Thursday 24 August 2017

Progress like this is beyond our wildest dreams - Dempsey

Lee Chin is congratulated after Wexford’s victory against Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Lee Chin is congratulated after Wexford’s victory against Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's been a long time coming, but after putting Kilkenny to the sword Wexford finally "have something to talk about for the summer other than strawberries", according to 1996 All-Ireland SHC hero Tom Dempsey.

With three U-21 Leinster titles in quick succession (2013-2015), they have been crying out for senior success in the sunny south east since Dempsey scored the all-important goal to secure All-Ireland honours 21 years ago.

This time 12 months ago Wexford limped out of Leinster after falling to Dublin by 13 points and looked in complete disarray, but the fortunes of both sides have gone in opposite directions as Davy Fitzgerald's arrival heralded a new dawn.

"What's seldom is wonderful" and with tales of woe against the Cats dominating the past two decades, the Buffers Alley great is soaking in every ounce of their latest triumph as "the Davy show, the only show in town" leaves a provincial final on the horizon.

Rarely will you find a more passionate hurling man than Dempsey, who was hoarse following his contributions to a thrilling commentary on South East Radio on Saturday night, and Wexford have already exceeded all his expectations for 2017.

"People will say 'oh don't lose the run or yourself', but if the season stopped for us right now we've been promoted to Division 1A and we're in an All-Ireland quarter-final and a Leinster final at the very least. That was beyond our wildest dreams 12 months ago," Dempsey said.

Lifeblood

"We've been beaten quite heavily by Kilkenny since 2004 and there was a sigh of relief that we weathered the storm and got the better of them the other night. Being in a final is huge for the hurling people of Wexford.

"I've kids from 20 downwards and they don't know what this is like. They really don't know what it's like to be travelling to Croke Park with a big crowd for Leinster finals, so it's just fantastic. This is my lifeblood and a lot of people in Wexford's lifeblood and I just want them to experience what we experienced."

While Wexford's style is far from conventional - with defenders bombing forward at every opportunity and Shaun Murphy operating efficiently as a sweeper - Dempsey believes they are far from defensive and will be hard to beat, regardless of the opposition.

Wexford don't come into Dempsey's Liam MacCarthy discussion, not yet anyway, but their strength in depth, as well as their ability to react positively to adversity, is impressing him, as well as their remarkable fitness levels.

"We all thought Wexford were fit for the league, but if anything they've gotten fitter.

"I'm a very happy man that I don't play corner-forward anymore when you see Simon Donohoe in the full-back line one second and in the full-forward line the next," he said.

"It's very uncomfortable to be hurling against these lads. They have amazing fitness levels and Diarmuid O'Keeffe is like a Duracell bunny. But the one thing that really stood out for me was that we had the hammer blow in the first minute and we got a Kilkenny rocking with the two goals in the second-half.

"Normally it's a signal that Kilkenny are going to take over the game, but Lee Chin, where do you find superlatives to describe what he did next. He wasn't the only one, they stood up and were counted when it mattered most.

"With the work ethic that Wexford are showing they're not going to be a pushover for any team. I still think Galway and Tipp and Waterford are a little bit above the rest, but Wexford will be a match for anyone.

"In the second-half the short game broke down a bit, but overall their short game, even under pressure, was very comfortable. Shaun Murphy was giving 20 and 30-yard passes all day and sticking to that for better or for worse.

"They're confident in their style of play and they have strength in depth. Lads made way when they were spent and the likes of Shane Tomkins, David Redmond and Podge Doran came in and did well. They seem to be very well rehearsed in their style of play and very comfortable. It's like everything, though, all it takes is one punch and you can be put on your behind, so you're always taking that chance."

Galway - "the best team in the country at the moment" - are the likely Leinster final opponents (if they overcome Offaly as expected), with Dempsey feeling it would be a massive step up, but anything can happen. What makes him happiest is that the next generation looks brighter as a result of special occasions like Saturday.

"Young lads will be going everywhere with hurls and if we don't win a Leinster or don't win an All-Ireland so be it, but there has been a great evolution this year. Davy has galvanised the whole thing and whatever has happened we've had a good year.

"We would've settled for promotion, a Leinster semi-final and an All-Ireland quarter-final and hopefully we can keep staying competitive."

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