"And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row".
Tennis player Vitas Gerulatis was a serial loser before eventually beating Jimmy Connors and enshrining himself in legend with a quote for the ages following the 1979 Colgate-Palmolive Masters. That victory brought Gerulaitis to the end of a 16 match losing sequence against Connors, and his valedictory address is a fantastic quote for a couple of reasons: the main reason being the finality of it all, bookending a neat narrative arc, ending a series of miserable defeats with personal vindication, if not outright redemption.
Given that it came to somewhat of a happy ending, it is easy to look back at the Gerulaitis/Connors story with a level of affection, to disregard the obvious misery and doubt endured by Gerulaitis during this run of defeats and instead to accentuate the relatively happy ending to the story, given that the narrative arc of the story is written and complete.
The same cannot be said of Kilkenny football this afternoon, despite the fact that many will feel today's 17-20 to 0-00 defeat for their Minor footballers will leave rumours of their demise exacerbated rather than exaggerated. While the result will not mean the death of football in the county, it also means the screeching to a halt of any kind of arc of progress, as the defeat comes at a particularly bad time for football in the county. The county's Senior footballers have pulled out of the National League and are instead competing in a British Junior Championship. Victory in that competition last year meant that there was a renewed sense of optimism around the county.
So anomalous was the scoreline, that the scoreboard in Nowlan Park as unable to display Wexford's four-digit score, reading the score as 7-20 to 0-00 when, in fact, it was far worse.
Kilkenny People journalist Trevor Spillane was at the game at Nowlan Park, and he told us of the hammer blow the 71 point defeat has proved:
There is honestly, no point in sugar coating it, today was nothing short of a very dark day for football in Kilkenny. As everyone knows, hurling is the main sport in the county, football has always been the poorer partner, but there had been hope maybe that football in the county might be turning some kind of corner.
The county won the British Junior Championship last year and had gotten through to the last stages of the All Ireland Junior Championship by Mayo in a pretty close gamre last year, and the hope was that maybe they could build on that.
Today, everything completely went wrong for them. That's no fault on Wexford's behalf, but it's very very hard for people to take for people in the county, there would be pockets of the county that would be very pro-football, but that will set them back, and it will make it harder to convince lads to play football.
The overwhelming dominance of hurling in the county is, of course, the main challenge facing football, a challenge that presented itself in microcosm at Nowlan Park today:
Half-time in the football and kids are out on the pitch. Playing hurling...
— Trevor Spillane (@TrevorSpillane) April 16, 2016
Spillane admits that football is not promoted particularly well int he county, but then how to compete with the consistent autumnal lure of ash, silverware and Croke Park? "They're finding it tough at the moment, the minor footballers are training at the same time as the minor hurlers. The success makes it difficult: 'Will I play hurling and maybe win an All-Ireland, or play football and maybe not win anything'?"
In the immediate future, these humbled Kilkenny footballers must play the losers of the Carlow/Laois game in the back-door. Spillane says that "there wasn't much talking of where to go after this game, it was very strange. It was a deathly quiet atmosphere in Nowlan Park afterwards. It's very tough. How they're going to pick themselves up after this I don't know, it's going to be very tough".
There is no suggestion as of yet that Kilkenny will fail to fulfill that qualifier fixture, but it will inevitably end in defeat. Focus must go to longer-term measures, including better promotion of the sport in schools and clubs. Leinster Council coffers should be quite healthy, and they have a duty of care to funnel them into the county to improve both the reputation of and participation in Gaelic football in the county.
The usual reaction to such a one-sided defeat is to declare that nobody learned anything form the entire exercise. This is different: everybody is waking up to that fact that there are good football people in Kilkenny who deserve to be properly served by their county board, the Leinster Council and the GAA.
Otherwise, the arc will never be closed. Gerulaitis had his chance. Kilkenny's young footballers deserve to have theirs.