For the past number of years, Wexford hurling has been in a stagnant state. During competitive matches, their players often showed glimpses of greatness, before being knocked straight back into reality.
Their 2014 All-Ireland campaign embodied this. The Model County overcame reigning All-Ireland champions, Clare in their first round qualifier, which were two thrilling encounters in front of large crowds in Ennis and Wexford Park respectively.
Liam Dunne’s side then conquered a Waterford side that was expected to win in Nowlan Park. Both teams were embedded with youth, talent, speed and skill. For Wexford, upcoming and youthful players such as Lee Chin, Conor Mc Donald, Liam Ryan and Matthew O’Hanlon showed true leadership throughout and sought a revival for Wexford hurling that year.
Although they lost heavily to Limerick in their All-Ireland quarter-final, the Yellowbellies proved that they could once again mix it at hurling’s top table.
However, that’s where they need to be competing – against the best, in all competitions.
Ultimately, this is how they’ll improve as a team which will be needed to put Wexford hurling back on the map again. They need to be competing against the likes Kilkenny, Tipperary, Dublin, Waterford, Clare and Cork in the top tier.
This year’s league campaign for Wexford will be extremely important. Their main competitors are Limerick, who they host this weekend in Wexford Park, and Galway whom they will face in Salthill two weeks after. If they overcome these first two tough opening games, they’ll be set with the task of beating Kerry, Laois, Offaly in the remaining games.
When Davy Fitzgerald was ratified as manager of the Model County, the chairman at the time, Diarmuid Deveraux, publically stated that his main goal and expectation was to gain promotion to the top tier of the League:
“The initial aim will be for Wexford to move from Division 1B of the National Hurling League up to Division 1A, and then to build on that.”
Former 1996 All-Ireland winning manager, Liam Griffin further reaffirmed this aim, stating that it would be a remarkable achievement if he managed this.
“If he gets us out of Division 1B this year, and in fairness to him I don’t want to be stacking dices against him, it would be a remarkable achievement.
“It would match anything he has ever done up to date if we could get out of there. That might sound trite but it’s not. I mean, we’ve got to beat Limerick and Galway and the rest of them as well.
“It’s a big ask for Wexford to go to Salthill and beat Galway.” Via the Irish Independent.
In the 2017 Leinster Championship, Wexford will face the winners of the preliminary round and if successful they will be playing Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final.
At this era of Davy’s Wexford management, nobody is expecting Wexford to stun Kilkenny. Furthermore, nobody is expecting them to go through the back-door and actually win an All-Ireland.
With this in mind, 2017 is an ideal opportunity for the Yellowbellies to focus primarily on their League campaign and achieve promotion to Division 1A.
Although Davy has been downplaying this target in the media, it is arguably a very achievable and realistic goal for this season:
“You’ve serious teams in there. We know we’ve to get up to their standard. We have a lot of work still to do. Over the next two years, we’re going to try and build, build, build. We just need to stay patient.
“I think we’ll learn a lot but I don’t think we’ll get out of 1B this year.” Via RTÉ.
The strong team line-outs Fitzgerald chose throughout his recent Walsh Cup matches would make a point that he has already noticed the importance of his first two games in this year’s League campaign and that an unbelievable opportunity has arisen for Wexford to compete in Division 1A once again.
However, the Galway and Limerick players, in particular, might have something to say about that…
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena