Enjoyment? “This isn’t enjoyment,” says Liam Dunne. Making the last six for the second time in three years may sound like something to derive pleasure from, but managing Wexford feels to him like more of a duty.
Facing Waterford brings back memories of their league quarter-final encounter earlier this year, when there were local attempts to unsettle the Wexford camp concerning a small trip Dunne had taken to Spain the weekend prior to the game.
“The biggest mistake I made was coming home from Spain,” he says, laughing. “I should have stayed out there. No, look, it’s all part of the process. We came probably quicker than I thought in 2014. We’d drew Kilkenny last year and then Cork and it was tough going. This year, had we beaten Offaly in the league people would have said our league wasn’t too bad. And we could have beaten Waterford.
“The enjoyment comes out of winning and trying to do your best for the lads, but I don’t know whether there’s much enjoyment in hurling management anymore. You’re trying to catch up so much with the Kilkennys of this world, but we don’t have to worry about Kilkenny. We’re on a different tier.
“The transition of this team over the last two years has been phenomenal. Building a new team and people think it’s going to happen overnight. I’m pulling in fellas who are 18 and 19 years of age and they’re just not physically or mentally ready for the demands, but try telling that to the vultures
“It wasn’t a good performance against Dublin back in May, but it’s a lot different looking from the inside out than the outside in. It’s been a good place to be over the last couple of weeks. Everybody who is in there wants to hurl for Wexford and that’s all I want, I just want guys to put their fucking life on the line for the job. After that, you can’t ask for anymore whether it’s good enough on any given day remains to be seen.”
In 2014, Dunne was keen to bring in different voices, such as Sean O’Brien, to speak to the players, but he has opted against it this time around.
“This year, we’ve just tried to simplify things. I just think we were burdening fellas with too much stuff. I suppose it’s about stamping your own authority on it, when you look at Davy [Fitzgerald] there with his 455-strong backroom team! Everyone does their own thing.
“In fairness, Matthew O’Hanlon, Conor McDonald, Lee Chin, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Liam Óg (McGovern), Eoin Moore... all these guys have been performing at a very high standards the last few weeks and other guys have been rowing in behind them and that’s what you need. It will definitely make the team stronger down the road. Lads are learning as they’re going along. There will be a bang coming from Wexford over the next number of years, but we’re only worried now about trying to get a bang on Sunday.”
Dunne knows what to expect from Waterford, but that doesn’t offer any guarantees.
“We deserved that win against Cork but the goal at the end, if Cork were to have tagged on another point, who knows what would have happened?
“We’ve had two good performances in a row, but Waterford are going to come along with a packed defence. I see no reason why they should change. They shouldn’t change. They will probably believe their system will work pretty good against ourselves. I think their system will work against any team bar Kilkenny and Tipperary, as they have the firepower to expose you further out the field, but this is about us, to tell you the truth, and getting ourselves right. We have no fear of Waterford and they have no fear of us. I think I have eight first-team players missing, so I think we’ve done well.”
James Breen (meningitis) and Podge Doran (knee) are the latest to join the injury list, though the extent of Doran’s injury may not be as bad as suspected. “The knee has settled and he has a micro fracture but he thinks he may not need an operation and could be back in six weeks.”
Across league and championship, Wexford’s record against Waterford these last three seasons reads: Played three, lost two, and the aggregate margin between the sides is just four points.
“We’ve had three good battles with them. We beat them in 2014 then the following year they knocked us to go up to Division 1A in what really was the Division 1B final in a way. Then they beat us by a point this year. I’d more players at my disposal back then, but we’ll go on with what we have.”
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