'If Wexford won an All-Ireland now, it'd be mad altogether' - Model legend hopes Davy's men can kick on
When searching through the annals of hurling's history it can be difficult to really appreciate Tony Doran's legendary status in Wexford, but a quick conversation with Tom Dempsey would leave you in no doubt.
As a former Buffer's Alley team-mate, Dempsey idolised the man from Boolavogue as he was growing up, with his mother always assuring him that if he ate enough carrots he would have red hair just like Doran and go on to don the purple and gold.
Doran was a hero across Wexford and the day before he played All-Ireland SHC finals - he played four in total, winning one - Dempsey recalls running to the phone box in Kilmuckridge with a handful of friends and squeezing in tight to talk to their hero until their two pence eventually ran out.
Such traditions, of course, are no longer alive, like when passers-by would see the Buffer's Alley No 14 jersey worn by Doran hanging out on the clothesline, and ask if they could try on the famous cloth before moving on.
The 'Alley' regularly played Wicklow side Carnew Emmets in tournament games where 4,000 people often turned out to see the brilliant ciotóg catch one of his customary high balls and rattle the net, which commentator Michael O'Hehir later christened a "Tony Doran special".
Tipperary great Nicky English once said his father would treat him with a visit to Croke Park to watch Doran playing in Leinster finals with the Model men while Dempsey had the pleasure of sharing the full-forward line with him at club level, where he amassed 12 Wexford SHC medals.
It also saw him feel his wrath, or more specifically a slap of his hurl across his backside, when he was caught admiring the crowd in the parade before a county final and Doran was quick to refocus his mind.
When in Doran's company you'd never guess he was the championship's second highest goal scorer - only another Model icon Nicky Rackard (59) has bettered his tally of 40 - or the only Wexford man with the complete set of every major individual, club, county and provincial honour.
Spoken about in the same reverence as Eddie Keher and Christy Ring, Doran was recognised as Hurler of the Year in 1976 but it was eight years previous that he celebrated his greatest day for Wexford.
In just his second inter-county season, aged 22, Doran fired two crucial goals (bringing his tally in their three-game season to a remarkable 6-3) as they rallied back from an eight-point half-time deficit to conquer Tipperary 5-8 to 3-12 and secure just their fifth All-Ireland crown.
Given his freshness, you'd scarcely believe 50 years have passed and even though the Liam MacCarthy has only danced at the crossroads once since then - when the heroes of '96 lifted the holy grail - there's a renewed optimism in the sunny south-east under Davy Fitzgerald.
"If Wexford won an All-Ireland now, it would be mad altogether," Doran acknowledges ahead of their final Leinster SHC round-robin clash with old rivals Kilkenny tomorrow in Nowlan Park, where a Leinster final berth is the reward for the winners.
"Any sniff of a bit of progress and people will turn out in their droves. If Wexford could get a result against Kilkenny they'd be out in force but they're a little bit off big guns like Galway and still have to take the next step to get into the top tier."
Doran feels a scalp needs to be taken at the business end of the summer to show true progress has been made.
"When push came to shove last year we came up short against Galway and Waterford so we definitely have to get a couple of big wins and take someone down in the knock-out stages to really move on," he says.
The sweeper system doesn't really float his boat - "people wandered around a little but you matched up 15 on 15" in his time - but he admits that "as long as you're doing well, no one will complain" and he can see the logic behind its implementation.
"When it's working a certain amount you're not going to rock the boat too much and say it won't win an All-Ireland but it's hard to watch if you're beating a ball up the field and there's nobody there for it," he says.
"Davy was afraid that they were leaking too many scores and the first thing he was looking at was keeping down the scoring tally and then taking it from there. They got into the system and I suppose he can't really go away from it now."
Doran eventually hung up his hurl in '93, but there's rarely an evening when he isn't found at the 'Alley' - with whom he won a club All-Ireland four years previous at 43 - his second home.
It's clear hurling still runs through his veins but there are elements which have undergone surgery which he doesn't necessarily agree with.
While the provincial round-robin series has wowed spectators in recent weekends, he feels the frequency of games without a break is "too much".
"It's heavy on players and for that type of back-to-back set-up, you'd have to have a lot of serious training done early on to be able to stick it. Four games in three weeks is too much for players," the teetotaller says.
"They're being shoved into a one-month period. You have a bye but Wexford had it in the first round so that was no use to them, you need to add at least one week off, maybe two, so that lads won't be run ragged."
Having played during a time when rules were interpreted a little differently, the lifelong farmer understands the need for change but is keen that the physical element isn't eliminated from the game, while he speaks for many when calling for the All-Ireland hurling final to be restored to the first Sunday in September.
"The toughness that was in it back then it just wouldn't be tolerated today. There's a healthy balance between the two and people love the physical element. We can be a little bit too rash with cards and it varies big time from referee to referee. Some of them are card-happy," he argues.
"You'll be in the middle of August and it'll be all over," Doran says of the All-Ireland SHC.
"They had their own time in the calendar and it won't feel right this year. There's a lot more thinking and tweaking needed."
As for tomorrow night, the chance at a second successive Leinster decider against Galway is at stake when Wexford meet the Cats. What they would give for Lee Chin or Conor McDonald to land a few "Tony Doran specials".