Naomh Eanna looking to live up to John Mullane’s billing
Gorey side have won three of their four games by a single point on way to hurling decider
Naomh Eanna’s Conor McDonald (right) in action against Conor Goff of Oulart-The Ballagh during the Wexford SHC semi-final at Chadwicks Wexford Park. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
To give John Mullane his dues, he called it well before a ball was pucked in the Wexford hurling championship.
“The team that I think will come out on top are Naomh Eanna and I’ll tell you why,” said pundit Mullane, back in early July. “They were champions in 2018 and it’s very hard to do back-to-back championships so I would forgive them for last year. They know what it’s like to get over the line and they’ll be a lot hungrier this year.
“Naomh Eanna have also got two of the best forwards in Wexford in Conor McDonald and Cathal Dunbar. They’re two top-class players who will take plenty of watching and they should be reaching their prime now.”
As predicted, Naomh Eanna displayed that hunger Mullane referenced by winning both their group games by a point and last weekend’s semi-final against Oulart-The Ballagh by the same margin.
And as if to underline the Waterford legend’s powers of sorcery, McDonald hit the winner in their come from behind defeat of Oulart.
The problem, of course, is that an in-form and powerful Shelmaliers could still very well spoil Mullane’s grand prediction at Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday.
There was as good as nothing between the two teams when Gorey outfit Naomh Eanna edged a one-point game in Group D at the start of the month.
The broader picture is that simply bringing their county championship to a conclusion is a feat in itself.
When the Wexford championship threw in on July 17th with the Friday night televised fixture between holders St Martin’s and Oulart, not everyone was sure we’d reach this point. Other counties may still not.
“That was the biggest fear all along, that there’d be no hurling or football or that the whole thing would be shut down halfway through maybe,” said Louis Cullen, a selector in Naomh Eanna’s management team.
“In fairness to the GAA they’ve been fairly stringent on the rules and run a tight ship but if we were to have a spike of cases in Wexford this week sure the game could still be shelved, it’s that kind of a situation.”
Still, out of all that uncertainty and, at times, improvisation has come some tangible gains that Cullen hopes can be carried for future seasons.
He is all in, for example, on the idea of preserving a split season, a format that the GAA stumbled upon.
“When everyone gets their head together and realises how enjoyable it has been I’d hope they’ll realise this is the way forward,” said Cullen.
“I’ll give you an example from our own club here, we have four adult hurling teams at the moment which is unheard of but there’s a defined season there and players are happy to commit to that. It’s not a case of, ‘sure we’ll have two games in April and then we’ll hang on for three or four months until Wexford are gone out of the championship’. I’m all for Wexford winning matches but club players deserve their time.
“Prior to us playing in the championship, there was a four- or five-week gap and we played two or three practice matches against clubs from Dublin, Waterford and Kilkenny. We had all our players and they had all their players and it just opened your eyes to the whole thing, that this is how it should be and how it can be.
“Whereas normally we’d have a few fellas away with the Wexford seniors, a few fellas with their under-20s, you mightn’t see them for a couple of months and then you’re getting them back a week or two before a championship game. It just seems a no-brainer to me, have a definite intercounty season where a county player is a county player and then have your club season.”
As for Mullane’s prediction, Cullen isn’t about to jump onboard, pointing out the fine margins involved in winning three of their four games by a point.
“Nearly all of our games have come right down to the wire, they’ve been decided at the death,” he said. “I have to give the lads great credit for that. Maybe at other times they mightn’t have stuck at it.”
Wexford stars McDonald and Dunbar remain Eanna’s blue-chip attackers though the loss of key defender Eoin Molloy following a cruciate injury early in their quarter-final defeat of Ferns is a blow.
Shelmaliers fought back from a slow start against Glynn-Barntown last weekend to power through to the final with a 3-20 to 0-16 win. Wexford’s Simon Donohoe is their defensive rock and gave his own impassioned plea for the split season to be retained following that semi-final.
It’s “the way forward” said Donohoe, identifying the one apparent positive to have come out of a season that some thought might never materialise but which, in Wexford at least, they are almost at the end of.