Out of the mouth of babes Wexford’s rallying call against Clare came. Liam Dunne’s seven-year-old son Jack the unlikely rabble-rouser.
The manager had parked his car in Clonard last Saturday week to make the short walk to Wexford Park when his older son Billy caught his attention.
“He said to me, ‘Dad, Jack wants to say something to you’. I put my hand back to Jack for a high five and asked him what he wanted to say. He said, ‘Daddy, we’re not going to a battle today, we’re going to a war!’
“I wrote that down before we went into Wexford Park and before we left the dressing room I took it out and they were the last words I said to them.
“When I went into the Clare dressing room afterwards, I told them that and that we had gone to war against great All-Ireland champions for two days.
“It’s nearly a war every day you go out now but you have to be disciplined, not thinking of machetes or the pikes of ’98! I’d like to think our lads are playing the game.”
Discipline is high on the agenda. It was last year too, even though Wexford were portrayed as something else entirely in their Leinster semi-final replay defeat to Dublin.
But their commitment to it among other things this year has been celebrated in their renditions of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, which they sung following the win over Clare. Coach Gerry Fitzpatrick had given them three days to learn it.
Before he left the dressing room to speak to Clare, Dunne called them into a circle to give it a blast. “There are a lot of words in the song that were very appropriate to things we were doing on the hurling field that we had to change. When something’s going away from you, you need to know when to walk away. The same thing when a fella gives you a smack. If they didn’t know the words of the song there were going to be consequences.”
If they gave it an airing after beating Waterford in Nowlan Park last Saturday, it was done so quietly. Beating the All-Ireland champions deserved to be commemorated but it was merely a back door game.
That reality, Dunne hopes, has set in quickly.
“People are getting a little carried away and that’s fine. There’s a great buzz in Wexford at the moment but what people have seen the last three weeks has been three years of work.
“To be honest, there’s another three years of work ahead. We’ve gotten away with making mistakes and not putting teams away when we should be and letting teams get back into it.
“There are a lot of aspects of our game we have to improve on and we will. The team is young, a lot of them are learning their trade.
“The players themselves have gained a reward over the last couple of weeks but they have been just two qualifiers. You can’t get carried away but you have to give them credit. It’s good for the championship and the spectators.
“We’re playing the Munster champions of last year, who got to another Munster final this year. They will want this as much as Wexford want it.
“We are not trying to play it down, I think what the boys have done over the last number of weeks has given us a huge foundation to push this on again whenever this year is over.”
Changing perceptions is in Dunne’s brief. He’s succeeding within the boundaries of his own county but the work remains incomplete outside it.
Wexford’s stock is only slightly higher than when he was dropped as a newspaper columnist some years back.
“Unfortunately, I got the call one day that the editor was looking for somebody from one of the top three counties, Kilkenny, Cork or Tipperary.”
He feels they’ve some way to go before they are fully appreciated.
“I sort of always felt when we beat a team it’s because that team doesn’t hurl great or hurl well. Whereas they give us only a little bit of credit for the way we hurled. Almost every time we’ve played this year, it’s been the last game on The Sunday Game.”
Angling that big grin of his, Dunne can only suspect somebody is having a laugh at him when he considers how his hurling and work fortunes have entwined themselves these last three seasons.
Two days after his appointment as manager, he was informed he was being made redundant from Cemex. Last Monday, two days after the latest win over Waterford, he started a new job with Sheehan’s Cash and Carry.
The position came just as he had finished up covering maternity work with another company. Before that, he had been on the dole and then signed off it to work for a charity.
“I worked for St John of Gods for three-and-a-half months, knocking door to door asking people to subscribe to a charity that look after small children that are born with severe mental disabilities.
“It was a fantastic experience but in this day and age knocking from door to door is hard going. Anything was better than signing on the dole. I’m out on the road again and it’s good for the peace of mind.”
Dunne’s wicked sense of humour allows him to make light of such difficulties.
Work had been tough to find but hurling management roles came at him thick and fast. He agreed to become Oulart-The Ballagh manager although he hadn’t looked for it. The same with Wexford.
“I always had the intentions to get involved with the Wexford under-age set-up and that’s what I did for a few years.
“The big job came up a bit quicker than I really wanted but when it came I took it. I was lucky to get it because there were so many people looking for it at the time!”
That’s a joke, of course. Nobody wanted it.
He’s a fan of WhatsApp, the mobile phone messaging application. He had succeeded in quietly becoming part of a WhatsApp group set up by the players, finding it a mine of information on his men, only to blab one evening about something and find himself excommunicated.
He smiles about that one, but stresses everything is done for the players’ benefit. Bringing in Ireland rugby international Sean O’Brien and Intel Ireland’s Wexford-born chief executive Eamonn Sinnott to speak to the panel, he wants to see them grow as men as much as hurlers.
Overheads have been cut dramatically since he took charge. A former hurley maker himself, the costs of them are down over €5,000, half of what it was when he first came in.
“I’m managing a Wexford team but you’re managing the whole job. I have been in charge of this team for three years now and what I have done is run a business for the county board. It’s been great for my development.
“It’s my responsibility as a hurling manager to develop these guys off the field as well as on it. I see that as part of my job as well. Give guys an opportunity to broaden their mind. It’s a hobby, I enjoy it, I’ve a great passion for the job and it’s a huge opportunity for me.
“From being a player to managing the county, what more would you want? That brings with it a lot of pressures as well but the bottom line is it’s never going to be a career. It’ll have its lifespan and I’ll put whatever I can into it and then move into the sunset, go back and maybe take over the Wexford juveniles or something like that again.”
Young Jack wouldn’t mind that.