Dunne confident his charges can do business
For the second year in a row Wexford's emerging squad is heading into a showdown with the reigning All-Ireland champions. This year it takes them to Nowlan Park and a Leinster Senior hurling championship semi-final clash with Kilkenny, coming on the back of last year's two-game thriller with Clare, both going to extra-time.
Wexford emerged from the Clare struggle with victory, but once again they are being asked to compete at the highest level against one of the greatest sides in hurling. But it's a game that Wexford manager Liam Dunne is looking forward to.
Wexford are primed to take the sting out of this Kilkenny challenge, but they accept they are coming up against rejuvenated opponents, a group of players that needed a play-off to avoid league relegation. Taking all that in, Wexford are still confident in their thinking of getting the right result.
'We are going up to play the All-Ireland champions, the greatest team and greatest manager in the history of the game. There has been no better team. Brian Cody will have them fully focused on this game. Like ourselves he will be looking at nothing else but Sunday's showdown,' Dunne said.
'Look, that is where we are, that is where we want to be, up there competing with the best. Ultimately we are just 70 minutes away from a Leinster final. It's been a long time since Wexford hurled in Croke Park, but having said that, it's Nowlan Park on Sunday. It's not just any old 70 minutes. This is the game we have been looking forward to since the draw was made. It's here now and I'm confident we can deal with it.'
Dunne himself was part of many battles with their great rivals through his playing days, and ow he has to do battle on the sideline with Brian Cody, a manager for whom he has so much admiration.
'At the end of the day Brian Cody may have nothing to prove but he loves hurling, loves Kilkenny, and would love nothing more than beating Wexford.
'They will want to beat us, Kilkenny will want to beat us back down to Vinegar Hill. We have been tested over the course of time but we have to evaluate where we are at given all the other factors, and leading into this weekend we are in the hunt for a provincial final place. They have a squad of All-Ireland medal winners but we have a squad who are coming into form at the right time,' Dunne added.
'Thinking back, few gave us much chance going down to play Clare last year. We all know what happened. Few are giving us any chance making the short journey up the road to play our friendly neighbours.
'But going up there is exciting, it's where we want to be. You look forward to games like this. They have, I believe, tapped into a few new players since the retirements, but we are travelling there to leave our mark. We are not going up there just to make up the numbers.
'We have prepared well. The training over the past week has gone really well. We have had some healthy squad games, with players on the fringe pushing hard, which makes the training so competitive. I'm pleased with the way it has gone, and even more pleased by the fact we have a fully-fit squad of players to choose from for the first time.,
'What I remember most from Kilkenny games in my playing days is that they don't leave much for chance. They will bring their 'A' game to this. Nowlan Park is a tough place to visit, but even tougher when it's the reigning All-Ireland champions on home soil.
'But it's not just them. We will be concentrating on our own game. I'm happy enough where we are so we will just have to embrace the occasion, embrace the challenge. It's a huge challenge, similar to what we encountered in Ennis last year. That is the challenge for us as a unit.
'Kilkenny will come out with all guns blazing. They will try to come at us in the first 20 minutes. They will try to hit us with everything so we will not be able to take our eyes off the game for one split second. It will have to be total concentration from the throw-in.
'We will need to front up and get amongst them to ensure they don't get that rhythm.'
Come 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dunne will be letting a group of players take over. For the past four years he has been building this squad.
'I'm confident they can do the job on Sunday,' Dunne concluded.
Seventy minutes. Time to wait and see.