For 12 months, they’ve been looking more and more the part; now Wexford feel like it.
Retaining their Division 1A status after promotion last year marks progress and the players know it.
Going one better than 2017 when Tipperary stopped them in their tracks and reaching a Division 1 semi-final tomorrow would be another leap - and what a scalp the Division 1 and All-Ireland champions Galway would be.
Even if Wexford have won all of their six-season matches in Innovate Wexford Park, All-Star nominee Diarmuid O’Keeffe is a little more circumspect about championing their chances but he freely declares this group consider themselves one of the big boys now.
“I think you have to (believe). I think you have to see yourself as being up there with the big teams, the top six or seven.
“You have to believe that every day you go out you can beat them regardless of who they are.
“If you don’t see it that way, I don’t think you’re going to get too far. It’s positive psychology.
“If you see yourself performing well then that obviously transfers into games when you put it into practice.
“We have to see ourselves up there with Galway, Kilkenny and Tipperary more than ever now.
“Do we have the measure of those big teams having beaten a couple of them? Possibly so but consistency is a big thing.
“We haven’t beaten Tipp and it’s toing and froing with Kilkenny although we beat them in the Walsh Cup final and (in the Leinster SHC semi-final) in Wexford Park last year. They got one up on us last weekend (in Nowlan Park).
“It’s funny that people were writing off Kilkenny after the opening two rounds and here they are having finished second in the group.
“People were foolish to believe they were gone away or weren’t going to be competitive. They firmly are there still.”
The win over Clare ensured Wexford’s safety in Division 1A but it was paramount that they began the campaign on the right footing, says O’Keeffe.
“Relief is maybe a strong word but the opening games against Waterford and Cork really did set us up. It gave us a bit of confidence that we could bring on into the latter part of the campaign. We were well on the way to getting to a quarter-final and retaining our Division 1A spot. A couple of things didn’t go our way against Tipperary and Kilkenny but those early wins were ultimately fantastic for us.”
Little upsets O’Keeffe’s positivity. Even the challenges a lot of the Wexford panel face, he regards as advantages.
Living in Santry and working as a teacher in Dunboyne, the St Anne’s man looks upon the commutes from the capital to training for 17 of Fitzgerald’s men as bonding opportunities.
“It’s one of the more enjoyable things about it. You really get to know the lads you’re travelling with inside-out. You have a couple of hours where you can discuss things as regards training or lifestyle or games or gym work or whatever it may be.”
With one of the two weekly training sessions on a Friday, Davy Fitzgerald has scheduled those practises with them in mind, and now 15 months into his reign, O’Keeffe feels players have a strong understanding of what the manager expects of them.
“That bit experience of playing more games and playing the way Wexford want to play obviously gives us confidence to perform at an elite level. Our own understanding as players and individuals obviously grows around what Davy is looking for. Games are the big thing. The more games you play and the more opportunity you have to tweak and fix things, then obviously it’s going to stand to you.”
The sight of the maroon jersey tomorrow afternoon will bring back bitter feelings for O’Keeffe and his colleagues, with the lingering feeling they gave Galway too much free rein in last year’s Leinster final.
Too much Wexford did that day fell into Galway’s lap, O’Keeffe feels. “Let’s be honest, full credit to Galway, they were the better side on the day. There was a stage there in the middle third when we let ourselves down and learned a few things from it. We made a few errors and we were punished. That was the massive difference.
“Of course, we took things from it and we do every time we go out. If we limit the amount of mistakes we’re making then it’s going to serve us well along with reducing the amount of scoring opportunities the opposition gets. It goes without saying that unless we turn up we’re going to be under pressure against Galway.”
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