O'Hanlon: Wexford 'full of belief' after seeing off Rebels
Published 21/07/2016 | 02:30
Earlier this year Wexford hurling manager Liam Dunne was explaining his absence from a Monday night training session to this newspaper after rumours had circulated that unease bubbled under the surface in the camp.
There was nothing more in it than he had taken the chance to have a short break abroad but the rumour mill whirred enough to see Dunne fielding calls from the departures lounge.
It was only one of many bumps in the road for Wexford these last couple of seasons as they have had to deal with a lengthy injury list, the retirements of senior figures as well as the self-imposed exile of two of their brightest forward talents in Kevin Foley and Jack Guiney.
At times, it felt like the county was lurching from one setback to the next. And, as such, the odds were stacked against them when Cork came to Wexford in the qualifiers.
The pressure on them going into that game was significant. Had they lost that game to a Rebels side who themselves were struggling for traction, 2016 would have been a bust.
They had been in indifferent form in Division 1B and followed that with a heavy defeat to Dublin in Leinster.
Heading into the Cork game, beating Offaly in the back door was all they had to show for their summer.
But the win over the Leesiders has suddenly seen the road open up in front of them as they prepare to take on Waterford in Semple Stadium in Sunday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final clash.
"Cork came back at us several times throughout (the game) and Daniel Kearney's goal at the end," Wexford defender Matthew O'Hanlon (below) says.
"I suppose Wexford teams in the past might have capitulated there and Cork would have gone on to win it.
"But a few big scores from some of our big players really got us over the end-line.
"I suppose as a group of players we've always remained united. We always had each other's back and always remained motivated and wanted to do our best for Wexford.
"I suppose looking at this season in its entirety, until the Offaly and Cork game we haven't really set the world alight. An indifferent league, a poor performance against Dublin.
"So, rightfully so, people in Wexford were asking questions. And we felt we owed the supporters one. And we owed Liam one as well because he stood by us for the past four or five years.
"We've had our ups and downs but we were delighted to get over the line and prove we have it within us to win a big championship game and get a bit of momentum.
"And look, who knows where it can take us now?"
Wexford often find their best when backed into a corner. The week Dunne missed the Monday night session was also the week of their league quarter-final with Waterford.
Preparation looked far from ideal but they would push the Déise to just a point that night. And once again this weekend, they are rank outsiders again for Sunday's clash with the same opponents.
"We're not getting ahead of ourselves. Waterford will present a big challenge. We beat them in the 2014 championship but they're a very different team now. Derek (McGrath) has done a great job with them.
"They're the top two or three teams in Ireland at this moment in time. One bad performance in the Munster final doesn't make you a bad team overnight and they'll be looking to redeem themselves against us, big-time.
"Look, we're quietly confident, full of belief, we'll be giving it our all and who knows what will happen. There's never been too much between us."
And while Wexford have recently claimed a three-in-a-row of Leinster U-21 titles, O'Hanlon believes the win over Cork marked the arrival of some of the county's young stars on the senior stage.
"Obviously for the last three or four years we've had several very good U-21 teams and a lot of those guys have embedded themselves in the panel and are getting game-time.
"The likes of David Dunne and these guys. So it's great to see them do it at the senior stage.
"That breeds confidence for younger guys coming through again so hopefully the conveyor belt will keep going.
"It inspires us older players we well to see these guys coming in and giving it a real cut. They demand more of us and as a team we're growing in confidence."