Championship Preview: "There’s no honour going into a post office on Wednesday to collect €188"

A natural born word-shaker, Liam Dunne isn’t taking prisoners in his crusade to take Wexford hurling somewhere it hasn’t been in a while. If there’s a more forthright manager parading the touchline this summer, he hasn’t emerged yet. John Fogarty took notes. Lots of them.

Dragline: “Where’d the road go?”

Luke: “That’s it. That’s the end of it.”

Koko: “Man, there’s still daylight.”

Dragline: “About two hours left.”

Loudmouth Steve: “What do we do now?”

Luke: “Nothin’.”

Dragline: “Oh Luke, you wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin’.”

(Cool Hand Luke, 1967)

If the time should come when Liam Dunne provides Wexford with another cup to fill, it will be delivered with defiance. As a retort to somebody who did the county wrong. As a snap to a slight. The GAA’s authorities and The Sunday Game come to mind but he has a list as long as your arm. Dunne, you see, doesn’t forget and in Wexford there will always be a need to subvert. As Paul Newman’s Lucas ‘Luke’ Jackson cajoles his fellow prisoners in that magnificent road-tarring scene, “The man, boys, get the man!”

Hurling’s establishment is the target but to meet that end, Wexford’s own approach has to be right. “It’s taken three years to steady a ship that was sinking,” Dunne says. Last year’s victories over Clare and Waterford, he admits, “came a year quicker than I thought, maybe two years quicker than I thought”. Still, he’s glad it happened and now players have had to recalibrate their goals.

Wexford, though, is one place where expectations outside a hurling camp far exceed those within it, even if it is seven years since they last saw the inside of Croke Park. On the basis of “three weekends” last year, he has noticed fans losing the run of themselves. As a player, he had a front row seat when hype consumed the county. When they knocked out the All-Ireland champions in Wexford Park last July, he knew what would happen and took himself to the sanctuary of the dressing room where he met Ireland rugby player Sean O’Brien, who Dunne had persuaded to work as an advisor with the team last season.

“In fairness, Wexford supporters are the one group that get carried away after a victory. And they do. We’ve been starved of victories. When we beat Clare, I was probably the first person off the field, as quick as I could. I could see fellas flying for me who were over the moon but I just got out of there.

“I sat in the dressing room and there wasn’t a sinner there and who looked in only Sean O’Brien. I looked at Sean and he looked at me and I went over to him and we shook hands and I thanked him for his contribution. Sean just says to me, ‘What do you think of all that shite out there?’ That’s the way he is. I said, ‘I know, Sean, but these supporters have after been starved of success for so long and they will enjoy it’. Then we heard ‘Dancing At The Crossroads’ blared out and I was there ‘Holy Jesus, this is all you want!’”

Dunne then asked O’Brien to say a few words to the players as a means of refocusing them ahead of the qualifier against Waterford. The manager, meanwhile, went to the Clare dressing room. “The first dressing room I’ve gone into since I took over the Wexford team”. Why? “No-one had ever done it to me so I had never done it to anybody. I’ve been in the Limerick and Waterford dressing rooms since.”

O’Brien was injured last summer so was at something of a loose end. Dunne hasn’t approached him this year but was thankful for his contribution not only in addressing players but the homework he put into it (“he was looking up the details of other teams on Google”). “A man who came from Carlow to become a British and Irish Lion, one of the biggest honours in rugby, to come and see the Wexford hurlers? It had a great knock-on effect.”

A Manchester United fan, Dunne will this weekend attend a club legends function in Enniscorthy where he may try and convince another star to impart some wisdom to his charges. “I heard Roy Keane wouldn’t go in to speak to the Cork footballers and I would be a big fan of Roy Keane’s. He said they didn’t need to hear him. Bringing in different people, I have done it and I will continue to do it until I finish up at the end of 2016. I will do whatever I can and whatever it takes to help Wexford and if that means bringing in another icon I will. If it means Roy Keane, I will try.”

After a second season finishing third in Division 1B, some might say Wexford need such an injection of inspiration. Dunne wouldn’t agree. “We got beaten by Limerick, Waterford and Cork. That probably shows no progress. But believe it or not, I was happy with how the league went this year. It doesn’t bother me about 1A or 1B, it doesn’t bother me if we never get up to 1A. It bothers the county board financially. I would hope the crowds that were in Wexford Park for the Limerick and Waterford games would see a good financial reward for the team.

“I felt our hurling was far superior than a year ago in the National League. The league tables and results probably didn’t show what was happening. I was happier than the general punter. In the last three National Leagues, it was our best.”

Luke: “A man’s gotta go his own way”

Dunne was appointed Colm Bonnar’s successor three years after the county’s footballers reached an All-Ireland semi-final and gained promotion to Division 2. Wexford were in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis. Good hurlers were either abandoning Bonnar or giving him half of their time so that they could row in with Jason Ryan’s footballers.

Dunne likes his football; he has been at every All-Ireland senior football final bar one since 1987. But if he was to do anything tangible in his term, he needed the undivided attention of the county’s dual players. “When I took it over, Daithi Waters and Lee Chin and all these players were playing football and you couldn’t blame them. To be fair to Jason Ryan, he would have 45 to 50 players in a panel and wouldn’t cut it down until April, and it was then too late to go back into a hurling panel. There was five years of that. I’m not going to blame Jason Ryan - he did a fabulous job with Wexford football - but his tenure in football definitely stuck a knife into hurling big time in the way he went about it. But he went about it smartly and fair play to him.

“I learned a little bit from that as well, took it on board and shoved the knife back in the other way and twisted it as well. I would be very respectful of the football clubs in Wexford and football people. From a hurling perspective, I do what I can for them.”

It’s fair to say an order has been restored in Wexford during Dunne’s tenure although history has proven to be as much an opponent to hurling as football. “We won four All-Irelands in football and then the Rackards took over. We have to be realistic about where we’re going and I don’t think people are. From ‘68 to ‘96, 28 years, we won one All-Ireland. Now it’s another 19 years. It took us 19 years to win another Leinster title after ‘77. We won another Leinster in 2004 and now it’s 2015 and we can’t get to a Leinster final.”

Dunne knows that finance is a difficulty for a county board that was €3 million in the red three years ago. He couldn’t praise chairman Diarmuid Devereux or secretary Margaret Doyle enough but their hands are tied to a certain extent. For that reason, anonymous benefactors are heaven-sent. “All the hard work we’ve done and all the time and commitment we need more resources, the team needs more resources. The county board have been brilliant, backing me 100%, but there’s only so much you can ask for from a county board that was millions in debt. You’ve a budget you have to try and work with. When you see what other teams are doing, you wouldn’t dream about training camps because you just couldn’t do them.

“We spent a night in Ashdown Park Hotel in Gorey last year. That was the boys’ treat for the year and yet I’ve got some very good people outside the circle who have come to me and put a few bob where their mouth is. I’m very appreciative of that and they wouldn’t like to be mentioned but the resources we have we could do with them doubled.

“Then you ask the question: how bad do we really want it deep down in this county? Everybody wants success. You look at what Gordon D’Arcy has done, Kevin Doyle has done but they had a professional basis. Our guys are amateur giving us huge chunks of their time and I can’t look after them properly the way I would like to do but nobody sees that.”

Boss: “Sorry, Luke. I’m just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that.”

Luke: “Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.”

In one way, it amused Dunne how Wexford became the boys of summer last year 12 months after they and Dublin were accused of playing “constipated hurling” by Ger Loughnane on The Sunday Game one week and then scaring Dublin with rough play by Michael Duignan in the replay the following weekend.

In another, it disgusted him. “I thought we got a lot of unfair criticism two years ago. Andrew Shore was sent off in Parnell Park (in 2013 replay). Clare had three men sent off against us last year in two games. These things are going to happen. It’s very easy to get on a bandwagon. Michael Duignan stuck the knife into us big time. He was always going to protect Brian Gavin, they’re very good friends so he was always going to look after his buddy as best he could. On national television and in the papers, he did a very good job. A year later he’s down with us in Wexford celebrating after us beating Clare?

“The other man (Loughnane)? He had Galway playing some fair constipated hurling for a long time and knocked them back 10 years. When these fellas are on a bandwagon and talking we know what we have to do.”

Dunne has played the punditry game, writing a Sunday newspaper column as well as analysing games on Today FM. He knows the might of the printed word and the wireless but recognises the power of tv is even more potent. Are referees and those who administer them swayed by such commentary?

“Definitely. Referees are humans as well and they’re going to make mistakes. Just look at ourselves, Diarmuid Kirwan of Cork is back on the (championship) panel after being off it last year. We were in a situation in Wexford Park two years ago when we were four points up against Dublin with five minutes to go. Unless their tongues are hanging out, we have them bet. Mark Schutte blatantly drops his hurl, hand-passes the ball and a goal is scored. The umpire doesn’t even see it but everyone in Wexford Park sees it and it’s showed again on television. They come back and draw the game and beat us in the replay. It was a terrible decision.

“The same referee let the game continue when Tomás Waters was down with a horrific injury. Clare scored two points in that time. After 70 minutes, we draw the game and get beaten in extra-time. Terrible decisions. That referee was taken off the panel but I don’t think he deserved to lose out on a whole year of inter-county refereeing over that. Now he’s back this year. They’re only human, they will make mistakes but people can have an influence on them.

“The Sunday Game has an influence. A few weeks ago on ‘League Sunday’, Tomás Ó Sé was on it and they picked two or three off-the-ball incidents in one game and then we came to the Kerry (v Tyrone) game and there were a desperate blatant thing done, but it was never even mentioned. I waited to see how Tomás would react to this one, but Michael Lyster never even brought it up.

“You saw Jamie O’Sullivan highlighted for elbowing Diarmuid Connolly (in Division 1 football final). I can’t actually see him hitting him in the jaw. If it was me, I would be going to my barrister to show that I didn’t actually hit him. I think that’s after creeping into ‘The Sunday Game’ and ‘League Sunday’ big time. The likes of Eddie Brennan and Brendan Cummins highlight these things but they’ve been around long enough to know...”

Dragline: “You don’t listen much. Do you, boy?”

Luke: “I ain’t heard that much worth listening to. Just a lot of guys laying down a lot of rules and regulations.”

Dunne’s rebellious ways have never left him. In his first year in charge, he wore the maor foirne bib against Offaly so that he could run onto the pitch and deliver messages to his players. His actions prompted a directive from Croke Park reminding counties’ managers to refrain from such practices or risk being suspended. The message may have been generic but it was only for Dunne.

In 2013, he made six personnel changes to the named Wexford team for the first game against Dublin and was castigated for issuing the dummy team. He later explained Dublin had recruited his video analyst earlier that year. He wasn’t going to make things any easier for Anthony Daly than they already were.

Last year, he publicly fought with Croke Park to retain the services of Paudie Butler as a coaching advisor. Dunne strikes you as a manager who likes to absorb all the heat away from his players. He would argue he’s anything but. “Jesus, no. I would love to put more pressure on the players!

“It’s fair frustrating being confined to a part of the sideline and you can’t cross the line or move around. You could be shouting at a fella but sure he can’t hear you. It will eventually come in that they will tell managers and everyone else that they can’t be on the sideline but up in the stands like the rugby. They’re trying to change a lot of things to be like rugby and soccer.

“I just tried that that day because I wanted to go in and out to the players. Seemingly, I can’t do that but I haven’t signed a contract of any sort. I am the manager of the Wexford senior hurling team but I haven’t signed up to a €100,000 a year job. There is a verbal agreement. That’s why I laugh when I hear people talk about ‘well is it two years, three years, four years?’ You could be gone tomorrow.

“You come along with these rules that say the manager can’t do this and the manager can’t do that but I haven’t signed anything. What’s to stop me from saying ‘well, I’d like you to pretend to be the manager for the next two games and then I can go along and do the maor foirne?’”

Luke: “Sometimes nothing can be a really cool hand”

This interview finds Dunne in search of employment once more. It’s well known he got news he was being made redundant two days after he became Wexford manager. He was on the dole for 18 months before he got maternity leave cover early last year. Two days after beating Waterford last July, he took up a position with a cash and carry company in Wexford town but it didn’t last.

A sales rep for the guts of 19 years, his determination to find a full-time job has seen him go door-to-door. He’s put months of preparations into interviews only to be asked how he would be able to fulfil work duties while honouring his commitment to Wexford. When a leading pharmacy put the question to him, he used a jug and glasses on the table in front of him to illustrate that he too had a team around him like the company’s owner. “It didn’t work in my favour calling him a jug!” he smiles.

Regarded as a hindrance, managing Wexford should work just as much in his favour. “I’ve a really good system in place at the moment and it frees up a huge amount of time. I worked for 18 months and during the height of the summer last year and I had no problem with time. I’ve been on the road working for nearly 19 years. “There’s no honour going into a post office on a Wednesday to collect €188. Sometimes, deep in the inner soul of yourself it gets very difficult. I go to a training session that I have planned three, four months in advance. I know exactly what we’re doing right up until the end of June and I’ve known it for months. When I get to anything to do with Wexford hurling I’ve my game-face on. Nobody has any idea of any problem I have. It’s never an issue. I can do that.

“I would have hoped it would have opened doors for me, but it hasn’t yet. People look at me as the bainisteoir on the line but I’m managing over 50 people. Gerry Fitzpatrick is my main man, a magnificent fella, and both Wexford and I wouldn’t be where they are without this guy coming on board. Former Ireland basketball coach, a sports psychologist, an expert in strength and conditioning, a lecturer in WIT... he’s fantastic. Liam Griffin is on video analysis. Enda McNulty and Paudie Butler are there. I’ve a great nutritionist in Sharon Madigan.

“It’s been a huge help in my development dealing with these people and our physios and our players. It’s been a huge learning curve. I wouldn’t be afraid to say I’m good at managing people. I’m managing lads who would have been on their knees; we’re not on our knees anymore.

“When I lost a job two years ago I went up to the Ulster Council and did a diploma in team management. I had to travel to Armagh to do it. I found the homework very difficult but I got through it. I’m going Access IT now to upskill myself as best I can. I don’t want to be a hurling manager for the rest of my life. I just want to win the All-Ireland and get out!”


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