THE argument can be made that the Wexford footballers are more competitive than the county hurlers have been in recent times, but that’s not surprising for a county which has a proud history in the game, reflected in the winning of five All-Ireland titles up to the early part of the last century.
They were recent Division 3 League champions, claimed the scalp of Tyrone in a semi-final three years ago and it’s not so long since they won against Meath, their rivals in the quarter-final of the GAA Leinster championship in Dr Cullen Park tomorrow. The fact that it was Fermanagh they bettered in Parnell Park five weeks ago is further testament to the potential in the team.
Yes, they will respect Meath, says team manager Jason Ryan, but that doesn’t mean they fear them.
Ryan is a Cork native, whose family went to live in Waterford when he was ten.
He’s a PE teacher by profession, working in Coláiste Cathal Naofa in Dungarvan and remarks that his principal, Corkman Pat Buckley, is also driven by sport. After spending ten years in London and going to Australia for eight months, he returned home three and a half years ago.
“I got involved with training a team in Slieverue, in south Kilkenny and then with Clongeen in Wexford last year and they won the championship,” he explained. Arising from his success there, he was offered the Wexford job.
His time with Clongeen brought him into contact with some of the best teams in the county, so he had an appreciation of the talent available before he took over. Additionally, he played for Waterford against Wexford twice last year, firstly in the league and then in a later challenge. Now, as they ready themselves for the championship, he says that they are better than he actually thought they were.
“That has nothing to do with the management or coaching. Now that I am amongst them I can see the ability they have as players. There is a huge amount of talent in the panel. It’s just a matter of harnessing it and hopefully we can get some good results in the next few months.”
Understandably, going through the League unbeaten was a major boost for the players’ confidence and it was evident in the way they coped with fairly continuous pressure from Fermanagh in the closing stages.
Making a few comebacks in other games was an obvious help, he agreed.
While Meath had the benefit of a first-round game, Ryan isn’t in the least bit concerned.
In actual fact, he says that they are better off as a result.
“The League final was only a few weeks ago. I am glad that we hadn’t a championship match, because it has given us a break. If we had gone straight into the championship after two weeks, it’s probable that these players would not have been fit enough.”
Two years ago, Wexford knocked Meath out in the quarter-final, 1-19 to 1-13, on a day when Matty Forde contributed twelve of their points. And, at home in the League last season, they were also winners, by a margin of seven points. However, Ryan is largely dismissive of these results — the championship win in particular.
“I have seen Meath play a few times. They were All-Ireland semi-finalists last year and they are a very organised and very experienced team. If you look at midfield, they can pick from three huge players, and that’s not including their captain, Nigel Crawford (one of the players still under suspension). Their defence was very strong, even without the players who were missing and they did not have to use Anthony Moyles or Shane O’Rourke.
“Anyone who plays Meath will have respect for them. But, for Wexford there won be a fear factor.”
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