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Wexford Hurlers Searching For Consistency

January 25th, 2024

By John Harrington

Predicting a season outcome for a team in January is always going to be an inexact science, but perhaps especially so when the team in question is the Wexford hurlers.

This is a side, after all, that beat All-Ireland finalists Kilkenny in both the 2022 and 2023 Leinster campaigns, and yet couldn’t win against Westmeath in either of those two seasons.

Inconsistency has arguably been their defining trait for the past couple of years.

When they’re in the groove they’re capable of beating anyone, but the needle is just as likely to scrape horribly across the vinyl.

You’d imagine they’ll get a bounce this year from the appointment of Keith Rossiter as manager, but you wouldn’t bet your house on it either.

Kevin Foley is one of the most experienced players in their panel, and even he struggles to understand why they’re as unpredictable as an Irish summer.

“Ah, sure, it’s nearly impossible to put your finger on it,” he says.

“When you go away from games like last year (against Westmeath) and different games throughout the year you have to look at yourself first and kind of analyse and review it and see why it went wrong.

“As a team we always do it and it’s part of the process, the depth that teams now go to analyse games and what went wrong, and kind of identify areas you can improve on.

“But it’s tough at times, it’s cold hard facts, but it’s down to the players at the end of the day and the 15 or 26 on the panel and the team, that’s what it boils down to.

“We know we have a good side and a good squad and that we’re building again this year. There’s plenty of new talent in, so it’s just getting to that level again to compete with the best.

“I suppose the backroom management and Keith especially are trying to instil that in us, that the lack of consistency and where do you put your finger on it.

“Maybe preparation and stuff like that, we have to nail the basics on and off the field and I suppose having our preparation right then instils some sort of confidence and belief in ourselves that when we know we take the pitch we’ve nailed everything and maybe just I suppose avoid the outside noise and everything that’s going on and just focus on what we need to do.”

The unpredictability of this Wexford team was vividly illustrated in a week last May when they lost to Westmeath in Round 4 of the Leinster Championship after letting a 17-point lead slip and then came out seven days later and beat Kilkenny in Round 5.

That defeat to Westmeath meant they would be relegated to the Joe McDonagh Cup if they didn’t beat Kilkenny, and it was almost typical of Wexford that they were able to summon a huge performance to get the better of their great rivals in a raucous Wexford Park.

“The toughest of it (the defeat to Westmeath) was maybe an hour or two after it when we realised what had happened and the way the result had gone,” says Foley.

“But, straight away after that we met and had food and stuff like that and a quick debrief. We knew what was ahead of us for the week, we didn’t have two or three weeks to dwell on it and wait around and feel sorry for ourselves.

“I think it was six or seven days and we knew we had to get ourselves right, because there were two serious directions going down the line. We knew we had to beat Kilkenny and if we didn’t we knew what was going to happen on that side.

“But we couldn’t dwell on it, it was a quick turnaround and maybe it was for the better that we didn’t have two or three weeks to go over it too much and spend hours trying to identify and correct what went wrong

“It was backs to the walls, it was all-in, no holding back. We put ourselves in that position so the blame was almost on us as players, we were ready to get back up and go for it and thankfully it worked out.”

Newly appointed Wexford manager, Keith Rossiter. 

The appointment of Keith Rossiter as manager has been greeted warmly in Wexford.

One of the county’s most famous hurling sons, Larry O’Gorman, probably summed up the general mood when he expressed his hope that having one of their own in charge might help the team more consistently channel the sort of trademark passion for the game, both on the pitch and in the stands, that was so evident in that win over Kilkenny.

“Definitely there are a lot of passionate people down in Wexford and they love their GAA to be fair and love their sport, but it’s channelling that as you said and directing that through for every game, whether it be league or championship and we need to build on that consistency and prove that we are not going to turn it on and off, that it’s there throughout,” says Foley.

“But, yeah, there has been a lot of passion there down through the years. You look at Larry O’ and the lads in ‘96 and the teams that Keith was involved in in 2004 and won Leinster and were beat in two All-Ireland semi-finals by Cork, there’s something there.

“I don’t know what it is, whether it’s tradition or history, but there’s plenty of passion there and it’s just channelling it in the right way and using it to our advantage when we can.”

Foley is part of a generation of Wexford players along with the likes of Lee Chin, Conor McDonald, Liam Ryan, Simon O’Donoghoe, Matthew O’Hanlon, Jack O’Connor, Liam Óg McGovern and Rory O’Connor who have been on the road for a decent spell together.

If Wexford are to really challenge for silverware this year they’ll need a cohort of younger players to also spread their shoulders and make a big contribution this year.

One player who could fall into this bracket is exciting young forward, Cian Byrne, who was a stand-out player for the county U-20s for the past two years.

“Ah he is to be fair,” says Foley. “Cian is a good guy. There’s a couple of other guys making huge waves there as well. The likes of Corey Byrne-Dunbar, a good few of the lads are getting plenty of game time in the Walsh Cup.

“Eoin Ryan is another one, Conor Foley is a super hurler, he played senior obviously last year but he was involved with the 20s and there has been six or seven of the lads involved in last year’s panel and the year before there was another six or seven that were almost on a hybrid system, involved with us and then back in with the 20s. There’s good lads coming through and eager to make huge strides as well.

“The lads have been competitive in that U-20 group. They were unlucky last year against a great Offaly team in the Leinster final to be fair. A couple of different things on the night, you know, if they’d went Wexford’s way they would have won that.

“It’s good to see them competing at that level and kind of bringing on that team…like, in 2019, it was our first Leinster minor winning group in 30 or 40 years. A lot of those lads are breaking through, the likes of Richie Lawlor, so it’s good, there’s a good mix there to be fair.

“I’m starting to feel a little older myself! I think myself and Jack O’Connor were the older two there at the weekend in the panel. Jack I think is 29 and I’m 29 next week. It’s good to see. There’s plenty of tasty talent coming through.”

Kevin Foley, left, and Conor McDonald of Wexford celebrate after the 2019 Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Foley is now at the age where he knows his window of opportunity as an inter-county hurler is closing quickly.

The 2019 Leinster Chamionship success is growing smaller in the rear-view mirror, and he has a keen appreciation that he won’t have many more opportunities again to scale such heights.

“Of course you do,” he says. “You start out as a youngster and we were lucky at the time to come into a great setup, top class guys involved. You think this is going to last forever as a 19, 20-year-old. Funnily enough, someone only passed a remark on it, I think it might have been Jack (O’Connor) last weekend saying it to a couple of the younger guys, that it was his 10th season.

“He turned around and he said, ‘Lads, it flies by’. It’s crazy how quick it goes by. Reality kicks in then and you look back and you say where are the medals? You look back at the trophy cabinet and what’s there and you’d be as hungry as ever to win another Leinster and see can you go further and push further. It’s definitely success that you’re after.

“You’re not here just to pass through another year and there’s been a couple of those down through the years so we only want to get over the line. We’ll hopefully have a good league campaign, a good strong competitive Leinster championship,and after that then hopefully success brings itself forward for us.”

Sunday’s Dioralyte Walsh Cup Final against Galway will likely be quickly forgotten regardless of the result, but it’s never too early to start developing good habits.

“Definitlely not,” says Foley. “Keith is a born winner. If it’s a game of chess or a training game he wants to win it. You can see that in his emotions and expressions. It’s definitely important to get over the line at the weekend.

“Winning is a habit. We’re talking about that consistency here the last couple of minutes. We’ve two games down and we’ve won two of them. A lot of lads have seen game-time.

“They have been good, competitive games. Even last weekend against Kilkenny, going down to 13, there’s different things thrown at you as well for new lads coming in and ourselves.

“So, yeah, definitely. We’ve this weekend, we’ve Sunday, and then we’re out the following weekend in the League. I think it’s the way forward, just keep the momentum going.”

Sunday, January 28

Dioralyte Walsh Cup final

Wexford v Galway, Netwatch Cullen Park, 1.30pm

Carlow GAA
Dublin GAA
Kildare GAA
Kilkenny GAA
Laois GAA
Longford GAA
Louth GAA
Meath GAA
Offaly GAA
Westmeath GAA
Wexford GAA
Wicklow GAA