That first Sunday of September will never be forgotten
WHILE THE 1950s will be looked upon as the decade that saw pride restored in Wexford hurling, the 1960s will surely go down as one of the greatest in the history of the game in the county.
It was through the 1950s that one saw the great games involving Wexford and Cork and, superb though they were, they were replaced through the 1960s with the clashes that produced that great Wexford versus Tipperary rivalry.
The Wexford and Tipperary tussles will be remembered for all that was good about the great game of hurling, particularly those clashes through the sixties, but 1968 will recalled as one of the best games of all, marked by what can best be described as one of the greatest-ever comebacks witnessed in an All-Ireland final.
Maybe it was the manner in which victory was achieved as they staged a remarkable second-half recovery, when all seemed lost at the interval whistle, as the Premier county looked to have built an insurmountable lead.
Whenever the game is recalled, one will hear various stories as to what transpired in the Model county dressing-room during the break. One could see Padge Kehoe and the legendary Nickey Rackard having a quick talk on the pitch before entering the dressing room, for what proved an inspiring speech.
Kehoe took centre stage, with cups of tea on the table, but with a quick few words followed by a blow of the hurley across the table, cups were sent in different directions.
The Wexford players were left in doubt as to what he thought of their first-half performance, as they resumed a transformed side as they dismantled what was up to then a superb Tipperary team.
Seldom if ever have I seen a Wexford crowd respond in such manner to what was an inspired second-half display. For 30-odd minutes they took over Croke Park as players like Pat Nolan, Tom Neville, Willie Murphy, Dan Quigley, Phil Wilson, Paul Lynch, Tony Doran and Jack Berry provided the type of response that left Tipperary shocked and in disarray as their tag of favourites was simply thrown out the window.
This was a time that called for something special. Kehoe and his selectors brought John Quigley from the bench into the attack, and the red-haired young Rathnure attacker produced the attacking ideas and flair to unhinge the Tipperary defence with a display that defied his young age.
For the opening 30 minutes it was the Mick Roche show as he turned in an exhibition of centre-back play that was driving his side towards eventual glory. But the switch of Paul Lynch to centre-forward transformed Wexford as the Enniscorthy player totally outplayed Roche through the second period.
Then at the opposite end one witnessed Wexford centre-back and captain, Dan Quigley, take command of the game. Leading by example, he dominated the Tipperary attack with his quality defending and lengthy clearances.
That September day in Croke Park brought fresh impetus to the game of hurling in the county as, earlier in the afternoon, the Minor side lifted the Irish Press Cup with victory over Cork.
It was a first in so many ways for Wexford. It was the first time they appeared in Senior and Minor All-Ireland finals on the same day, and it was the first time they achieved an historic double.
The Minor victory was feted and cherished every bit as much as the Senior success. For far too long Wexford had been waiting for such a day, a day that counties such as Kilkenny, Cork, Galway and Tipperary have become accustomed to.
It did not end on the first Sunday in September either, as two weeks later the Senior camogie team lifted the O’Duffy Cup for the very first time with victory over Cork, yet another remarkable breakthrough.
Wexford swept the boards in 1968 in what will go down as one of the most remarkable years in the history of G.A.A. in the county.
I had the privilege of being part of the occasion through my coverage of the games. It was a year I will always cherish and recall through the many debates one can have on occasions when great Wexford hurling feats are recalled.
On that Sunday in September, Croke Park was awash with purple and gold, which was only surpassed in the homecoming the following evening, as crowds gathered from Arklow through to Wexford town in a huge outpouring of relief and excitement.