One of the most treasured gems of information – for me at least – pertaining to the history of St Peter’s GAA Club in Dunboyne is the inexorable link between the establishment of things in the locality in 1902 and Bob O’Keefe. A native of Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, he was teaching in the town at the time.
Of course, those who compete for the often much maligned Leinster SHC strive to attain the magnificent trophy named in his honour. Perhaps even more so than the abundance of silverware available across the codes each September, the Bob O’Keefe Cup is surely the most magnificent trophy available anywhere in Irish sport.
Innumerable members of our club have gone on to perform with distinction throughout the generations and hopefully forever will, but, recently, the link between the area and the famed Guiney hurling dynasty from Wexford gained particular prominence in the thought stream. 1996 is a year many of us will never forget – thanks to our own Brendan Reilly kicking the point that landed the All Ireland title – the third of four under the guidance of Sean Boylan.
Elsewhere in the country however “What’s the story Martin Storey?” became the war cry of the summer. Even with a limited grasp of the hurling scene when I was growing up, the displays of people like the O’Connor brothers – Eddie and Willie – Pat O’Neill, John Power, DJ Carey, John Leahy, Pat Fox, Nicky English and Gerry McInerney’s white boots stood out!
Success for Kilkenny generally rode shotgun with valiant yet fruitless heroics by gallant Wexford warriors. Storey foremost among them, though he was ably abetted by comrades such as John and George O’Connor, Larry O’Gorman, Liam Dunne, Larry Murphy, Tom Dempsey and my personal favourite, Billy Byrne.
Liam Griffin liberated them that year – in the midst of what was a wonderful period for the small ball code – but, with the exception of a continuation of their provincial dominance the following season and a rather fortuitous recapturing of same in 2004 (one had better thread carefully here or there could be loud protestations!), the breakthrough year was never really built upon.
A new rising may now be afoot, however. Multiple years of torturous pastings at the hurls of their greatest foes – combined with the welcome (for the overall sake of the game) emergence of Dublin – left onlookers wondering would the talented stickmen from Slaneyside ever be a force again. Hurling needs them, and as many other counties as possible, to be competitive.
Signs of germination emerged last year as JJ Doyle – who has also cultivated the county to be a major force in camogie – stewarded the annexation of the Leinster U-21 HC. Over the course of a recent week, mind you, indicators of further growth emerged with more clarity. What’s obviously a very talented crop of young players engineered a retention of their underage crown.
There may be no dancing, yet, but there’s certainly a buzz at the crossroads. Given the strife Wexford hurling has encountered in recent times, eking out underage success, not to mention sustaining it this year, merits enormous accreditation to the conviction and dedication of those actively involved in keeping the production line churning.
Their greatest reward may yet lie ahead. Liam Dunne typified the warrior-like resilience during his playing days so to see fortunes upturn during his watch on the sideline could be expected. Until recently, though, that progress had been incremental. Even in defeat against Dublin, however, something appeared different.
Seismic developments such as those that were to follow will have surprised surely the most ardent optimist. Maybe they shouldn’t have. For one thing, past experience has shown that infusions of youthful exuberance can be just the tetanus an outfit requires. Secondly, no matter who they are, getting to the levels of necessary durability is now a gargantuan ask of any outgoing kingpins.
Don’t think Wexford’s exhilarating expulsion of Clare is, for all that, devalued for a second if what’d be understandable deficiencies in the challenge presented by Davy Fitzgerald’s side did eventually tell. If anything, they too deserve mighty acclaim for the valiant and courageous manner in which they attempted to cling to the golden fleece.
No, the real story here is the herculean efforts of Andrew Shore, Lee Chin, Jack Guiney, Liam Og McGovern, Rory Jacob, Paul Morris and Conor McDonald. Some who’ve seen both sides of the road, and others – like Guiney and McDonald in particular – who’ve graduated from a winning culture.
Regardless of how the journey pans out for the remainder this season, the sense that Dunne’s team are – at the very least – building towards being a force again. That can only be good for hurling.