That first Sun­day of Septem­ber will never be for­got­ten

Wexford People - - SPORT -

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.

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