Ladies encouraged to enjoy their football and it's paying rich dividends
Published 13/08/2016 | 00:00
When Wexford take to the field on Sunday to face Sligo in Kinnegad (3.15 p.m.), they will do so with an actual belief that they can make the semi-finals of the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate ladies' football championship.
Last year at the same stage, when Kildare were the opponents, Shane McCormack's team had done nothing to suggest that they could dispatch the championship favourites. But this year's Leinster final happened. Wexford might feel they left it behind them but they also came out of it with confidence.
For the first time, in a big game against one of the championship favourites, Wexford matched them. Okay, there was an element of self-destruction that inexperienced teams can often suffer, but the fact that the Slaneysiders went toe-to-toe with the Lilywhites for all-but a few crazy minutes has sent a message, not just to others but to themselves.
It resonated against Louth in their qualifier. Wexford had improved from their meeting with the Wee county in the Park earlier in the Leinster championship, while their opponents had regressed. Everything might not have gone to plan but the arrow was clearly pointing up.
The fact that it came without Maria Byrne, who has seamlessly taken on the mantle as Wexford's best player, is another positive. Manager Shane McCormack semi-joked about Sligo sending reps. to watch the Louth game and not seeing his side's 'trump card', but the Wexford supremo believes their opponents are in for a surprise on Sunday.
'I don't think they know what to expect of us, which is always good,' McCormack said.
'Kildare didn't know what to expect of us this year. We are after coming on in leaps and bounds, we got to the league semi-final for the first time in six years, to a Leinster final.
'We are after improving, all we wanted to do was improve down here, so we are on the right track.'
A lot of it comes down to performances and results which lead to confidence, but there's an element of the game that might be missed by many and it has been a key ethos for his management team as they have attempted to move Wexford up the pecking order.
'The last thing I say going out is "just enjoy it"', explained the former Kildare goalkeeper.
'When you enjoy football, you play well. If you get worked up or get nervous things go wrong for you, so our motto is "just enjoy it".'
Whether Sligo, as favourites, will enjoy their game with the Slaneysiders or not will likely come down to the result. The Connact champions won just won of their seven league games before beating Meath in a relegation play-off to retain their Division 2 status.
However, those defeats came exclusively against Senior teams and a lot of those games were tight.
They then went on to win the provincial title, scoring six goals in the final against a Leitrim side which has already beaten Wexford this season.
From their goalkeeper Noelle Gormley, who made the Division 2 team of the year, to their high-scoring forwards who gave Wexford plenty of problems in the league in recent years before their promotion, they have a strong, balanced outfit.
'They are favourites, they beat Kildare in the league, they are Connacht champions, they hammered Leitrim in the final,' explained McCormack, '(but) it's good going in as underdogs again, so it's a good opportunity'.
Wexford have been dealing with concussion problems for Aleisha Cullen and Marguerite Doyle but will have Maria Byrne back in the mix. They will need to hit the ground running and not fall behind early but Sligo are not Cork or Dublin; they can be beaten, so expect this to be a tight game that could go either way.