Malone return a major boost for Wexford footballers
Despite their two wins to date, Paul McLoughlin feels that the Wexford footballers can do even better in the season to come.
Wexford have opened their 2019 season with O'Byrne Cup Senior football victories over both Louth and Laois but McLoughlin will not be swayed away from his thinking that there are tougher days ahead.
Wexford players are now trying to translate their abundant potential and talent onto the national stage, but still McLoughlin is speaking quietly of their success to date, keeping the players' feet firmly on the ground as they look ahead to the New Year and an O'Byrne game with Meath on Saturday January 5, before heading into a daunting opening Allianz National League game away to Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon.
McLoughlin has received a huge boost ahead of their New Year games in that the experienced Brian Malone is returning to the squad having enjoyed an extended break after a hectic inter-county and club season.
'Brian is back in with the squad on January 2. He is a player who looks after himself, will come back in in superb condition. All we will have to do is unwrap him and let him off. His experience and leadership will be invaluable to the young players around him,' said McLoughlin.
Following Thursday night's victory over Laois, McLoughlin believes it just another step in the right direction, while also indicating that much better is still to come.
'We can play much better. While I was happy with the result and the performance to an extent, I believe there is a lot more to come from this group of players. As a group they are working unbelievably hard and are definitely improving. Our performance was good, but the important thing is we are learning to play at this level. We are capable of playing at this level but we just need to sustain it, and be consistent. We need to keep putting good performances back to back, we need to learn to play consistently and expect to win, not just going out hoping to win.
'I am not getting excited after just two victories. It's just a start for there is a long season ahead of us. What really is impressing me is that the players are leading the charge, it's the players who are turning it around. The players are leading in training, they are leading on the pitch, which is hugely important. They are putting in a huge amount of work but they realise they still have a huge amount to do. But what's important is that the players accept this and are prepared to drive on. The work they are putting in is unbelievable and it's standing to them,' added McLoughlin.
Wexford will now be hoping to carry that momentum into their third-round clash with Meath.
'We play Meath on January 5. That will be a huge test. They are a Division 2 team, a team that will be striving to get back to Division 1 among the big boys so they will be seeking a victory having also started so well. It's an ideal test, the type of game we need. This is the type of game I like, it will test the lads but we will be going out expecting to win not hoping to win. It's the ideal test to start off the new year and one we are looking forward to. It will bring so much extra to our preparations for we will be preparing for a victory to maintain momentum,' said McLoughlin.
McLoughlin insists they will be seeking a victory against Meath.
'We are much stronger this year, our bench is much stronger, so we aim to finish a game as strong as when we started. Last year for a variety of reasons we were playing catch-up, but this year can be more focused. What I like is the attitude in training for the players now realise there is a real competitiveness for places in the squad, let alone the team. That has to be good.
'But still I would add a serious note of caution. We have done the early part of the preparations well, put in a bit of a foundation, but now we must continue to build upon it. The strength and conditioning under Gordon Ward is benefitting the players, while the coaching under Gordon and Mark Roche is also benefitting the players, who have adapted to the new rules so well because of this.'
McLoughlin said it will be the same approach for the Meath game.
'We will be going out to win. As one imagines it will be a hard one coming up against a side like Meath, but it's a game we look forward to. It's another huge test but the confidence is building. We will seek out further improvement but should we cut out the mistakes, play consistently well through the 70 minutes, we can win this game'.