Round about then, he will discover if the work of the last two months, supported by the vast experience gained last season in a run to the All-Ireland semi-final, will reestablish Wexford’s reputation after a disastrous League.
Of course, that could still be achieved even if they go under to Kildare in the GAA Leinster football championship quarter-final, except that nobody is contemplating a defeat at this stage. As Ryan points out, while circumstances may be different (last year they had won Division 3 and were unbeaten), the approach to this game is not dissimilar.
“We went into the Meath game last year very much as underdogs. They had reached an All-Ireland semi-final the previous year, so they were favourites. We’re approaching the Kildare game the same way. The results in the League didn’t go our way but the group learned so much from last year.”
And yet he admits he can’t be sure how Wexford will perform and whether or not they can put their disastrous League form behind them and get back to the type of football they played last season when they took the scalps of Down and Armagh before flopping against Tyrone.
“You can prepare them as well as you possibly can, but the start of a game often dictates people’s state of mind and your state of mind then dictates how you are going to play. We are just trying to put everything in place to keep everybody as focused as possible. And we hope that when the game starts we will be prepared physically, tactically and mentally so that we can match this very strong Kildare team.”
The loss of Matty Forde aside, Ryan has an experience team tonight backboned by 12 of the players who lined out in the All-Ireland semi-final are included. Such a luxury is in marked contrast to an injury ravaged spring where the lineups changed on a weekly basis.
“We were just decimated. We couldn’t settle on anything. But there are positives to that as well. Because we had to play a lot of different players, they got a taste of competitive action in Division 2 and that’s going to be good experience for them.” After the nightmare spring, Ryan admitted to questioning the way he was doing things.
“Everything falls back on the manager. You can question players, fitness, motivation, effort or whatever, but it’s you who organises their fitness and gets them up to a certain. It’s you who gets them motivated and picks the team that goes out on the field. So, the responsibility has to come on top of the management when results are not going our way. And, certainly during the course of the League when we were losing games, I had to sit back and take long, hard looks at what I was doing, what we as a group were doing and what we needed to change!”
Forde has seen little action this year, but the manager is confident that he will be back playing within the month. In the meantime, he is delighted to have Redmond Barry back in the attack (following his honeymoon), commenting: “He has been a breath of fresh air. He’s so enthusiastic about playing and he brings a different element to the way we play.” Everything that could be done — the different areas they looked at, the alterations they made — has been done, so from that perspective he’s optimistic enough to say that at the very least the team will do itself justice.
“This game will be the gauge of us — have we improved since the National League, or are we going to go out again and lose by 14 points as we did in our game with Kildare. I can’t wait!”