Kilkenny a big step up for new Model army says Martin Storey
Former All-Ireland-winning captain says Cats will be eager to maul new-look Wexford
Davy Fitzgerald: has guided Wexford back to the top division in the Allianz Hurling League in his first season with the Model County. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Fives wins later, their feverish supporters, whom Fitzgerald has consistently sought to keep in check, are daring to dream and eyeing an Allianz League quarter-final clash with Kilkenny with optimism.
Martin Storey, Wexford’s captain when they last won the All-Ireland in 1996, reckons the reality of the situation is somewhere in between; not quite as gloomy in recent years as Fitzgerald had suggested though not yet the finished article either.
Hand on heart, he’d take a six-point defeat to Kilkenny at Nowlan Park on Sunday and call it progress.
“I’m hoping for a win which I’d regard as serious bonus territory but being right there in a five or six-point game would be acceptable, very acceptable,” said Storey. “I think we’re capable of operating at that level and people need to realise that that’s progress in itself.
“Everything is going really well with Davy at the minute and we’ve got promotion but we’re now playing a top, top team that looks on these sort of games as bread and butter stuff.
“I would be a bit apprehensive of playing them. We’ve been on a really good high in Wexford for the last six weeks and this is a serious test now for us.
“Like, if Kilkenny can beat you by 40 points they will do that, they won’t hold back. They want to keep that sort of authority that they have in place. They’re the top lion in the safari. They want to kill all around them because when something else sticks its head up, if you don’t kill it then you’re going to get pulled down yourself.”
The argument put forward by Fitzgerald at the launch of the league that Wexford had slipped off the radar doesn’t sit well wit Storey.
“I just don’t agree with that because, realistically, if you go to any sport around the world, you’ll see a small group of teams who can actually win,” said Storey.
“Look at Italian soccer, the Champions League, the Premier League, whatever it is, you’re all the time looking at two or three teams that have a chance of claiming the silverware.
“I think we’re a little bit below that top level in hurling, and we have been for a while, but I don’t think we’re much below it.
“If you’re brutally honest, over the last five or six years we haven’t been in with a shout of winning the All-Ireland but we have put good performances together. We’ve beaten Waterford, Clare and Cork over the last few summers. It was never far away.”
The Wexford footballers were also promoted this spring though with a Division Four final against Westmeath looming, boss Séamus McEnaney declined to show his full hand against the same side last weekend and lost heavily.
Storey doesn’t believe Fitzgerald has any scope to hold much back this weekend ahead of a likely championship encounter with Kilkenny.
“I don’t because I just don’t think you can hurl one way for the league and then do something totally different or change all your players to face Kilkenny,” he said. “I think it’s more an opportunity to let us know if the improvement that everyone is talking about is really there.
“It’s probably been blown out of proportion, with the Davy factor, and the great start. To me, this will be a really clear indication of where we’re at because I don’t care what anybody says, the day it counted for Kilkenny, against Tipperary, they stood up. Tipp wanted to stick the knife in and Kilkenny wouldn’t let them so that’s a powerful force we’re coming up against.”