League quarter-finals provide ideal stage for summer rehearsal
Wexford All-Ireland winner Tom Dempsey sees venue advantage cutting both ways
Wexford’s Tom Dempsey in action against Billy Dooley and Martin Hanamy of Offaly at Croke Park in June 1999. Photograph: Joe St Leger/The Irish Times
Just last week, former Clare captain and manager Anthony Daly was reflecting on the fact that Waterford’s success in getting Walsh Park passed for home championship matches had added “a new dynamic” to the Munster championship, given the importance of home venues in last year’s inaugural round-robin provincial structure.
As a result, Waterford might be cursing their luck this weekend that the draw in the hurling league quarter-finals has given them home advantage against Clare, who are due back in town in May for their first championship fixture and can benefit from this weekend’s reconnaissance mission.
A year ago Galway came to Wexford as holders and were beaten in an exciting finish but, the following June, the boot was on the other foot, as the visitors won by nine points.
“There are advantages both ways. It’s a great opportunity for Davy [Fitzgerald, Wexford manager] to go there and get a feel for conditions in Salthill, but on the flip side it’s a chance for Galway to lay down a marker.
I remember as a player that I liked playing on specific grounds
“Yes, it’s nice to get a run-out in a full competitive match on the pitch you’re going to be playing in championship but, equally, it can turn out the wrong way. Say if Clare go to Waterford and particularly if Wexford go to Galway and lose by six or seven points it could psychologically prove the opposite for us.
“I remember as a player that I liked playing on specific grounds. There were even periods when I liked playing particular teams – not enough of them, though, during my career with Wexford! – but Galway and Waterford have the opportunity to put a sour taste in Wexford and Clare.
“Instead of worrying that, ‘oh, we’re giving them a training run,’ they should be coming from the point of view of making sure they show these guys that this won’t be a nice place to come in the championship.”
He agrees, though, that Galway’s intentions 12 months ago were clear enough when they came to Wexford Park for the league quarter-final.
“I remember when Galway came down they didn’t give much away and changed their tactics a bit. Joe Canning played most of his hurling around the half-back line, which we knew wasn’t going to happen come the summer.
“Last year I’m sure they did treat it as a dry run because they wouldn’t play that often in Wexford Park but, remember, Galway were All-Ireland champions then and I think for Davy there will be a bit more urgency to win. A good run in the league would be a nice way to go into the summer.”
I don’t think the hurling world has really appreciated the progress we’ve made in the past two years
He believes that the league has been positive for Wexford, culminating in last week’s topsy-turvy defeat of Kilkenny, and that his county is now credibly in the “chasing pack behind Limerick and Galway” – a fact he feels hasn’t received due recognition.
“I’m not a betting person but I looked at the odds for all of Wexford’s league matches and they were outsiders for every single one of them. I’m not saying that everything is perfect and that we’re on the verge of All-Irelands, but I don’t think the hurling world has really appreciated the progress we’ve made in the past two years. I think we probably deserve a little more respect than is there.”