Dunne and Wexford up from being down
Things were bad when the manager took over in 2011 but they’re on the right road
Wexford manager Liam Dunne: “We need to keep taking the steps. And the day we take a big scalp will be the day this team will start to rise and believe in itself a little more.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The universe has a pitch black sense of humour sometimes. The day after Liam Dunne was appointed Wexford manager in late 2011, he missed a call from his boss at Cemex, the building supplies group where he was a sales rep. Bad news. Bad times. Meeting tomorrow night. Hayes Hotel, Thurles.
Disaster. In the space of 48 hours he got the job he wanted but lost the one he needed. A punch in the mouth when his guard was down. He’d laugh at the irony of getting the news at the birthplace of the GAA if he wasn’t still in the process of picking his teeth up off the floor.
“The most demoralising thing was walking in the door of the dole office. I fought that for a long time. Even now, I have the social welfare card in my wallet long after I signed off the dole.
“I take it out and look at it every so often as a reminder of how life can turn very quickly. I hated going into the post office to collect it. I hated having to do it. I was very nervous walking in to get it. Who would see me? What would they think of me?”
Dunne was unemployed for 18 months and will soon be again. At the minute he has a job covering maternity leave as a sales rep at BWG Foods but that ends in six weeks.
“I was delighted when I heard she was having twins,” he jokes. “It meant I got a few more months out of it!”
But come mid-July, if nothing happens, the Wexford manager is back signing on. He’s determined it won’t come to that.
Above and beyond the brass tacks need for a livelihood, the cold-sweat dread of walking into a dressingroom without a day’s work behind him is something he can’t bear to revisit.
Embarrassed“You go into a room as a hurling manager, a manager of a team. But you’re also a man who can’t get a job. You’re talking to guys who are in college studying to be teachers, studying to be all sorts of things, guys who work in pharmaceuticals – and you’re standing there with no job.
“To be truthful about it, I felt embarrassed.
“I found that very difficult. It was something I had to handle within myself. Nobody would have known it as I was talking, none of them would have copped it. But deep down, within the inner soul of myself, I felt degraded.”
On top of which, he was taking over a Wexford side whose pulse was just about as feint as anyone in the county could ever remember it. It was three summers since they’d won a championship match, five since they’d beaten anyone of note.
The players he met that November were demoralised and half-interested and unfit.
“It was like a bed that you had to go and take everything off and start again.”
Fitness test results were so bad he decided not to give them to the players. Instead, he kept them for the end of the 2012 season. Four nights after Cork put them out, he tested them again and this time handed out two sets of results.
“In November, teams were so far ahead of us anyway, what was the point in letting them know? What we did instead was get them working, get them committing, make them want to improve over the course of the season.
“When we did the fitness tests again after the Cork game we gave them the results. But along with them, we gave them the results from November.
“We wanted them to see where they had been and how much further they still had to go. Our average body fat went from 22.8 per cent down to 11.5 per cent. Some fellas were down to 6 or 7 per cent.
“So this was going to take a long time and it was going to need a lot of changes. But we’re getting there. We gradually got rid of the people who didn’t want to row the boat with us.
“If I was to look at the players I have in 2014 and compare to what was there when I took over – it’s a different kettle of fish now.”
Still, every inch is a rock that has to be rolled uphill. He hears folk giving out that the senior hurlers cost the county board €260,000 a year to run and can’t believe they don’t get credit for keeping it so low.
“You’re running a business as much as you’re running a team. We’ve made cutting back a fine art. The year before I took over the team there was €10,647 spent on hurls. In the last two years, we’ve cut that by half. Players now don’t get a hurl unless I send the hurley maker a text message. And everybody has plenty of hurls.
“Players are entitled to two pairs of boots. So we said to them last year, ‘How about we get ye one really good pair instead of two that are only half-decent?’ So we got each of them a pair of €120 boots instead of two €80 pairs. And they were delighted with them. In the end, we made €1,000 of a saving.”
Round and round it goes, his team have quietly improving all the while. No great leap forward just yet but enough straws in the wind to know they’re on the right course.
“A year ago, we couldn’t get a challenge match. The only teams that would play us were Offaly and Waterford. But sure why would any of the big teams want to play us, the way we were? What would be in it for them? But this year we’ve played Tipp, Cork, Kilkenny and Galway.
“We need to keep taking the steps. And the day we take a big scalp will be the day this team will start to rise and believe in itself a little more.
The force“But on and off the field, these players have had to apply themselves differently to how it was before. They’ve done that and I couldn’t be happier with them. Someday someone’s going to feel the force of it.”
Spoken like a man who knows what it is to get up off the floor.