April 07, 1993
Christy Keogh former Wexford player and manager
Winning means everything to Wexford boss. The latecomer from Enniscorthy now in his third term in charge.
Perhaps the game of hurling's best recognised bridesmaids, Wexford, are back in the hunt for the sport's glittering prizes. Determined to make good their return to the trophy trail, the Yellowbellies are the form team at present but are still likely to go into next Sunday's National Hurling League Final facing Cork as match underdogs. "Whats new" one can almost hear Wexford team manager Christy Keogh scream in advance of the media onslaught to the sunny south east this weekend.
Few county team mentors have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes quite as often as the man whose battle of wits at Thurles with Cork's Canon O'Brian will doubtless play a significant part in deciding the issue this coming Sunday. For Christy Keogh, the 1993 League Final is not so much a do or die effort, it's sort of much more important than that. "Winning means everything to me as a rule and so Sunday's game is a chance to make up for lost opportunities in previous years. If we won a major title I don't know where we'd stop. The lads plus the supporters in Wexford are so enthusiastic that if they tasted success things could snowball."
General opinion in the gaelic games world this week, has tended to support the theory born out in the immediate aftermath of Wexford's surprisingly comfortable semi final win over Limerick, the defending champions. The theory suggested that manager Keogh was on to something good with his current county squad. Certainly rebuilding the camp hasn't prevented the long time Wexford sporting guru from rekindling the mother of all dreams as far as the long suffering Wexford hurling fans are concerned. Sunday's final will provide fans around the seaside county with an appropriate gauge by which to measure the soundness of the camp that Christy built.
Now in his third term as manager of the Wexford senior hurlers, the fifty year old Enniscorthy born supremo takes his team to Thurles this Sunday on foot of an unbeaten league run, having overcome Clare, Cork, Dublin and Laois, while drawing with Waterford and Galway. Not a bad record for a county which hasn't always answered the managerial battle cry with the appropriate venom and gusto. Not bad for a side whose Saint Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy training sessions have not been extended beyond the twice a week rate as yet. The inside track in Wexford confirms that just being in the decider this weekend is reward in itself but not quite manna from Heaven.
"I'm very happy to have got this far, considering that a fair bit of team building has been going on. Getting to the league quarter final was what we probably set out to achieve at the start of the league. Reaching the final is a bonus but now we'd obviously like to win it outright," commented the team boss whom many fans could be forgiven for thinking that the one time county star is a glutton for punishment, given the series of setbacks Christy has had to endure over the course of his star spangled managerial career.
Manager of Wexford when the side were doubly devastated in the 1984 league final and again in the provincial final of that self same year (by Limerick and Offaly respectively), Christy Keogh had already by that stage been steeped in the downside of team management. Three seasons earlier, the Rapparees clubman had been a selector of the county team beaten in both the league and provincial finals of 1981. For a man who "takes no consolation in losing", his early days as a county team mentor and especially those in '84 alongside Marshallstown's Michael Kinsella and Saint Martin's Bernie Redford, were particularly harrowing and disappointing experiences. Bringing in Harry O'Connor as a then new fangled item known popularly as a coach, had the media talking about Christy Keogh but such hype was of little solace to Wexford's born winner. "I had been more than happy when we beat Kilkenny in the 1984 Leinster semi final but losing out to Offaly after that in the provincial final was the most frustrating experience of my life," Christy recalled.
Born and reared at Drumgoold Villas in Enniscorthy town, Christy Keogh was a sweet attacking hurler at his peak but amazingly didn't commence serious hurling training until he was twenty six years of age. Despite being a hurling prodigy with Enniscorthy CBS, he consciously packed in a promising underage stint locally to escape from the demands of sport in total as a teenager. In fact, he resisted all temptation to return to the game he exuded a natural aptitude for until 1964 had come and gone. He was then just over 21 years of age but a collapsed lung the following year served to expedite him back into hurling oblivion for another four years. In between times he missed out on Wexford's senior All-Ireland in 1968, but was back with the home club Shamrocks the following season to help them beat Ferns in the county final. As a forty yards man, Keogh had much to recommend his game. He had a hugely fresh appetite for the game, was a fine ball player and intelligent. In players like Paul Lynch, Michael Collins and Larry Byrne, he had good co-conspirators too.
Still operating at full throttle on the playing fields against medical advice, the maturing Keogh soon became a leading light with the newly formed Rapparees club, born out of the early seventies amalgamation of Shamrocks and Enniscorthy's St. Aidan's club. Despite his decision not to seek a place on the Wexford county minor or under 21 squads, Christy Keogh wasted no time in propelling himself upwards to join the county's senior elite and rekindling his zest and interest in the game. The scorer of a brace of goals in the '69 county final win, the self confessed late developer remained injury free right through the remainder of the his extended career.
Making up for lost time spent away from the game he grew to master, thirteen and a half stone, six feet two inch Keogh quickly developed into a colossus of Wexford hurling. A bagful of medals were in the pipeline of different hues and of varying significance to the mentor elect. A highly prized 1973 National League medal offered understandable odds on an All-Ireland partner but it was to be a false dawn. Like Christy Keogh's managerial curriculum vitae shows, his playing days were to be littered with what might have beens. Railway Cup honours arrived on the double, as did Oireachtas souvenirs. A well deserved All Star award at right half forward was received in 1977, and while another county championship medal brought a smile to his face again a season later, mercurial Christy had, by that stage, been left dizzy by all the ups and downs his playing career had been administered.
Two provincial championship victories in 1976 and '77 masked incredible disappointment and frustration for all sons of Wexford, including most specifically the county's future team manager. Wexford's Hurler of the Year in 1978 especially recalls a never to be forgotten incident in the '77 All-Ireland Final against Cork, which provided him with one of his greatest sinking feelings ever. "I remember we were trailing by a couple of points with a few minutes left, when Mick Jacob broke through heading for goal. I found some room on the edge of the square and when I received the pass from Mick I let fly. The ball seemed to be on it's way to the top left hand corner of the net, when Martin Coleman (ironically now a Rebel County selector) stopped it just on the line. That final defeat was fatal for Wexford's All-Ireland bid, as things transpired afterwards.'
Fast forwarding to talk of modern day team tactics, players in danger of getting stage fright on the day and the psychology of an earlier victory this year over Sunday's opposition, leaves Christy with little left of the nails on his fingers that have received a battering so consistently since first enlisting on Wexford's think tank machine back in 1981. He insists that Wexford's 1992'93 league win, already accomplished will not be mentioned by him this weekend. "Anyway I wouldn't look into our Cork victory too much. They were sort of in disarray after the All-Ireland final and were without Teddy McCarthy and Brian Corcoran that day too. I think we were better mentally prepared for the match than they were and that counted for a lot."
Despite being bolstered by the alarming fine form being displayed by their four big young guns, Damien Fitzhenry, James Bolger, Larry Murphy and Eamon Scallen, Wexford are still considered by their manager to have only a 40/60 chance of cramping the Rebel County's style sufficiently well to upset the odds. "I'm looking for 100 per cent commitment from the players and if I get that, I think that we will be able to keep in touch but they are not going to be beaten too easily. It'll be a hard day's work," the 1991 colleague of such as Tony Doran and Willie Murphy on the Wexford's Masters All-Ireland winning team confirmed.
Credited for exacting the very best of late from such established stars as George O'Connor, Larry O'Gorman, Eamon Cleary and Martin Storey, the acknowledged 'bad loser', given a wish, would direct all the hype and pressure in the build up to Sunday's game away from his charges, he recognises that all the pressure is on the players this Sunday. They are the ones likely to suffer most from frustration should their donkey work go unrewarded. It's precisely because Christy Keogh empathises with the players so much in this regard and recognises the pitfalls and consequences that only one hour's hurling can bring about. "I just hope that Wexford are good enough on the day to give Cork a game," he states with coy concern over his teams' ability to perform on the big stage.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
7th April 1993
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