Wexford need their leaders to stand up - Byrne
Model legend tells Donnchadh Boyle the good times can still roll for Liam Dunne’s men despite disappointing League start
Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30
It's almost two years since Liam Dunne's Wexford announced themselves on the scene.
They dumped out then All-Ireland champions Clare after a replay and followed that up with a win over Waterford. However, by the time they rolled into the All-Ireland quarter-final, they were facing into a fourth successive weekend of Championship action and Limerick took full advantage.
It was a disappointing end but there was plenty to go on and plenty for Wexford supporters to look forward too.
Last year didn't quite live up to the billing. Teams were prepared for what Wexford would bring and Dunne's men couldn't find their groove. That disappointment was assuaged somewhat by a third successive U-21 Leinster title.
But two years on from toppling Clare, Wexford have yet to find that rhythm again. The Walsh Cup final against Dublin was a bust and last weekend Limerick wiped the floor with them in a game that will likely have a big say on who goes up to the top flight for 2017.
And it doesn't get any easier as a rejuvenated looking Clare come to Wexford Park on Sunday.
Wexford legend Billy Byrne still holds out hope. His work with local radio sees him follow the county's hurlers everywhere, and he's at the coal face with the county minor set-up too.
"We haven't reached the heights of 2014," Byrne agreed. "But at the same time I don't think they overachieved that year.
"Wexford have won three U-21 titles now so there are good hurlers there.
"Maybe last year we went a bit more cautious and played a sweeper but the year before we played man on man. I think it suited us more."
Injuries haven't helped them this year. Conor McDonald, Paul Morris and Diarmuid O'Keeffe all missed the defeat to Limerick. Jack Guiney's messy exile from the panel continues, having originally been named in the team to face Limerick last weekend.
"Jack is certainly a loss," said Byrne. "He was gone last year as well which is a pity as he's a very strong and capable hurler.
"But there's no point in talking about who you don't have. That won't win you any games.
"And look, it opens the door for someone else. And I do think there are players there who can step up and fill the void."
And while the underage scene has been vibrant of late, last year's All-Ireland U-21 final defeat to Limerick meant that three years of success wasn't decorated with the ultimate prize.
"It probably took the wind out of things a little bit," Byrne agreed. "It would have been great for the county but fair play to Limerick for the way they played."
Having announced their arrival by beating Clare, Wexford are struggling for a little bit of traction just now as the Banner come to town this weekend.
Byrne wants Wexford to produce a 70-minute performance.
"It's an eight-day turnaround so it's a big ask. We need to get going from the start," he said.
Sometimes we have a problem with that. Like the first half against Limerick was very disappointing. We never got going at all and it was over at half-time.
"The intensity has to be there from the start against Clare. I mean there's no better team to get a run on you if you let them than Clare.
"So we'll need our leaders to stand up. It's been a problem for us, sometimes around midfield and half-forward we'd struggle to win possession.
"So there's a big call for the selectors to make there and get the team settled up the middle.
"They are a young enough team and that'd give you hope but you need a few experienced fellas to bring them along.
"But if we can get to the pitch of it early I still think we can do it. Particularly in Wexford Park, where they usually give a good account of themselves."