Matthew O’Hanlon has hailed the bond in the Wexford panel that has seen through some rough sailing these past couple of seasons.
Both management and players came in for criticism after a mediocre Division 1B campaign and a listless 13-point loss to Dublin in May’s Leinster quarter-final.
But the wins over Offaly and Cork have compensated for those disappointments, a recovery which the Wexford captain puts down to the strong ties in the camp among the players and between them and Liam Dunne’s management team.
“I suppose as a group of players we’ve always remained united. Always had each other’s back and always remained motivated and wanted to do our best for Wexford. Looking at this season in its entirety, until the Offaly and Cork games we haven’t really set the world alight. An indifferent league, a poor performance against Dublin.
“So, rightfully so, people in Wexford were asking questions. And we felt we owed the supporters one. And we owed Liam one as well because he stood by us for the past four or five years. We’ve had our ups and downs but we were delighted to get over the line and prove we have it within us to win a big championship game and get a bit of momentum. And, look, who knows where it can take us now.”
O’Hanlon can’t disguise the difficulties caused by injuries, retirements and unavailability.
“Compared to even last year’s panel, there’s been a changeover of about 10 guys. A lot of senior guys over the last number of years like Rory Jacob, Keith Rossiter, Richie Kehoe, Mossy Waters, Gareth Sinnott, guys who had seasoned championship experience have left the panel since. And a few guys haven’t come back into the panel, the likes of Kevin Foley and Jack Guiney.
“It’s paved the way for younger guys to come in. But that takes time for it to all bed in with the panel and these guys have developed and been fast-tracked a bit. It was good in a way they got that game-time in the league and in the Walsh Cup and it’s standing them in good stead now.
“It’s also allowed some of the younger players... like you’d forget that Conor McDonald and Liam Ryan and these guys are still only 20 years of age and are stepping up to be really big senior players at this level.
“I suppose having the senior players gone from last year’s panel to this one has allowed them to do that which is great for us.”
O’Hanlon anticipates a large Wexford presence at Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles.
“It would be great to give something back to ourselves and this group for the effort that they’ve put in and for the Wexford supporters who are the best in the country without doubt.
“Wexford are great supporters. On the back of the last two performances, I expect a big crowd of them to come, especially with our minors playing Limerick before us and if we can build up a bit of belief and get that crowd behind us, they’ll see us home, hopefully.
“It does make a huge difference to the players when they run on and hear that roar of our own crowd behind us. It makes a big difference on the pitch.”
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