A special year to remember
Brendan Furlong reflects on the glory of 50 years ago
THE FIRST Sunday of September, 1968, may well be remembered as the day of the hurling miracle.
For Wexford’s remarkable recovery, which sent them soaring from the depths of certain defeat to the peak of championship triumph in the second-half of the All-Ireland final, surely bordered on the miraculous.
When I look back on 1968, I can first recall the National Hurling League Final of 1956, which I attended as an eight-yearold on the usual family outing taking in Wexford’s games.
That was a game in which Wexford also staged a remarkable rally, believing we had witnessed the greatest second-half comeback of all time, and yes, it was Tipperary who provided the opposition.
But even that magnificent surge to victory melted into insignificance compared with the heroic recovery of that 1968 final.
In the 1956 league final, Wexford stepped out for the second-half of a game against Tipperary with a mighty gale in their backs, and there can be no denying it was an enormous help as they pulled down the big lead against them.
But on that Sunday of 50 years ago they had no such help. During half-time there can hardly have been one spectator of the 63,451 in Croke Park who anticipated a Wexford victory.
They had fallen behind in the sixth minute, and were eight points in arrears when they trudged to the dressing-room at half-time.
Then the storm broke. Team manager Padge Kehoe warmed their ears with a thundering lecture during the interval, and soup bowls and cups were sent crashing from the table as he ploughed his hurley in hand downwards with venom in his voice.
Wexford took the field with those words still ringing in their ears. They brought young John Quigley into the attack, moved Tony Doran to full-forward and Jack Berry to the left corner, with Paul Lynch going to centre-forward.
Quigley and Doran became scourges to the Tipperary defence. Paul Lynch with his deft overhead flicks took a previously dominant Mick Roche out of the game.
The fearless Quigley played with determination and brought new life and menace into the attack, while Doran carried Tipperary defenders on his broad back as he bashed home the goals, with Jack Berry also storming through for crucial goals.
One can recall his second-half goal, a left-handed strike across the body of ‘keeper John O’Donoghue into the opposite corner of the net, leading to the legendary Nickey Rackard racing onto the pitch, with arms raised, to give the Rathangan man a hug with delight, as emotions were running high.
This was a game brimful of hurling riches, which deserves to be cherished, particularly when one recalls captain Dan Quigley lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup as Wexford supporters stormed onto the pitch in sheer delight at what can best be described as a miracle victory.
It was a day when Wexford took the road to glory as earlier in the afternoon, the Minors made it a truly historic occasion when lifting the Irish Press Cup after an enthralling battle with Cork.
Wexford and Cork had met on several occasions in the lead up to this final, but it was the Model county boys who prevailed.
It was a golden year for Wexford, as a few weeks later it was the turn of the ladies to win the All-Ireland Senior camogie title for the very first time with a marvellous final performance.
But for Ned Power, it was also a year when he created his own piece of history, being the first trainer to guide a county to All-Ireland Senior and Minor titles on the same day, while earlier in the year he brought St. Peter’s College to All-Ireland success.
It was a special year but for me that first Sunday of September, 1968, will live long in the memory.
It did not all start there as earlier in the year I recall that magnificent St. Peter’s College team which beat the aristocrats of colleges hurling and football, Coláiste Chríost Rí of Cork, in the All-Ireland final following a replay, denying the Cork college the double in that year.
That was a display of pure hurling that laid the foundations for the county’s subsequent Minor success.
While all the celebrations were taking place, the ladies on the Wexford camogie squad were hiding away, continuing their preparations for the All-Ireland Senior final just two weeks following that glorious hurling day in Croke Park.
That was a final I equally enjoyed covering as I bore witness to that major breakthrough and a first All-Ireland Senior camogie title.
They impressively came through Leinster, going on to complete the job with a magnificent 4-2 to 2-5 victory over an experienced Cork side.
One could only marvel at the individual displays of Mary Sinnott, Margaret O’Leary, Brigid Doyle and team captain Mary Walsh, displays that set Croke Park alight as they announced their arrival on the camogie scene.
This marvellous photograph adequately conveys the sheer depth of Wexford’s success in 1968. As well as the various hurling and camogie trophies, it includes the handball cup won by Joe Howlin, Dick Lyng, Seamus Buggy and Jimmy King, the All-Ireland tug o’war trophy collected by Boley, and the boxing silverware that returned to the county.