Or this Sunday afternoon, to be precise, when they get their championship under way by welcoming Dublin to Wexford Park. While they’re a team full of youth, still finding its full stride under Davy Fitzgerald, McDonald believes their clock is already ticking.
“A lot of people would have said over the years, ‘ah yeah, [they’re] a young team,’ but as the years go on, you’re getting older and older and you’re running out of time to succeed,” says McDonald.
If that seems an unnecessary sense of urgency for a 22-year-old, put it down to the recent history of a county starved of success — albeit one that’s got enough of a taste to stoke its appetite.
Wexford rocketed from the blocks in last year’s championship, giving Laois a 14-point hiding in the Leinster quarter-final before toppling Kilkenny in the semi-final, where they were good value for a three-point win. But three weeks later their chugging cart crossed paths with an express train, Galway sticking 29 points past them in the Leinster final.
They started 2018 like a team that had a good think about itself on New Year’s Eve, easing past Waterford and Cork in their opening league games before getting a reality check against Tipperary. In the league quarter-final, McDonald scored the goal that separated them and All-Ireland champions Galway, but then along came Kilkenny in the semi-final, blowing by them with nine points to spare.
If you are beating a team like Galway the week before and then you turn around and you don’t perform at all, it is frustrating,” says McDonald. “Kilkenny were very good that day and it showed that they went on to win the league, but that was a bit of a downer.
“Kilkenny have changed their style completely to what they used to and that’s a testament to them, that they didn’t stick to their guns and hope that it would work. Maybe we were a bit naive to think they were going to play as they normally do, but we just have to learn from that.”
Sunday’s game will mark the first of four weekends on the trot for Wexford, and McDonald admits the revised championship format is still an unknown quantity. “Everyone is in the fog about how they are going to feel. I suppose the main thing is to try and keep injury-free and if you have any niggles, to get them sorted as quickly as you can.”
Dublin arrive off the back of a late-game collapse against Kilkenny last weekend, and McDonald is expecting a backlash this Sunday. “I am sure there is going to be a ferocious intensity to every game. They are coming down to Wexford Park expecting to get a win. Dublin are going to be ready
Wexford will make a six-day turnaround to face Offaly the following Saturday, then welcome Galway a week later at Wexford Park before wrapping up the round robin with a trip to Kilkenny on June 9. For McDonald, navigating their way to another Leinster final will be all about one key habit: Consistency.
I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it is generally what works best. We have to string a couple of really good performances together and hopefully then results will look after themselves.
"That’s the main thing we have worked on since Davy came in — consistency and working hard for the lad beside you.”
Fitzgerald’s mandate requires players to always think of the greater good, and for individual stars like McDonald, that’s a concession he’s happy to make if it leads them back to their intended destination.
“I would hope that we’d get to some positions we were in last year, a Leinster final. With the system we play, you really have to buy into it. If that means I am working hard for the team — I mightn’t necessarily be scoring 1-3 every game — but as long as we are winning that’s all that matters.”
- Conor McDonald was speaking at the launch of the Bord Gáis Energy summer of hurling.