Diarmuid O’Keeffe: ‘That’s what it’s about, really, making great days for Wexford’

After a loss to Westmeath, the midfielder and his team-mates got their heads down and went to work - and it paid off on Sunday against Kilkenny

After Wexford’s monumental display at the weekend, the questions came thick and obvious. How do you turn around losing a 16-point lead against Westmeath and a week later absorb a five-goal barrage from Kilkenny but still beat them?

Diarmuid O’Keeffe and his team-mates had spent last week on a precipice, dangling perilously over the McDonagh Cup chute.

If the immediate past needed to be processed and discarded, the present was likely to prove problematic as well. Manager Darragh Egan spoke on Sunday about how they had tried to shut out the noise.

Monday evening had been a trip to Curracloe beach to purge the mortification in the sea, bracingly cold before the summer warms it. Then, concentrate.


O’Keeffe’s approach was direct and straightforward within a couple of hours of losing to Westmeath, as he shut out likely intrusions and got ready for a week insulated from casual hurling talk.

“Do you know what? On the bus on Sunday evening I turned off notifications, deactivated Twitter and WhatsApp – I’m not on anything else – and just went to ground. It made a massive difference. You don’t see the noise. I went to work and, in fairness to my colleagues, they are very respectful and know when the time is to talk and when the time is to say nothing.”

His own performance against Kilkenny was lively and dynamic, providing assists, shooting the point that gave Wexford the half-time lead and dropping back to cover the defence after the early leakages had given Kilkenny a terrific start.

“They got a big start on us. The ‘want’ from us we always felt was going to be bigger than the ‘want’ from Kilkenny, if that makes sense. There was more on the line for us. They had qualified for the Leinster final. We spoke in the dressing-room briefly about just being big Wexford men and going to every ball because so much was relying on it. That’s all it was.”

He laughs when asked about the sweeper role, as Kilkenny carved open space for three further goals in the final quarter.

“I think if you have a seventh defender, you really shouldn’t be conceding five goals, should you? The lads tell me to do a job and I do it to the best of my ability – like everyone else. We all applied ourselves and got a result, something we probably didn’t do in previous weeks.”

Not a last-line defender, he provided work rate and urgency as well as fast and precise movement of the ball into the forwards. For all that they conceded five goals, Wexford also quarried out enough ball and created enough chances to win the match.

It may be a cliche but practice has taught him that all you can do in a match with your team under the pump is try to address the small things, the next play, the next score – don’t get anxious looking at the scoreboard.

“No. It’s all about the next ball. The experience you get over the years when you’ve been in so many battles is that it’s all about the next ball and the next puck-out and the next ball to hand in our half-forward line and try to get the ball over the bar.

“Over the years, teams can go 10 points up on us – and have done – and you just target the next one and get it to nine, to eight and bring it back.”

In what has been a bit of a mystery even for informed locals, O’Keeffe struggled for game time earlier in the championship. Diplomatic enquiries offer a range of explanations: carrying a knock, etc. He appears amused by the sensitivities extended.

“No. I was perfect. Fell out of selection, I suppose, and you keep coming training, keep putting the head down, keep doing the right things and with the experience over the years, you keep plugging away and getting back into contention.”

For a 2019 Leinster medallist and All Star, the pressure of a relegation battle for your place in top-tier hurling must have been disconcertingly different. Well... yes and no.

“I looked down on the pitch when I was up doing an interview and the Wexford colours were all over the pitch. Young lads were looking for signatures. For many a year that wasn’t the case when I started playing for Wexford, but in recent years it has been. That’s what it’s about really, making great days for Wexford people. Today was another, I suppose.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times