Pat O Toole explains why he believes that town teams are vital to the success of our games.
The importance of having strong town teams cannot be over-estimated. Wexford have never achieved glory without the swagger of the “townies”, from Artie Foley and Ned Wheeler in the fifties, Paul Lynch and “Hopper” McGrath in the sixties, and Ger Cush, Billy Byrne, Adrian Fenlon and Larry O Gorman in 1996. It matters little if these players were from the heart of their town, or country boys wearing a town club’s colours, they always seem to have that little bit of arrogance about them.
My own favourite town team was the Harriers outfit of the late 1970’s- early ‘80’s. They featured in a number of classic matches, losing out to Rathnure by a single point after three epic encounters in 1979, before finally achieving glory two years later, seeing off Buffer’s Alley.
That team was sprinkled with county hurlers like Willie Murphy, Ned Buggy, Eddie “Heffo” Walsh and Liam Bennett, but my own favourite player was John “Stella” Walker. He was a real stylist, and his battles with Dan Quigley and Colm Doran were worth the admission fee alone. Every club back then seemed to have one “touch” hurler, the likes of Seanie Kinsella (Gorey) Tom Byrne (Oulart) John Fleming (Cloughbawn) Seamus O Leary (Buffer’s Alley), John Codd (Rathnure), Arthur O Connor (St Martins) and Martin Quigley (Rathnure).
All the town teams were competitive then too. Rapparees won a County title in 1978, with Paudge Courtney, Jim Rigley and a veteran Phil Wilson prominent, and I remember both Naomh Eanna and Geraldine O Hanrahan’s in County semi-finals, led by the likes of the Kinsellas and Sammy Walker (Gorey) and Jack Russell and the great John Nolan ( New Ross). It’s great to see Naomh Eanna and the Rapps in the minor final to-day, and the hope must be that both sets of players feed into their clubs senior teams, and are returning here soon to compete in County Senior finals. .
Of course, as a country boy, I’m not denigrating the wonderful success of Oulart-The Ballagh over the last twenty years. Their domination of club hurling in Wexford over that time has set a standard all other clubs must aspire to. As a Ferns man, I would have loved for us to have lowered their colours in the quarter-final, and we came damned close. As a Ferns man, (I can’t believe I’m saying this), it was saddening to see Buffers Alley relegated out of the senior ranks last month. For the good of Wexford hurling, we need them back near the top as soon as possible. We need all our clubs humming, town and country alike. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if today’s final was the start of an epic rivalry over three matches like those games in 1979, maybe not for the teams, but certainly for the rest of us.
Good luck to all four teams