The questions which Ger Cushe pose have been asked before. The ever so slight frustration in his tone has been heard before also.
Cushe, full-back on Wexford’s 1996 All-Ireland-winning team and selector during Liam Dunne’s tenure, was in Parnell Park last Sunday for the county’s Leinster championship opener.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, and the visitors trailing Mattie Kenny’s Dublin by five points, Cushe feared that Wexford’s summer may end before it truly began. Those inside the whitewash similarly sensed the impending woe, summoning a late comeback charge, during which they outscored their hosts by 2-4 to 0-2, to move three in front with the clock deep in the red.
Sean Moran’s late, late goal may have denied Wexford the victory, but at least they had something to take back to the south-east and, more importantly, they’re not going up to Salthill tomorrow empty-handed.
Last Sunday wasn’t the first time this Wexford team, when faced with a somewhat sizeable second-half deficit, had thrown the tactics whiteboard out the window in attempting to reel in their opponents.
Back in mid-February, they came from 1-11 to 0-6 behind in the 42nd minute against Tipperary to win by 1-15 to 1-14, although it should be noted Wexford enjoyed numerical advantage here. In last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, Wexford halved Clare’s eight-point lead in the final quarter and should have eaten further into their opponents’ lead but for three consecutive wides after narrowing the gap to four. And no doubt there has been mention in the Wexford camp this week of their 2017 league visit to Salthill, a game where they overturned a six-point deficit with 27 minutes remaining to win by two and effectively secure promotion to the top tier.
Why, wonders Cushe, do Wexford abandon their restricted approach only when their opponents threaten to pull out of sight? Can the leash not be loosened from the start? Why wait until the game is almost beyond them? If Shaun Murphy or Kevin Foley is deployed as sweeper between the half-back and full-back line, is there need for another body or two extra in that Wexford rearguard, noticeably reducing the number of purple and gold shirts alongside Conor McDonald and Rory O’Connor up the other end of the field?
“Once Dublin pulled away a bit last Sunday, the shackles came off and the lads just went and hurled. Maybe, we need to hurl a little bit more off the cuff, hurl what is in front of us on the day, rather than come with a strict gameplan where you are trying to stay rigid to the gameplan,” reasoned Cushe.
When the lads threw off the shackles last week, when they just went hurling, opened up, and ran at Dublin, we just seemed to be a far better team. When we play off the cuff a small bit, we are very hard to hurl against.
“They will go with a sweeper again against Galway because they do not want to be opened up at the back. You can still play with a sweeper and be attack-minded. What we tend to do is use the sweeper, plus one or two more back there, when we could be attacking a lot more. Whey they are not too restricted in the gameplan, they seem to hurl a lot better. We play a better brand of hurling when we really go at it. We have the players to do that, such as Liam Óg McGovern, Rory O’Connor, Conor McDonald, and Diarmuid O’Keeffe. It is just about getting that balance right and making sure we don’t sit back too deep because if you sit back too deep against any team, they are going to come at you.”
The Model County’s most recent trip west was not a fruitful one as the Tribesmen won their league quarter-final meeting with 10 to spare. Joe Canning accounted for 0-15 that afternoon. Canning won’t feature tomorrow and his injury-enforced absence for the county’s recent championship opener against Carlow led to one of eight changes rung by manager Micheál Donoghue from the team which lost to Limerick in last year’s All-Ireland final, by far the biggest turnover of players from one championship game to the next during Donoghue’s three and a half year tenure. Cushe is unsure if Joe’s no-show will lend itself to a tweak in Wexford’s approach.
“Starting off, Galway are not as strong as they were going into the 2017 and 2018 championships. Lads being out injured does open the door for other lads to step forward. For three or four Galway players, Sunday is their chance, their opportunity to put their hand up and say, ‘I want to be on this team’. If we had them in Wexford Park, and they without Joe, I would see it as a great opportunity, but it is going to be tough to try and beat Galway in their backyard, irrespective of who they have or don’t have.
From my own time involved, you would have certain games on your mind where you would be hoping to get a win. Dublin was definitely one of them.
“The Wexford lads are under a bit of pressure from now on. Galway have probably targeted this game from a long way out as to where their season really starts. If Wexford come off second best here, they will need to beat Kilkenny in their last game to finish in the top three and that won’t be easy.”