Brian Cody takes it one game at a time
Readers of a certain age will remember Wexford. Big burly lads, quite often possessed of flaming red hair and missing teeth. That was the way it seemed anyway.
They used to be Kilkenny’s closest rivals, and not only geographically. True, Kilkenny usually had the upper hand, but in every third or fourth meeting Wexford could be relied on to beat them. Particularly when the men in stripes were going for a third MacCarthy Cup in a row.
Thus those readers of a certain age will remember the 1976 Leinster final, when the best Kilkenny team since the 1930s perished horribly against the purple and gold hordes. They’ll remember the 1984 Leinster semi-final, when another Kilkenny team chasing an All Ireland treble were undone at the death by the Slaneysiders, with one of the aforementioned big lads with flaming red hair and missing teeth – Tony Doran, in other words - delivering the killing blow from the edge of the square. They’ll remember the 2004 Leinster semi-final, when Kilkenny’s hopes – nay, expectations – of taking the front-door route to Croke Park in September were rudely ended.
And then something changed. In truth, it had begun to change well before 2004. Wexford became irrelevant. They no longer put the heart crossways in Kilkenny the way they used to, whether in victory or defeat.
Not only was that bad for Wexford, not only was it bad for hurling, it was bad for Kilkenny too.
The process reached a nadir at Nowlan Park on June 21, 2015 in the provincial semi-final. It was the longest day of the year for the visitors in more than one way. Kilkenny 5-25 Wexford 0-16. A 24-point defeat, if you can’t be bothered to do the maths.
The scoreline two years later, the next time the teams met in the championship? Wexford 1-20 Kilkenny 3-11 (A 27-point turnaround, if you still can’t be bothered to do the maths).
It was the second part of what now stands as a three-game winning run against the old enemy. Last year’s National League quarter-final, then Leinster semi-final, then this season’s Walsh Cup final. Don’t underestimate the significance of that last one, by the by. It was Wexford’s first piece of silverware under Davy Fitz and, because Wexford do not compile trophies at the rate Kilkenny do, it is not to be sniffed at.
Dominic Williams, the county’s resident and eminent GAA historian, reveals that one has to go back more than half a century to find the last time they beat Kilkenny on three successive occasions in the championship (1960-62). Being the kindly sort he is, Dominic even offered to look up the last time Wexford beat Kilkenny on three successive occasions irrespective of the setting (league, Walsh Cup, whatever).
Being the kindly sort I am, I couldn’t have him do that. Suffice it to say, though, the Model men come to Nowlan Park next Sunday with the kind of wind in their sails they haven’t possessed in years. They may be the fittest team in the land right now, as they were this time last season, and clearly that’s a state of affairs that won’t continue indefinitely.
But for the moment they’re gathering such rosebuds as present themselves and they’re dead right. What would be wrong with Wexford winning the league, a competition they haven’t captured since 1973? Absolutely nothing.
There’s someone else for whom their resurgence is good news. Brian Cody.
Cody has ever been energised by the appearance of new enemies. Cork, the original of the species. Tipperary towards the end of the noughties. Galway a permanent unknowable quality but also, as a direct result, a permanent threat. And now Davy’s Wexford.
Great. It is exactly what the doctor would have ordered. This is the staff of life to Cody. Another reason to return to the well and match himself against the latest contender.
Cody versus Davy. Kilkenny versus Wexford. Unmissable.