No Leinster Hurling Championship semi-final has ever captured the imagination more than the June 10 clash between Wexford and Kilkenny.
The fact that Wexford have already beaten Kilkenny this year gives the Model county supporters cause for hope, and nobody does hope quite like us Wexford supporters. It’s the hope that kills you, they say, but it’s also the hope that keeps you going. Hoping against all odds, and shortened odds, hoping against experience, against reason and sanity. But, we can hope.
This Wexford team won’t be relying on hope or luck, however. This is a side brimming with talent, confidence, intelligence and attitude. These players won’t be hoping; they’ll know that they can be good enough to win this but, for supporters, hope is what we rely on.
The Davy Fitz factor has been spoken about at length but it’s the Conor McDonald factor, the Lee Chin and Jack O’Connor factor and the Shaun Murphy factor that has Wexford people talking…. and hoping.
The Yellowbellies have talent; raw talent that can rival any All-Star or All-Ireland winner the length of the country. Wexford people can be proud of these players. The Slaneysiders have always been proud but there’s something different about this team – something extra. They’re young but they’ve tasted success and they’re hungry for more.
Conor McDonald said recently that he just wants to win every game, and that kind of mentality sums up this team. They’re ambitious and fearless in their quest for success. They haven’t got as many scars as those who have gone before. They’ve shown this with brave comeback victories against Limerick and Galway this year so far.
They’re not worried about the status quo in Leinster. They’ve already slain Kilkenny in their own backyard this year and took it in their stride with no wild celebrations. A sense of accomplishment and onto the next day. Meanwhile, Wexford supporters were in dreamland with Kilkenny beaten.
Okay, it was the league, but it’s still Kilkenny. Wexford supporters didn’t exactly strut out of Nowlan Park but our heads were held up high and there was a definite spring in the step; something not too many are accustomed to on the Hebron Road.
Spring, however, is the key word. Kilkenny in the summer are a different animal, and no matter how much they claimed over the years that they wanted to see Wexford back competing. They’ll be coming to Wexford to not only beat Fitzgerald’s men but to not so gently remind them of their place in the hurling food chain.
Although Wexford are humming with anticipation ahead of Saturday evening, with tickets like gold dust, talk of the match is quieter than it was two years ago. We’ve been burned before. 2015 is still fairly fresh is the minds of many Wexford people who went to Nowlan Park with the sandwiches, flask of tea and expectation, only to return home with an empty lunchbox and a heavy heart.
Michael Fennelly and Ger Aylward are expected to be fully fit for Saturday evening and that will add a dimension to Kilkenny’s game that was missing in April. Nobody kills hope quite like Kilkenny, and Wexford know that better than anyone. But the Yellowbellies are playing with a steeliness and workmanlike aspect to their game, along with some of the most stylish hurling we’ve seen.
Wexford can win this match and both themselves and Kilkenny know this. There are no guarantees in life or hurling though, only hope. They say it’s the hope that kills you but they also say that hope never dies. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Where there’s hurling, there’s hope and where there’s Wexford, there’s always hope.
Ciara O’Toole, Pundit Arena
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