Hard work pays for Wexford's Diarmuid O’Keeffe

No other team, it’s fair to say, worked harder than Wexford hurlers this January. Just as he did with Clare and Waterford previously, Davy Fitzgerald put his players through the ringer, training them on no less than 26 days.

Hard work pays for Wexford's Diarmuid O’Keeffe

The benefits were more than evident in the opening Division 1B wins over Limerick and Galway, which virtually confirmed their promotion, but they continue to reveal themselves as Wexford prepare for a first Division 1 semi-final since 2007.

Commuting from Santry where he lives and Dunboyne where he works, Diarmuid O’Keeffe would have had more reason to feel that gruel but insists the time flew. “I got told by a friend of mine in work that we had trained 26 or 28 days of however many days there was in the month and I didn’t actually believe it myself.

“I didn’t notice it at the time, being honest. We rowed in behind it and I can’t say for definite what the figure was. At the time we were just getting on with it and that was the height of it.”

The fruits of the slew of challenge matches across December and January also came to bear. “There was a lot of challenge games,” recalls O’Keeffe. “We had Waterford, Cork, Tipp themselves, so there was a lot of games but I think that’s what Davy needed, to see the whole 30 or 35 players to see where everyone was at and what they were able to offer. He needed those games to see how the lads were working so there was a lot of games but not everyone was playing in every game because there was a rotation system there.”

Not that O’Keeffe believes Fitzgerald was hoping the intensity and rigour would cut the chaff from the wheat. “The majority of the squad is the same from the last few years, so the lads know what is needed at this level. I don’t think too many fell by the wayside, to be honest.”

Manic zeal might be what defines Fitzgerald’s public persona and he has been synonymous with the sweeper system but O’Keeffe says he’s much more than that. “In my eyes, Davy is very similar to a lot of the other managers I would have worked under. It’s just his way of man-managing. He’s seen by the media on the sideline going mad a bit, that’s just his way of showing his passion for the game and showing how passionate he is about his team. Look, I don’t buy into the whole Davy factor; he brings his own passion to the whole set-up and that’s just his way of doing things.”

O’Keeffe admits they are still trying to perfect the sweeper system so encouraged by Fitzgerald. “We are still working on it, to be honest, we are still making a lot of mistakes even with the sweeper in place. So it is an ongoing process, I don’t think we can ever say that we have fully got to grips with it yet.”

Indications that Wexford hurling followers had awoken from their slumber was evident as early as the opening Walsh Cup win when 5,000 people turned up for the double-header with the footballers in Gorey. Promotion and the win over Kilkenny have sent the county into hype overdrive.

O’Keeffe is fortunate in a way to be away from it most of the time. “Yeah, I don’t see it. I come home at the weekend and the family are telling me all the stuff that is going on, and the team are the only topic of conversation and I don’t see any of it, and I enjoy not seeing any of it, because I don’t want to get dragged into it.”

At the same time, he knows it’s only happening because Wexford are winning matches. “Look, it just goes to show how passionate Wexford supporters are. The mindset after the first two wins in the league changed completely and all Wexford supporters rowed in behind us. They are fantastic supporters, we have had some awful results over the last few years and they have continued to follow us, which has been fantastic. Ultimately, we have to get drawn to on-the-field things, we can’t be distracted by anything off it, it is not in our nature. We have to concentrate on what we are trying to do on the field and not worry about any of that stuff.”

O’Keeffe describes the upcoming clash with Tipperary as a “bonus” but even with championship hurling on the horizon, he says they won’t be holding back. “Wexford are in the position where they can’t afford to be trying to peak at any particular stage in the year for championship. We have to go out every day and get the best performance out of ourselves and win every game we play, that is the stage we are at.”

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