Liam Dunne facing 'Olympic year' with Wexford
Liam Dunne may not ever say it but deep down he will know that Sunday’s Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny is the most important game of his tenure.
Wexford have not beaten the Cats since Micheal Jacobs’s last minute goal in 2004, but the harsher reality is the Black and Amber haven’t even broken a sweat conquering the Model men since the 2005 Leinster final.
It was the last time the great rivals went toe-to-toe as Des Mythen’s early goal meant the Cats had to pull it out of the bag; Brian Cody’s men hammered Wexford in the next three Leinster finals.
It has been a tragedy of the of the last decade that Millennium babies have not had the opportunity to witness the two embroiled in a fierce contest.
When Liam Dunne took up the post as Wexford manager he was u8nder no illusions at the task facing him in order to return his side to a level footing with Kilkenny.
This is the Oulart/The Ballagh man's fourth year in charge and in many ways it is an 'Olympic year' for the man in charge.
When he took over the reins from Colm Bonner, Dunne saw fitness and conditioning as a top priority, Wexford were no longer considered a hurling force and in terms of athleticism, they were trailing light years behind.
Teams were coasting past Wexford, before the end of the decade outspoken pundit Ger Loughnane made the assertion Wexford should be put back in the Christy Ring.
Wexford hurling was in truth never that bad, but they weren’t reaching the same standards in terms of preparation.
Appalled by the fitness levels, prestigious fitness coach Gerry Fitzpatrick was recruited by Dunne and the effects were only seen last year in the victories over Clare and Waterford.
In his first season in charge Wexford lost to Offaly in Leinster and were knocked out of the All-Ireland series by Cork with ease,. Supporters rightly wondered where was the passion and the pride the 1996 Hurler of the Year was supposed to restore?
Last season the south-east came alive again and it wasn’t because of the weather; Wexford awoke from it hurling slumber with victories over Clare and Waterford.
It takes athletes four years to reach their peak for Olympics. Dunne has had that time now to whip his side into shape and meet the standard required to compete with the top teams.
The manager dropped Jack Guiney for failing to meet that standard and prepare like his comrades following the Westmeath game.
Wexford hurling is in a much better place now under Dunne but given the scale of preparation and the opposition, Sundays encounter with familiar old foes is of Olympic proportions for Wexford.