Sunday, June 21, 2009 was the day that the hurlers of Wexford and Dublin passed each other on the stairs heading in opposite directions.
After a few years of holding the Dubs at arm’s length to protect their status as the ‘next best’ to Kilkenny in Leinster (prior to Galway’s arrival in the province), Wexford finally caved in to Anthony Daly’s charges.
Their 0-18 to 1-13 defeat in Nowlan Park had been coming. Only 12 months earlier Dublin had forced a replay, which Wexford only won by a goal, while just a point separated them in 2007.
The distance between them had been much greater than the actual margins in psychological terms, but 2009 changed all that. It was arguably the most significant result in the evolution of this Dublin team.
Former All-Ireland winning forward Tom Demspey admits that welcoming Dublin to Wexford Park as favourites for a championship match on Saturday night is quite a shift.
“Up to 2009, it was always assumed that if we hurled we’d win,” he said.
Now that this guarantee is no longer there, Dempsey feels that producing a performance is as critical to the future of Wexford hurling as gaining a positive result on Saturday.
“It could define Dublin’s season and it would certainly define Wexford’s season. That might sound funny, but if Dublin were beaten it’s a serious, serious setback for them,” he said.
“If they win, the big judgments will not come until later on for Dublin. But with Wexford it will define us, because, really, what we are looking for is a good performance and maybe a win. If either is achieved, it will be seen that progress is being made.”
Wexford were poor in the league and that has created an apathy in the county. According to Dempsey, however, this is at odds with the vibrancy emanating from the squad.
“The league game was poor from a Wexford perspective (they lost to Dublin in Division 1B by 13 points),” he said. “But the vibes emerging from the players are that they are really running on top of the ground and coming into a vein of form.
“The problem is that we haven’t shown anything in the league to be able to topple Dublin. There is a confidence coming out of the Wexford camp, that they really feel they have a chance against Dublin.
“Overall, though, the county is not confident. There is an apathy there; the league was a real setback for a lot of spectators and some are thinking this could go terribly wrong.”
Dempsey (pictured above) likes the idea, however, of the Dubs coming to Wexford Park as such overwhelming favourites, suggesting there is “a lot of pressure on them.”
“Dublin will be full of confidence in the first 10 or 15 minutes. The longer Wexford can stay in the game, the more brittle they (Dublin) will become,” he suggested.
“I think we will have a fairly sizeable following. Wexford Park with 15 minutes to go if we are in contention? It could become very tricky.”
Dempsey hopes the supporters can “brew up a storm” for the visitors and help to put the county’s hurlers back on the map.
Since the defeat to Dublin in 2009, Wexford have won just one Leinster Championship match in three seasons – against Antrim. They have not played a championship game in Croke Park since the 2008 Leinster final against Kilkenny.
But Dempsey remains committed to the belief that competitiveness can be restored in a three to four-year time frame.
“There is huge interest in hurling down here. There are a lot of young fellas hurling, there is a lot going on. Willie Cleary and Liam Griffin are doing a great job with the minors this year; there is a recovery of sorts there,” he said.
“I think Wexford’s ambitions should be to get into the top five or six teams, get back up there with Waterford, Clare and the others.
“That will take a lot of work. We won’t be winning All-Irelands, but I think part of the recovery process would be to get very competitive again.
“Don’t ever underestimate it – there is an incredible love of hurling down here in Wexford. It will never go away, but maybe our biggest problem is that we tend to be a little bit over-critical of ourselves and of our players, and I think that sometimes feeds into the psyche.
“Hurling needs Wexford. A lot of resources have gone into Dublin over the last while, but the game needs Wexford as much as it needs Dublin.”
COLM KEYS IRISH INDEPENDENT– 05 JUNE 2013