The thundering rain and all round poor conditions in Croke Park provided the setting for the Wexford and Kildare encounter on Saturday evening last.
There’s been a lot of armchair perspectives on this game as many rushed to condemn it as a poor quality encounter between the sides. It was deemed by the Irish Independent that football was the ‘real loser’ on Saturday evening.
We knew that there was going to be little more than lip service paid to this game as every expert in the country frantically bit their nails with worry that Wexford would be on the receiving end of a hiding. They begged with us to look at the league standings. How could a team in Division 4 possibly even contemplate beating a team promoted to Division 2?
I’ve written a lot about lazy analysis and the token approaches to games not involving the favourite children but it seems now more than ever that before you think to preview or analyse a game, you must first look at the league. The league lads, look at the league!
As a Wexford supporter, Saturday evening was one of the most disappointing experiences in recent years. It had nothing to do with the quality of football, as I personally thought some of the scores and defending from both sides were actually top quality, but more to do with knowing how much a win would have benefited this team.
I plucked up the courage to read the national newspapers and watch the ‘analysis’ on the Sunday Game waiting to hear how the injuries to Michael Furlong, Brian Malone and Colm Kehoe during the game seriously impacted Wexford’s ability to drive at Kildare in the second half. I waited to hear how Wexford were without young Naomhan Rossiter and Michael O’Regan due to injuries before the game.
I’m still waiting.
There wasn’t a single mention of any of these factors. They’re not excuses either. Wexford had chances in the last minutes of the game to draw level but just couldn’t seem to get the kick in. Yet the analysis of this game seemed to focus on how disappointing a result this was for Kildare, how they’ll be hurting following the game. There seemed to be genuine dismay that Kildare did not hammer Wexford. I thought about it for a while and I think I’ve cracked it.
The majority of journalists, pundits, experts etc. don’t actually know a lot about certain counties and have become so institutionalised by the ‘top 4/5/6’ that any break from that has them smashing the ‘in case of emergency glass’.
The B Championship reared its ugly head again last night on the Sunday Game as a possible solution for the so-called weaker counties and their issues. Tomás Ó Sé claimed that this is an avenue that counties need to seriously consider, before changing his mind and suggesting that he wouldn’t insult counties by calling it a B Championship.
So basically to sum up: let’s have a B Championship but we won’t call it a B Championship because nobody wants to play in a B Championship, let’s call it something else instead and then everyone will want to play in it. Hooray!
So instead of insulting counties by suggesting they play in a B Championship, let’s just insult their intelligence instead and change the name.
It was like something from a mildly funny Simpsons episode.
It has come to the stage now that certain counties are not just playing for their county, their jersey, their love of the game, it now seems that certain counties have to play to justify their position in the championship.
Had common sense prevailed on Saturday and Rory Hickey allowed play to develop following the Kildare black card, we could very simply be looking at a replay which could have seen Wexford prevail.
These experts have pointed to the stories from Galway and Longford where many young men have chosen not to play for their county as a sign that football is in terrible trouble and something ‘needs to be done’. What they don’t seem to understand is that if these men don’t want to play for their county now, they will hardly be queuing up to play in the ‘legendary past player who all players aspire to be like but won’t be because they’re not allowed to play in the same competition as this legendary player Cup’. Some people don’t want to play for their county. It’s simple. It’s completely understandable. It’s not an emergency. The GAA will always be strong if it sticks to its ethos.
Managers like David Power are trying to build a team, a strong competitive team who can mix it with anyone. Playing a second tier championship will destroy those plans and that is guaranteed.
Michael Furlong went off injured in the first half on Saturday with what looked like a serious injury. The young Adamstown man is just back from a year’s layoff following a cruciate ligament injury. Furlong is one of the toughest, most talented defenders in the game who has put his body on the line for Wexford football for a number of years. As has Ciarán Lyng, Daithi Waters, Anthony Masterson, Brian Malone, Ben Brosnan and a host of others.
It may come as a surprise to these experts who wring their hands annually about these players and these counties, but these men actually want to play football for Wexford. It’s shocking isn’t it? And there’s more to come also. Donal Shanley, Jim Rossiter, Niall Hughes, Syl Byrne and many others are chomping at the bit to play football for Wexford.
So go wring your hands at football if you want. Just make sure you’re ready to shake hands with those who stuck with it when the time comes.
Which it will.
Ciara O’Toole, Pundit Arena
Listen: The 16th Man Podcast. Brian Barry and Seán Cremin discuss all things topical this week in GAA; Cork sweepers, Mayo for Sam, and the future of the provincial championships. Kerry hurler John Egan is also on the line to discuss the small ball in the Kingdom.