Dempsey recalls epic '01 Tipp clash
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Semi-finals: Wexford v Tipperary, Croke Park, Sunday July 28
From the moment it was confirmed that Wexford and Tipperary would be squaring off in this Sunday's All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final, for those with a good memory, it will have instantly brought back recollections of the same fixture from the 2001 hurling championship.
Having enjoyed a great win against Limerick, Tony Dempsey's Wexford team lined out against the Premier County in what would be an end-to-end match-up, eventually resulting in a controversially drawn game.
Comparisons have been made between the impact made by Dempsey and Wexford's current manager Davy Fitzgerald. Both came into a Wexford setup where morale was low and results perhaps not clicking, and succeeded in restoring a feel-good factor to Wexford hurling.
'To be honest, Davy's record is far superior to mine at any level,' laughs Dempsey. 'At the time, I had to bring in some new blood. I noticed that even in soccer, the likes of Man United were constantly changing and I suppose a few of the lads from '96 were coming to the end. I brought in young lads like Darragh Ryan, Doc O'Connor and Rory Mallon.'
The former manager can see similarities with some of his crop of players from 2001 and those donning the purple and gold today.
'Rory Mallon would do very well in today's game,' he said. 'He had lightning pace and he could get forward. He'd be in a similar vein to Damien Reck today. Darragh Ryan was big and physically strong and would be a lot like Liam Ryan.'
However, two players captured all the headlines from that famous 2001 encounter with Tipp - Martin Storey and Larry O'Gorman. Having retired the previous year, Martin Storey's presence was a cause of confusion to the opposition and it caused a stir when he was named in the match-day panel.
'I remember Micheál O Muircheartaigh coming into the dressing room and asking me "what's the story with Martin Storey?",' Dempsey recalls. 'I just told him he was Maor Camán and sent him off! I think Martin's presence was a huge factor. It was a distraction, not for us, but for Tipperary.'
However, that day the headlines were stolen by one man.
'Really the day belonged to Larry O'Gorman,' said Tony. 'He was absolutely brilliant. He scored two goals and one of them I don't think got half the attention it deserved nationally. He flicked the ball over the full-back's head, caught it and buried it. It was wonderful.'
When the referee blew his whistle with the scores level at 1-16 to 3-10, it was in somewhat controversial circumstances.
'There was an incident at the end and we were awarded a free,' Tony said.
'Fitzy (Damien Fitzhenry) was on fire that year and he was heading up to take it when Larry O'Gorman went down with some kind of problem. After that, for some reason, the ref decided to blow it up with 40 seconds left to play... when we had a free! I didn't kick up a row at the time. We had the replay to concentrate on, but I couldn't believe it.'
What followed in the replay was a miserable outing. With sheets of rain coming down, Wexford succumbed to a heavy defeat, due in no small part to having two players - Liam Dunne and Mitch Jordan - shown red and sent to the stands.
'I couldn't believe when he sent Mitch off. I had a chat with the linesman and the indication was that he wouldn't be walking. Really that was what cost us the game.'
Having beaten Wexford by a score of 3-12 to 0-10, Tipperary went on to lift the Liam MacCarthy beating Galway in the final.
This time out though, Dempsey is hoping that things will be different for the yellowbellies. With his ticket purchased for Croker this Sunday, he's like a child at Christmas looking forward to what will be fascinating encounter.
'I think this current crop have given huge service to the county,' he said.
'They've come through the U21s with JJ (Doyle) and I think Davy Fitz has done a great job with them. I think there's the potential for an All-Ireland Senior Hurling title from this group. It's about getting the best out of them.
'The challenge is to blank out the win against Kilkenny and that whole performance,' he says firmly. 'This will be a different game, with different personalities and different styles. I remember once being told by Mick O'Dwyer that it can be harder to get off a high than a low and I think that can be true. I'm glad the lads have had three weeks to prepare and I'm sure Davy has been working them hard.'
So, will this Wexford team succeed where Dempsey's failed in 2001?
'I think if we hurl with the same steely determination that was shown in the match against Kilkenny up in the park, then Wexford will just shade it. The unbelievable optimism around the county since the Leinster Final I'm sure will drive the players on and it's going to be a great day out. I can't wait.'