Wexford aim to rebuild after too long in the wilderness
Innovative new programme hopes to expand amount of time children spend hurling
Wexford manager Liam Griffin celebates winning the 1996 All-Ireland final. The former manager and others have said that the county’s eye was taken off the development of young players. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Amidst all of the celebrations of last year’s memorable hurling championship, the continuing doldrums in one of the game’s great traditional strongholds was easy to overlook.
Wexford’s last All-Ireland is now 18 years in the rear-view mirror during which time only one Leinster title, now 10 years ago, has been added. There were some stirrings last year but for all the vicarious satisfaction in taking Dublin to a replay and Clare to extra time, the county still has nothing tangible to show for its efforts.
Although the under-21 grade has brought occasional relief – the county currently holds the Leinster title – there hasn’t been a lot to celebrate at under-age either.
The man with the daunting task of structuring a revival in the county’s fortunes is from Kilkenny – just over the border in Tullogher-Rosbercon. Murt Flynn is Wexford’s Coaching Officer and acknowledges that the picture from the outside can look bleak.
“It’s understandable. Nineteen ninety six is a long time ago. Liam Griffin and others have said that the county’s eye was taken off development on the assumption after winning the All-Ireland that the county would always be able to produce hurlers.
“In the past three or four years there’s been a much more strategic approach. Wexford produce as good a young hurler as anywhere else but self-belief is probably an issue as well as the weight of expectations. We need to teach them to free themselves and simply play.”
There have been all sorts of contributory factors to the county’s declining status. Kilkenny’s drive throughout the last decade to establish development squads and there has also been the emergence of Dublin hurling as the province’s second force at under-age and Wexford’s own best era in senior football since the 1950s. The latter issue makes Flynn’s position especially challenging in a county which has one of the highest dual participation rates in the country.
He cautions against “laying the struggles of one code at the feet of another” but accepts that careful management of dual players is necessary even if he disagrees with the purist creed of encouraging specialisation from a young age.
Since last autumn, Flynn has been overseeing an innovative programme to expand the amount of time that children can spend hurling. Hurling 365 has sought to bring together primary schools and local clubs with a view to devising a plan that will facilitate increased participation.
“The response has been phenomenal since we launched it with the clubs last August. Sixty six schools applied provisionally for it and we’ve 23 up and running and doing really well. The aim is to have by the end of the year 60 schools providing a programme of good quality coaching at the local club.”
If the efforts pay off – and he acknowledges that Clare’s patient rebuilding which was rewarded last year is a guiding light – Flynn sees Wexford hurling beginning to reconstitute in the not too distant future but says that the pressure has to be maintained.