s will now take on the Rapparees in the semi-final while Naomh Éanna will face St. Martin’s. Both semi finals promise to be closely contested affairs between skilled and well drilled sides. The championship thus far has been one to remember with drama, intensity and suspense in abundance, we can only hope that as the championship enters its latter stages we will continued to be spoilt with fantastic games of hurling. Indeed, the reputation of the Wexford Senior Hurling Championship as one of the most competitive country is a well earned one and 2022 has once again cemented this reputation.
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