North End deliver, but Wexford let a great chance slip
FOR ANYONE involved in amateur sport, either as a player or a mentor, there’s no better feeling than the 60 seconds in the immediate aftermath of an All-Ireland triumph. Sheer ecstasy is the only way to describe it, and it’s the exact same upon waking up the following morning; that’s if you managed to get to sleep in the first place.
Everyone associated with North End United will know exactly what I mean after their thrilling triumph in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Thanks to a live stream, I was able to watch the drama unfold on my phone from the press-box in Innovate Wexford Park, and the penalty shoot-out conveniently ended just as the Under-17 hurling game began.
Fair play to the six men involved in that dramatic conclusion, the five goalscorers plus netminder Lee Walker.
It took a team and full squad effort to bring the title home, but that sextet really stepped up when the pressure was at its greatest.
There must no better way to win an All-Ireland title than with the last successful kick at the end of a marathon struggle, and Gary Delaney was coolness personified as he tucked it home.
I hope John Godkin and his talented crew enjoy every second of being the best Junior soccer team in the Republic of Ireland.
Nobody will ever be able to take that achievement away from this group, regardless of where their sporting paths will take them in the years to come.
They are superb ambassadors for club, town and county, and they did us all proud.
And at half-time in the Leinster Senior football championship game later that evening, it looked like an unfancied Wexford were going to cap a memorable day for sport in the county, given that Tadhg Furlong had also brought a European Champions Cup medal home with Leinster.
I reckon I’m part of a tiny minority, having watched every second of competitive football played by this team since their O’Byrne Cup opener against Offaly in Tullamore on December 30.
I’ve followed them to Enniskillen, Sligo, Derry and Longford among other venues, and I must confess that I didn’t think they were capable of producing the type of first-half display that everyone witnessed on Saturday.
And yet, there has to be a lingering sense of frustration at their inability to get the job done.
The tag of gallant losers shouldn’t rest easily on the shoulders of an inter-county football team, and the praise they received for that first 35 minutes cannot mask the fact that letting a ten-point lead slip represents a spectacular turnaround in fortunes.
Wexford lacked the cuteness to see the game out, both on and off the field in my opinion.
It was obvious from an early stage in the second-half that the route one ball to big Donie Kingston was going to be the number one ploy from Laois, and we were very slow to respond to the danger.
And then, after Donal Shanley pointed that late penalty, somebody on the Wexford team needed to step up and take a black card to preserve the lead.
At that level of sport, being nice will get you nowhere, and the most successful teams are the ones who adopt a win at all costs approach.
Whether we like it or not, that’s the way it is, and I for one would have been delighted to see a Wexford player wrestling an opponent to the ground to stifle that last Laois attack.
It could be argued, of course, that nobody was able to get close enough to an opponent to do the deed, because the players appeared to be out on their feet at that stage.
Clearly it had taken a herculean effort to establish that ten-point interval lead, but it was worrying that we didn’t seem to have the necessary physical conditioning to last the full 70 minutes and longer.
It was a golden opportunity wasted, and now it remains to be seen where the qualifier draw will take us. Hopefully the harsh lessons of Saturday will be taken on board for the next outing.