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Monday 16 December 2019

Billy Byrne has every confidence in Wexford for Croke Park showdown

Leinster Hurling Final countdown:

Those were the days: Billy Byrne playing for Wexford in the 1997 All Ireland semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park
Those were the days: Billy Byrne playing for Wexford in the 1997 All Ireland semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park

Cathy Lee

Former Wexford star hurler Billy Byrne, who lives in Gorey, is no stranger to a big match against Kilkenny and although it has been over 20 years since that famous 1996 All Ireland campaign, he is very aware of the high stakes whenever Wexford face off against the Cats.

'Kilkenny make these matches, it'll be a tough challenge but these challenges come and you know what you're going to get from Kilkenny. They won't be lying down but the Wexford team that we have now won't be doing that either, so it'll make for an interesting game.

'When you play Kilkenny, they are always going to be favourites, that's not just when they play Wexford, it's when they play everyone. We may only beat them once out of a handful of times, but you'd always say that we were capable of taking them on of a certain day,' said Billy.

'The fan base, they fit into that hysteria, which is to be expected any time Wexford are involved in any major because there's such a history here. We don't win too many big trophies often but when the fans see the effort that the players, the management and everyone else is putting in to it, they get behind the team'.

Billy will be making the trip to Croke Park on Sunday, and he always finds it a pleasure to watch the team, led by Davy Fitzgerald. 'What really stands out for this team is the way that they fight for each other. They don't give up on any ball and they seem to be gelling together very well.

'It's not about the individual, it's about the team. Not only the 15 on the field, but those who are involved off the field as regards staff, the panel and the extended panel. They are committed to one another, importantly committed to the place they come from and the people that are steering their direction,' he said.

'We've had some very good results this year and over the last few years. What you can see when they go out on the field, there's going to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears. You can't ask for any more than that, no matter what the result is,' he said.

'It's great to have these high profile individual players like Chin, O'Connor and McDonald, you're lucky to have them, but if you can get everyone coming together as a team, that's the lucky part, that gets you over the line. We all have our bad days and if some of our good players have a bad day, they know inside that the guy alongside them is going to be with them. Therefore the pressure doesn't come on them as much in terms of performing as a big player,' he said.

Billy explained that Davy Fitzgerald and the work ethic of the team has left an impression on him.

'It's a word that runs off people's lips very easily these days, but there's passion. When you see Davy Fitzgerald you can see that is genuinely what you get. It feeds into players, they see that and it motivates them to take ownership of what they really want to get out of the game.

'When you've players like that, anything can happen on the day. Davy has instilled that in the team,' he said.

'Anyone with confidence is very hard to beat at anything, in life and in sport. This Wexford team have that and have proved that, numerous times over. It's nice to have that going in as it gives you hope, as a player or a spectator.'

Although Billy says he cannot predict the outcome, he is confident that the team have the ability to take the next step. 'You don't like making predictions, especially over the last number of years in Leinster finals but what I will say as fact, is that the effort that these guys will give when they're in that Wexford jersey is second to none. You can't predict that and if we can do that with confidence, the result will look after itself,' he said.

Billy is now confident about the passing of the torch to the next generation, and this can be seen in his own son Aaron (18), a student at Gorey Community School student who plays hurling.

'You can see it in the younger guys, they want to have the hurl in the hand and they want to be out there. I've seen it in them from a young age, all they needed was the confidence to take it a few steps forward and I think they're getting that.

'What this Wexford team have given us so far, it has just brought confidence to every GAA pitch that we have walked into, all across the country. Once we go in through the gates we feel that we've a great chance of getting a victory because of the way that the lads come together as a team.

'They're passing it on to the younger lads coming up as well, the seniors should be proud of that,' he said.

Billy explained that he has also seen the game change over the years, from tactics to commitments.

'Really the huge change is the professionalism that has come into an amateur game, the commitment that goes with the game nowadays is just phenomenal. It's not like it was, you feel at times that it puts a lot of pressure on. These lads don't make a serious living out of this, they've jobs to go to and at times, people forget to respect that,' he said.

'The speed of the game, the tactics, all this data and analysis that you have to take in, that wouldn't have been too prevalent in our day. that's for sure. But it does help to give you that small bit of an edge, and that can be the margin between winning and losing,' he said.

'On behalf of any of us who have played the game before and our club [Naomh Éanna], I'd just like to wish them the best of luck. It has been so good to see them playing over the last number of years.

'Now when you're walking up through the stand, you have this confidence that you're a Wexford man.They have instilled that in the supporters in Wexford,' Billy concluded.

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