Former Wexford captain Damien Fitzhenry says they must win the Leinster Championship this summer, or at least push hard in the All-Ireland series, to claim they’ve made progress.
Boss Davy Fitzgerald has stated throughout his two seasons in charge that they are well ahead of schedule.
They’ve consolidated their Division 1A place in the league and are on the brink of back-to-back Leinster final berths ahead of Saturday’s clash with Galway.
But two-time All-Star goalkeeper Fitzhenry said that, for him, the season won’t be a success if they don’t claim silverware or make a strong push for the MacCarthy Cup.
Fitzhenry said: “Absolutely. Anything less than a Leinster, or definitely getting to an All-Ireland semi or final is no progress on last year. If you are talking about progress, you have to be moving on.”
Fitzhenry agreed that it’s a high bar to set Fitzgerald and his players but insists it’s achievable.
He continued: “That is the way it is, that is the way the game is. You have to get there, have to train hard and try to get there, to produce those performances. We definitely have quality within the team to do that, whether we have 20 — we have 15 to start and five to come on, but if we have the quality in the 20 — that’s another day’s story.
“But we are definitely good enough to challenge those teams and to give every one of them a run for their money.”
Fitzhenry and Fitzgerald, both former goalkeepers, were among hurling’s most iconic figures when their counties shared three All-Ireland wins in the 1990s.
Fitzhenry said he expects his old adversary to remain as manager for a number of years, provided the results remain positive.
He said: “If he produces the goods this year and there is silverware brought to Wexford, I can see him there for the foreseeable future, for the next year or two years.
“We will have to wait and see. If no silverware arrives this year, that is two years. How long do you stay, how long do you leave it, how long do you keep with the same crew to turn that around? A lot will depend on this year.”
Fitzhenry described Saturday’s clash with All-Ireland holders Galway at Innovate Wexford Park as their biggest game of the year.
It was Galway, after a keenly contested first 30 minutes, that pulled away from Wexford in last year’s Leinster final to win with some to spare.
Fitzhenry said: “I wouldn’t be overly confident that they can beat Galway but they can definitely put it up to them.
“They have a strong middle and they have big men all over the field but the most important thing about them is that they are all able to chip in and produce match-winning displays every day and I think we may be a bit short on that yet, maybe two or three players in different positions, and we have to work on that.
“This is probably going to be the game of the year for Wexford, regardless of the result. If they win they’re in Croke Park for the Leinster final and if they lose it looks like it’ll be a dogfight in Nowlan Park the week after against Kilkenny. Whatever they don’t learn this Saturday, they’ll learn it the following weekend for sure.”
Fitzgerald is credited with reviving Wexford’s fortunes though Fitzhenry said they were probably a coming force anyhow after winning three Leinster U-21 titles on the trot.
He said: “I think it was always going to pick up. Liam Dunne was there and had a huge year in 2014, they brought Clare to a replay and beat them that year. They were always capable of producing performances like that but the whole thing was to be consistent and to produce those performances day in, day out. And I think that is what they worked on last year, and are working on, and hopefully that will continue.”
A key part of Fitzgerald’s strategy has been to detail Shaun Murphy as a seventh defender or sweeper. Waterford reached last year’s All-Ireland final with a similar style though their supporters were said to be split around 60-40 in favour of the tactic.
Fitzhenry said: “The mood around Wexford is that they are playing that way and the scoreboard is going in their favour and it is great. And if the scoreboard is not in their favour then it is terrible, ‘Why are we playing like that?’ That is the simplest summary I can give you on that.”
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