THERE was an expectation last Sunday that Laois, hurling at home and with virtually of a team who had already tussled manfully with the All-Ireland champions in serious combat, would beat Antrim.
The upshot would be that Laois get a crack at Wexford, with Antrim discarded as Galway’s cannon fodder.
Yet when Antrim won, the same expectation emerged that they would fall hard to Wexford on Sunday.
Except that in Wexford, and particularly those like Jack Guiney who suffered at their hands in last year’s volcanic All-Ireland U21 semi-final upset, they’re just about the last county about to underestimate Antrim.
“It was a real kick in the teeth, to be honest,” recalls Guiney.
“We played Westmeath and Carlow in the run up to the Leinster final. We were very poor in those games. We thought maybe we could play poor again and maybe still get a result. But Antrim came down and showed us how to hurl for most of the game.”
At a promotional event to launch this year’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 Championship, Stephen McAfee, the Antrim player, told Guiney a story about their journey from Belfast to Thurles.
“He was telling me about their preparation. One of the Antrim players stopped into a garage for pick-and-mix. A massive bag of pick-and-mix sweets,” he says, shaking his head.
“Now, this is very hard to listen to when they’re after beating you in an All-Ireland semi-final.
“But he was eating pick-and-mix sweets, the whole way down on the bus. And he must have had a sugar overdose by the time he got into the dressing-room. He said they didn’t realise they could win that game until they got into the dressing-room at half-time.
“Your man that was eating the sweets on the bus was going around the dressing-room telling all the lads to eat some of the sweets.
“If you compare that to what we were saying at half-time...”
To put the scale of the defeat into context, just 14 players turned up for Antrim training on the Thursday beforehand. A round of Antrim club Championship had been scheduled for the same day. And the Saffron’s manager, Kevin Ryan, had already booked a holiday to America for the week of the All-Ireland final.
Already, Sky have been to Wexford Park, inspecting the ground in anticipation of a Wexford/Dublin Leinster semi-final but the UCD student is allergic to such presumption.
Which isn’t to say that internal expectation isn’t high.
Wexford recently beat Tipp in a challenge in Oulart The-Ballagh, a boost to confidence surely?
“It is. But people would pat you on the back and say you beat Tipp or you got close to Dublin or you got close to Clare. But we believe ourselves that we’re actually good enough to beat these teams.
“No one in the dressing-room was phased by beating Tipp.”
That Liam Dunne’s men drew with both the Leinster champions and the eventual All-Ireland winners after 70 minutes in last year’s Championship is a source of both hope and regret for Guiney.
Yet he speaks of the replay - a rough game in Parnell Park - with just as much ruefulness.
“It just went all wrong from the start,” he recalls.
“There were a few loose pulls all right. I’ll say that. But when you lose a man, that wasn’t really part of the plan.
“It’s a learning thing for us. It probably never came up before when a man gets sent off and you have to dig in and get a result.
“But it was a kick to the teeth, Andrew (Shore) getting sent off.”
A failure to mount a strong promotion bid means Wexford aren’t in the pre-championship conversation but that’s something Guiney says they must remedy themselves.
“If you deserve to be mentioned, you would be mentioned,” he insists. “We haven’t done anything to get given recognition.”