independent

Sunday 17 November 2019

The county dares to dream

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Semi-finals: Wexford v Tipperary, Sunday July 28, Croke Park, 3.30pm

Selector J.J. Doyle congratulating manager Davy Fitzgerald after the Leinster final victory
Selector J.J. Doyle congratulating manager Davy Fitzgerald after the Leinster final victory

Brendan Furlong

Past lessons learned will remove the danger of any over-confidence as Wexford move towards one of their biggest games under the tenure of manager Davy Fitzgerald.

The Model county men powered their way through the league before losing a quarter-final clash against Galway in Salthill, but they are still in top-flight hurling for the coming season.

Now they are preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final showdown with Tipperary, bringing together two counties who played out so many thrilling battles throughout the 1960s, a ten-year spell which is still talked about today by veteran followers of the game.

Their delivery in the championship was composed, passionate, skilful, and results driven. Now they are the only uneaten side in the last four, a record they hope to protect in steering the county to a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1996.

When Davy Fitzgerald assumed the mantle of team manager, Wexford's style of hurling became a talking point.

While he stressed that he always loved the way Wexford played the game, the need for a fresh approach to yield positive results was always uppermost in his mind. There was no way he was going to leave his players exposed against the more experienced and seasoned sides.

One can look back to that mauling from Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in the provincial championship when a side managed by Liam Dunne was unable to halt the home team's juggernaut.

With the majority of those players still in place, Fitzgerald brought a new pattern and style of play to the team, and the results have been quite astonishing.

His first year was a great one. Thousands even flocked to Walsh Cup games in the dreaded winter months before the league campaign took off, with backsides once again on the seats in Innovate Wexford Park, and thousands joining the cavalcade to away venues. It was like days of old.

Davy had brought his native Clare to All-Ireland and National League success, while also enjoying Liam MacCarthy glory twice as a player, while he also guided Waterford to an All-Ireland final as boss in 2008, having picked up the dismantled pieces in that county.

He knew, better than anyone, that there was no easy path to a provincial or All-Ireland title. He got the respect of the players, with Davy returning that and believing he had a group that were prepared to give their all, not just for him but for their beloved county.

The questions were continually asked. Having reached a provincial final in his first year, only to lose to Galway, then came that dreaded quarter-final and another setback, to Waterford.

The second year saw him miss out on a provincial final with a one-point defeat to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, before his native Clare ended Wexford's year.

Having continued to build through the National League, there was a degree of confidence within the camp as one suspected the players were now ready to deliver.

Wexford had a bone to pick with some critics but there was never any question of Davy deviating from his gameplan. There was no way he was going to leave the side exposed at the back, and the players' ability to develop their overall game saw them emerge from the shadows of Leinster hurling.

Operating off his now well-worked plan, he saw his side play out an amazing sequence of three draws, with one victory over Carlow, as the round robin progressed, with their championship aspirations coming down to that nail-biting last-second pointed free from Lee Chin against Kilkenny to send them into that provincial final showdown with their arch-rivals.

While every side will have some problems, Wexford seem to have fixed their struggles in attack, and are now fashioning out excellent scores. Of equal importance, the defence is becoming more and more difficult to dismantle with each passing game. Essentially Wexford are becoming a very tough side to beat.

Wexford's confidence has been rebuilt. They can now look ahead to Tipperary and an All-Ireland semi-final with a confident streak running through their veins.

Many will say Tipperary were not impressive when heavily defeated by reigning All-Ireland champions, Limerick, in the Munster final in the Gaelic Grounds, but that was too early to write off their championship credentials.

Their big issue heading into the quarter-final against Laois was that they were on a loser no matter what transpired. They looked anything but impressive, but as a seasoned hurling observer, I feel they did what they had to do and delivered a victory, while at the same time conserving their energy for Sunday's showdown.

Given Tipperary's stature in the game of hurling, it would be crazy to underestimate them. They will come out on that green sward, knowing they are just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final, with Liam Sheedy already playing mind games by describing Wexford as hot favourites.

Whatever they do between now and next Sunday, Davy will have the players forewarned, and no doubt forearmed, for what is going to be a huge battle.

Wexford still dream night and day that an All-Ireland will happen. We may be a county of dreamers at times, but with Davy ensuring the players are ready for battle from the opening seconds, those dreams could yet become a reality.

Wexford can win. Sure, why not?

Wexford People

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