Wexford’s split season for hurling and football championships has proved popular with clubs in a county with high numbers of dual players but it may have a downside when it comes to provincial competition.
Declan Ruth is manager of Rapparees, winners of the Wexford hurling title for the first time in 43 years. On Saturday they were well beaten by Laois champions Clough-Ballacolla in a convincing Leinster quarter-final display but Ruth feels that the timing of the county final, 11 weeks previously, played a role.
The Enniscorthy club's performance in the final was lauded in the Wexford People by Alan Aherne as "the finest collective team display I have ever seen in a lifetime of watching county finals". But the players were unable to pick up the thread of this form in time for last weekend.
Instead the season moved straight to football, which is a big presence for the Starlights side of the Rapparees-Starlights club, county champions themselves twice in the last five years. There are by Ruth's reckoning, "13 or 14 on both teams".
“It’s a huge disadvantage. As soon as we won the county, our lads had to down tools and turn their attention to football. Starlights would expect to be involved in the later stages of the football and got knocked out in the quarter-finals, which gave us an extra two weeks – three altogether – to get ready for the Leinster hurling.
“You wouldn’t want to be going into the county championship without six or seven weeks’ preparation.”
He acknowledges that it's a Catch 22 situation in a county that used to alternate the two championships in the way that Loughmore-Castleiney have been coping with in their 17-week march to a Tipperary double.
“It just ended up that clubs who concentrated on hurling generally won the championship. We wouldn’t have won this year without the new system but it has made it very difficult to follow through in Leinster.
“I saw it on Saturday, the fumbling, the poor touch and dropping balls. I thought we could scrape a win and give ourselves two more weeks to get ready for a semi-final but Clough-Ballacolla won their county three weeks ago and were too good not to take advantage.”
Random bad luck also played a part. Originally scheduled for Sunday, the fixture was switched to Saturday for live broadcast on RTÉ.
“The guys we have don’t just play football but some of them soccer and rugby as well and the longer the year goes on, the deeper into those seasons you get. Nick Doyle’s a big player for us [literally, at 6ft 7in] but he was playing rugby with Enniscorthy on Saturday.
"People might point at Ballygunner [Waterford champions, who won well in Munster on Sunday, eight weeks after winning the county title] but they're at a different level of development – that was their eighth in a row – and they would have been focused on hurling for all the weeks in between."