Wexford braced for four weekends to decide their season
Conor McDonald ready for what looks like a rejuvenated Dublin side on Sunday
Conor McDonald: “After the last couple of years, we have tried to base our performances on consistency.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Most people said there would be some pros and some cons, and Conor McDonald can’t help but agree with that now.
Left idle since the first day of April, Wexford begin their Leinster hurling round-robin campaign against Dublin on Sunday, the same Dublin who played flat out and so nearly beat Kilkenny last Sunday, only to concede the dreaded match-winning goal at the death.
Of course that idle part is not strictly true. Wexford have been training for several weeks, and despite the so-called April club window, also escaped to Portugal for some team-bonding, which McDonald gently insists was “not as a group, but a few days in the sun, away as individuals”.
What is certain is that Wexford now know exactly what they face on Sunday when hosting Dublin, that being one of the pros or the cons, depending on which way you view it. Dublin ran Kilkenny ragged for most of the 76 minutes, stoppage time included, during which Kilkenny led for just four – one minute at the start, and three minutes at the end.
Wexford are also facing into four straight weekends, which again may or may not be a good thing. “I don’t know, that’s the honest answer,” says McDonald, still only 22, yet starting into his sixth season on the Wexford senior team. “With the new format there are pros and cons. We’re looking at four weeks in a row, and if you get a couple of wins, the momentum could help us. It all depends on results and getting recovery as much as we can.”
Also at play here, possibly, is the fact that while Dublin appeared to have Kilkenny rattled, Kilkenny definitely rattled Wexford in the league semi-final back on April 1st, winning by nine points, and a second defeat in the league. Having beaten Kilkenny twice in 2017, what happened?
“It was an up-and-down league,” says McDonald. “We beat Galway in a quarter-final, a good result for us, played really well, then turned around a week later, and didn’t really perform against Kilkenny. That was a bit of a downer.
“If you are beating a team like Galway the week before and then you turn around the following week and you don’t perform at all, it is frustrating more than anything. Maybe we were a bit naïve to think they were going to play like they normally do. But we just have to learn from that now and try and prepare as best we can.”
Playing four weekends in a row is definitely a step into the unknown: “Everyone is in the fog at the moment about how they are going to feel. I suppose, the main thing is to try and keep injury-free and if you have any niggles, to get them sorted as quickly as you can. If you have a game on the Sunday, before you know it, it is Wednesday again and you are back into the swing of it again. It is trying just to get ready for the next team and next game.”
For McDonald there are some pros to this, given he’s just opened his own gym, 14 Fitness, in Gorey, and can take a Monday or even Tuesday to recover, if the need be. Despite studying Geography and Irish in UCD, thinking he might get a “handy” job teaching, he “had a look at myself and realised that what I actually enjoy doing on the field can transfer into my work place”.
Plate of consistency
After last summer’s revival, sparked by Davy Fitzgerald’s first season as manager and when Wexford made a first Leinster final since 2008, the ambitions are naturally similar. McDonald has no fear for Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm, and reckons the players must step up to their own plate of consistency.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that Davy is happy down in Wexford at the moment, and we’re obviously happy to have him as well. But I think as a group of players, regardless of management, we’re looking to push on.
“After the last couple of years, we have tried to base our performances on consistency. We have just tried to string a couple of really good performances together and hopefully then results will look after themselves. That’s the main thing that we have worked on since Davy comes in, work on consistency and working hard for the lad beside you. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it is generally what works best.
“That’s the one word that is screaming out to me, getting a few good performances together. Experience is key, especially in this format with the four games so close together. And I am sure there is going to be a ferocious intensity to every game, they (Dublin) coming down to Wexford Park, expecting to get a win, I’m sure.”
There is some pressure off McDonald’s game this summer, as Rory O’Connor becomes Wexford free-taker in chief, but given Wexford haven’t beaten Dublin in the championship since 2008, there are pros and cons to that too. “And as the years go on, and you’re getting older, you’re running out of time to succeed.”
Dublin-Wexford: Last Five Championship Clashes:
2016: Dublin 2-19 Wexford 0-12 (Leinster quarter-final)
2014: Dublin 0-22 Wexford 1-14 (Leinster semi-final)
2013: Dublin 1-17 Wexford 0-12 (Leinster quarter-final, replay)
2013: Dublin 1-17 Wexford 1-17 (Leinster quarter-final)
2009: Dublin 0-18 Wexford 1-13 (Leinster semi-final)