Mighty men of Wex­ford de­liv­ered in style

He­roes re­cov­ered from half-time deficit of eight points to top­ple Tip­per­ary

Wexford People - - SPORT - BREN­DAN FUR­LONG Sports re­porter

‘TWIXT Croghan-Kin­shela and Hook Head, ‘twixt Carn­sore and Mount Le­in­ster, there is as good a mass of men as ever sus­tained a State, and as stout a mass as ever tramped through a stub­born bat­tle.’

Thomas Davis penned these lines in praise of the mighty men of Wex­ford more than one hun­dred and fifty years ago, and no one since has dared deny the wis­dom of the pa­triot’s words.

A re­minder of their truth was brought home forcibly to the hurl­ing world on the first Sun­day of Septem­ber, 1968, when a dash­ing young Slaney­side com­bi­na­tion con­founded the crit­ics and won the All-Ire­land Se­nior ti­tle for the first time since 1960 by de­feat­ing Tip­per­ary by 5-8 to 3-12.

It was the man­ner in which vic­tory was achieved that caused this to be the great­est of all Wex­ford’s great vic­to­ries.

Trail­ing by no less than ten points af­ter 26 min­utes, the storm­ing Slaneysiders, play­ing like men pos­sessed, were on level terms 14 min­utes be­fore the fin­ish and, with two min­utes re­main­ing to play, had a fan­tas­tic lead of 5-8 to 1-12.

Fol­low­ing a first-half of ut­ter frus­tra­tion in which the Tip­per­ary vet­er­ans played havoc with the Wex­ford back di­vi­sion and the Mun­ster de­fend­ers com­pletely con­trolled the other end of the pitch, gloomy prospects con­fronted the Le­in­ster chal­lengers as they trooped to the dress­ing-rooms trail­ing by eight points (1-11 to 1-3).

The ma­jor­ity ex­pected a bet­ter show­ing in the sec­ond moi­ety, but only a very few fore­told or even guessed at the com­plete re­ver­sal of first-half form that was to come.

Such hurl­ing splen­dour, such courage, ded­i­ca­tion and en­durance sel­dom be­fore was ex­hib­ited in an All-Ire­land hurl­ing fi­nal.

From the open­ing minute of the sec­ond pe­riod, it was plainly ev­i­dent that Wex­ford were pre­pared to give their last shred of en­ergy in their bid to snatch the hon­ours.

To many it ap­peared a hope­less task, but each pul­sat­ing minute brought new hope, and scin­til­lat­ing scores caused con­ster­na­tion in the ranks of the ri­vals.

There were shades of that hurl­ing epic of 1956 when an­other mighty Wex­ford team gave a su­perb Tip­per­ary side an in­ter­val lead of 15 points and a se­vere beat­ing be­fore the fi­nal whis­tle.

But it has been ar­gued many time since that the vic­tors on that oc­ca­sion were aided by a near gale-force wind, and it had also been hinted time and again that an eclipse of that kind could not oc­cur in an All-Ire­land.

There was no wind worth talk­ing about in that All-Ire­land fi­nal clash, and the feat of chang­ing a deficit of ten points into a lead of eight in the space of 18 min­utes will go down in the record books as the great­est hurl­ing achieve­ment of all time.

There is an­other, and much more im­por­tant, fac­tor, and that is the tre­men­dous good this clas­sic ex­hi­bi­tion did for the game. The im­age of our na­tional game at the time was in need of a shot in the arm and Wex­ford pro­vided it.

The re­fusal to ac­cept de­feat, the will­ing­ness at all times to give sup­port­ers value for money, al­lied to skill and su­perb sports­man­ship, stamped this Wex­ford team as one of the all-time greats.

One must be ex­cused for again quot­ing from Thomas Davis’ ‘Mem­o­ries of Wex­ford’: ‘Great hearts, how faith­ful ye were! How ye bris­tled up when the foe came on, how you set your teeth to die as his shells and round-shot fell steadily; and with how firm a cheer ye dashed at him, if he gave you any chance at all of a grap­ple!’

How like the fight­ing men of ‘98 were these great hurl­ing war­riors on that fa­mous Sun­day af­ter­noon? The po­ten­tial they dis­played in the age-limit ranks and the touches of ge­nius which we had re­ceived glimpses of ear­lier in the year, at New Ross, Wem­b­ley and Coven­try, were served to sup­port­ers in rich and gen­er­ous help­ings so that many were left al­most help­less with seething ex­cite­ment long be­fore the fi­nal whis­tle.

If Tip­per­ary burst back on the scene late in the game with a kicked goal by Seán McLough­lin and a ‘Babs’ Keat­ing free, they were scores en­tirely against the run of play and there was al­ways con­fi­dence that Wex­ford would emerge.

In fact, it was a game that Wex­ford should have won in very com­fort­able fash­ion. Twice they had the ball in the Tip­per­ary net (Tony Do­ran and Christy Ja­cob), but to the con­ster­na­tion of fol­low­ers both goals were dis­al­lowed and a free to Wex­ford awarded.

Paul Lynch hit a point from one of those frees, while his sec­ond - a shot for goal was saved and cleared.

A lesser side than this Wex­ford one would have been de­mor­alised by such cruel ill-luck. But no!

They stormed their op­po­nents’ ci­tadel con­tin­u­ously in the sec­ond-half, go­ing from strength to strength. The speed we knew they pos­sessed left the op­po­si­tion flat-footed and tore great gaps in their de­fence.

The fact that Tip­per­ary man­aged to score only one point be­tween the 28th and 58th min­utes of the game is pos­i­tive proof of the dom­i­nance of the Wex­ford men and par­tic­u­larly that of the de­fence, af­ter a change of ends.

The tame open­ing gave no clues to the sec­ond-half fire­works.

As the teams lined out, Jack Berry im­me­di­ately went to full-for­ward and Sea­mus Whe­lan to the left cor­ner. Dan Quigley set Wex­ford at­tack­ing and Paul Lynch pointed from mid­field.

But sub­se­quently the Wex­ford backs were un­der se­vere pres­sure and Tip­per­ary’s half-backs and mid­field­ers were in no small way con­tribut­ing to that sit­u­a­tion.

Tip­per­ary swept into a 0-7 to 0-3 lead. At this stage Michael Roche at cen­tre-back was prac­ti­cally un­beat­able, but Dan Quigley ri­valled him in great­ness.

Tip­per­ary’s at­tack­ing pol­icy was based on ‘Mackey’ McKenna leav­ing his full-for­ward berth and tak­ing Ed­die Kelly out­field, and Seán McLough­lin re­main­ing on the fringe of the square.

The dan­ger to the Wex­ford de­fence was quickly shown, when McKenna placed McLough­lin for a point, and then the same player put the fin­ish­ing touches to a line ball by Donie Nealon for the first goal of the game, and Tip­per­ary led by 1-10 to 0-3.

There fol­lowed a se­ries of ter­ri­ble misses from the Wex­ford for­ward line, but a Jack Berry goal just on the break re­duced the deficit to 1-11 to 1-3 at the in­ter­val.

Man­ager Padge Ke­hoe made the changes at half-time. The flame-haired John Quigley ap­peared for the in­jured ‘Shanks’ Whe­lan, and Jack Berry switched to the left cor­ner with Tony Do­ran at full. Paul Lynch was the new cen­tre-for­ward, with Christy Ja­cob on his left, and Jimmy O’Brien on his right. In fact, Ja­cob was the only for­ward to hold his orig­i­nal po­si­tion.

Keeper Pat Nolan was quickly called into ac­tion with a div­ing save from Liam De­vaney. Wil­lie Mur­phy cleared up­field and Jack Berry sent over a lovely point, the start of the re­cov­ery.

Paul Lynch and Phil Wil­son stormed into the game. Lynch with his deft over­head flicks was deny­ing a pre­vi­ously dom­i­nant Michael Roche pos­ses­sion, while Wil­son was win­ning the ball all over the pitch and driv­ing his side on.

Vin­nie Sta­ples cleared his lines and ex­cel­lent work by Phil Wil­son saw him send in a high cen­tre. Tony Do­ran car­ried three de­fend­ers as he bounded for goal and his great stroke found the left-hand cor­ner of the net.

Now only four points (1-11 to 2-4) sep­a­rated the sides. Wil­son and Dave Bernie were roar­ing in mid­field, but it was end-to-end, with Pat Nolan once again sav­ing ex­cel­lently, leav­ing Tom Neville to clear his lines.

Tony Do­ran was fouled in pos­ses­sion and the teams were level when Paul Lynch blazed the re­sult­ing free to the roof of the Tip­per­ary net (3-6 to 1-12) with 14 min­utes re­main­ing.

A roar that shook the foun­da­tions of the Ho­gan Stand greeted Lynch’s ef­fort. Tip­per­ary were reel­ing un­der the fury of the Wex­ford on­slaught.

They had no an­swer to the high, lob­bing shots be­ing rained on their goal by Phil Wil­son, Dave Bernie, Wil­lie Mur­phy, Vin­nie Sta­ples, Dan Quigley and com­pany.

Within sec­onds of Lynch’s goal, John O’Donoghue made two tre­men­dous saves, one from John Quigley and then a Jack Berry hand­pass.

Eight min­utes be­fore the fin­ish, Phil Wil­son placed Paul Lynch and the lat­ter’s neat dou­ble found Tony Do­ran. Do­ran’s quick turn baf­fled John Costi­gan and he beat the ad­vanc­ing J a hand­pass. A goal in front and how the fol­low­ers loved it.

Jimmy O’Brien sent over a glo­ri­ous point to make it a four-point lead. At the op­po­site end Pat Nolan saved from Donie Nealon, and Dan Quigley had cleared a ‘Babs’ Keat­ing ‘21.

John Quigley and Paul Lynch com­bined to set up an op­por­tu­nity for Jack Berry, and his left-handed strike beat O’Donoghue in the Tipp goal, while a Tony Do­ran point left Wex­ford lead­ing by 5-8 to 1-12 three min­utes from the end. Then came what proved two con­so­la­tion Tipp. goals.

Wex­ford: Pat Nolan (Oyle­gate-Glen­brien); Tom Neville (Geral­dine O’Hanrahans), Ed­die Kelly (En­nis­cor­thy St. Ai­dan’s), Ned Colfer (Geral­dine O’Hanrahans); Vin­nie Sta­ples (St. Mar­tin’s), Dan Quigley (Rath­nure, capt.), Wil­lie Mur­phy (Faythe Har­rie rs); Phil Wil­son (Ballyhogue-David­stown),

Dave Bernie (Ferns St. Ai­dan’s); Christy Ja­cob (Ou­lart-The Bal­lagh), Tony Do­ran (Buf­fers Al­ley, 2-1), Paul Lynch (Sham­rocks, 1-3, 1-2 frees); Jimmy O’Brien (Geral­dine O’Hanrahans, 0-2), Sea­mus Whe­lan (St. Mar­tin’s), Jack Berry (Kil­more-Rathangan, 2-2). Subs. - John Quigley (Rath­nure) for Whe­lan, Teddy O’Con­nor (Rath­nure) for Sta­ples, also Pat Nolan (Geral­dine O’Hanrahans), Michael Kin­sella (Buf­fers Al­ley), Michael Ja­cob (Ou­lart-The Bal­lagh), Sea­mus Bar­ron (Rath­nure), Ned Buggy (Faythe Har­ri­ers), Mick Browne (Faythe Har­ri­ers), Jimmy Fur­long (Adamstown).

The best stroke of the 1968 All-Ire­land Se­nior hurl­ing fi­nal was ex­e­cuted not on the field of play but in the Wex­ford dress­ing-room, a room in which dis­il­lu­sion­ment, dis­ap­point­ment and pes­simism were the per­vad­ing emo­tions at half-time.

The huge Wex­ford sec­tion in the at­ten­dance watched in silent ap­pre­hen­sion as a de­spon­dent team walked to the dress­ing-room at the in­ter­val, their steps drag­ging with the weight of the eight points deficit on the score­board.

Watch­ing from a po­si­tion in front of the play­ers’ tun­nel was Padge Ke­hoe, the Wex­ford team man­ager and for­mer win­ner of the Sports Star of the Past Award, anx­iously watch­ing the play­ers’ re­ac­tion to their plight and hold­ing a se­cre­tive con­ver­sa­tion with for­mer All-Ire­land col­league of the mid-fifties, Nickey Rackard.

Shortly af­ter the last play­ers, Ned Colfer and Pat Nolan, had dis­ap­pered into the tun­nel, the brains be­hind the cam­paign that led Wex­ford to their 14th All-Ire­land fi­nal turned and, with a pur­pose­ful step, strode with omi­nous in­tent to­wards the dress­ing-room, his eyes sparkling with the glint of bat­tle.

In­side the dress­ing-room, in crypt-like si­lence, the team was gath­ered while soup and re­fresh­ments were ar­rayed on a ta­ble.

Through the door the team man­ager stormed, typ­i­cally car­ry­ing a hur­ley. The ebul­lient Padge then be­gan a tirade that had an in­spir­ing ef­fect on the team.

The hur­ley swept down again and again as the man­ager em­pha­sised his words. The ta­ble shook with the force of his blows and from it crashed a col­lec­tion of crock­ery.

Padge had a few straight words to put to the team. He told them to get their pri­or­i­ties right.

He stressed their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and obli­ga­tions to their county and their thou­sands of sup­port­ers and sent them out to win.

They walked back out, un­der­dogs and badly in ar­rears, and they did just that.

The Wex­ford Se­nior se­lec­tors of 1968 were: Tom Dono­hoe (Buf­fers Al­ley), Mick O’Han­lon (Horeswood), Nick Cardiff (St. Mar­tin’s), Syl Bar­ron (Rath­nure), Nickey Rackard (Rath­nure). Team man­ager: Padge Ke­hoe (En­nis­cor­thy St. Ai­dan’s). Team trainer: Ned Power (St. Peter’s Col­lege).

Wex­ford’s achieve­ment in bring­ing off the dou­ble was all the more no­table as it was the first time the county was rep­re­sented in both fi­nals on the same day, and the first time that the dou­ble was achieved since Tip­per­ary’s vic­to­ries in 1949.

It was also the first Wex­ford side to win an All-Ire­land on which all the mem­bers of the Se­nior team were Wex­ford born.

The All-Ire­land win­ning Wex­ford Se­nior hurlers of 1968. Back (from left): Dan Quigley (capt.), Ed­die Kelly, W Dave Bernie. Front (from left): Pat Nolan, Sea­mus ‘Shanks’ Whe­lan, Paul Lynch, Christy Ja­cob, Vin­nie Stapl

Dan Quigley re­ceiv­ing the Liam MacCarthy Cup from G.A.A. Pres­i­dent Sea­mus O Ri­ain, him­self a na­tive of Tip­per­ary.

il­lie Mur­phy, Jack Berry, Phil Wil­son, Tom Neville, Tony Do­ran, es, Jimmy O’Brien, Ned Colfer.

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