NON, je ne regrette rien. You’d hardly associate the rugged, bear-like John Meyler with waifish French chanteuse Edith Piaf, but, when asked if he had any regrets about taking over the poisoned chalice role of Wexford senior hurling manager for this year, that was his response – “Non, je ne regrette rien! (I regret nothing),” the song made famous in the early 60’s by Piaf.
More fittingly, perhaps, it was later adapted as an anthem by the hard men of the French Foreign Legion, to whom she dedicated the song.
The Legion had backed a military putsch against the Algerian civilian authorities, were beaten in the ensuing struggle, but sang Piaf’s song even as they were being force-marched at gunpoint to evacuation vehicles.
He could do with some of that spirit among his own ‘Legionnaires’ this Sunday, could John Meyler.
Much as they were in their unlikely All-Ireland quarter-final win over Tipperary last Saturday, Wexford are again no-hopers against Kilkenny this Sunday, an All-Ireland semi-final that is simply a repeat of this year’s Leinster final, a repeat also of this year’s National Hurling League semi-final.
Results of those two games? Kilkenny 2-22 Wexford 2-7, Kilkenny 2-24 Wexford 1-12, a pair of 15-pt defeats.
Actually, defeat is the polite word but we’ve run out of extreme negatives. Hammering, humiliation, destruction, devastation – you name it, we’ve used it to describe those two dismal days in Wexford’s recent hurling history. And yet Meyler is upbeat, not a single regret.
“This is a fantastic job,” he claims, “No money in it, no credit in it — you get a kick in the arse more often than not, people saying you’re useless, whatever. But if I can do something, resurrect the thing, hold it there for a few years until George (O’Connor, 1996 All-Ireland medallist, in charge of hurling development in the county) brings all these youngfellas through, minors, U-16’s, U-14’s, maintain it so that there will still be a top-class team there for them…
‘‘Look at Cork. They walloped Waterford in the Munster U-21 final, fellas queuing up to get on the senior team – we don’t have that in Wexford. That’s when you really need to get short-term results, when you’re in our situation. We have to believe in ourselves, individually and collectively, I must get that into them.’’
But how do you look forward to it? If you’re a Wexford player, wouldn’t you want to see any other jersey opposite you but the dreaded black-and-amber? I mean, there are some tough jobs in management but how does John Meyler get his charges to believe that, after suffering two 15-point losses to the same team within a few months of each other, that five weeks on they can turn this around?
“You can look at it as a tough job or you can look at it as a good job. After beating Tipperary we were going to play either Kilkenny or Galway; if it had been Galway, they were going to come out and go after us after the way we beat them in the league quarter-final, they would have been out to teach us a lesson, so that would have been a tough one. Getting Kilkenny gives us a chance to atone for the two heavy defeats against them this year. So there are two ways to look at it, and I tend to take the positive.”
The frustrating thing from Meyler’s point of view is that he knows Wexford are not 15 points an inferior outfit to Kilkenny. In 2002, 2004 and 2005, with substantially the same teams, the difference between them was two points (Kilkenny), two points (Wexford) and three points (Kilkenny) respectively, an aggregate of three points over the three games. Whence then comes this occasional massive gap? All in the mind, says John.
“It looks at this stage like Wexford always need a cause before they perform. Look back — 2004 Kilkenny were going for an unprecedented seven-in-a-row in Leinster, then with Galway this year we had what Loughnane had said about Wexford (when he was an RTÉ pundit), and last Sunday it was that Wexford were the worst team left in the competition. Those causes, those reasons, are good enough for one day but the strong counties don’t need that. What they have is a consistency; Kilkenny this Sunday just want to get to an All-Ireland final – there’s no cause there, nothing to prove against Wexford. We must find that consistency.’’
Final, if predictable question — can Wexford win? Predictable answer. “Yeah, definitely. I believe I can win any match I’m in but it’s not what I believe that matters here, it’s what the players believe, individually and — more importantly — as a unit. I’m hoping for the kind of performance we gave against Tipp, against Galway in the league, but dammit if you don’t look forward to these days you shouldn’t be there. These are the days and these are the games when you measure yourself as an individual, as a team. The more times you play against Kilkenny and Cork the better.’’