Friday 19 October 2018

It's now time for Wexford to push on, says McDonald

Conor McDonald insists Wexford are running out of time to succeed. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor McDonald insists Wexford are running out of time to succeed. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The name above the door gives the strongest clue as to Conor McDonald's preference for placement on the field.

McDonald's new gymnasium, '14 Fitness', opened for business in January, the latest such venture by an inter-county GAA player seeking to pursue a career that is loosely aligned with his sport. For Andy Moran in Castlebar and TJ Reid in Kilkenny read McDonald in Gorey.

It's a career he felt drawn to, despite studying Irish and Geography in UCD that may well have set him on a path to teaching.

After undertaking a relevant course organised by current Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan, who also has his own fitness business, McDonald spent time working in a gym in Nottingham in the UK late last year in preparation for his big move.

McDonald built a reputation across three Leinster U-21 Championship-winning campaigns as a high-catching full-forward. The quality of the ball in his direction often didn't matter; once it hung in the air for long enough it was generally his.

Predictable

But the tactic became more predictable as his senior career progressed and defences were able to read his movements better. In recent years McDonald has sought to add more strings to his bow and deployment further outfield has been more regular.

He gives the stock-in-trade answer that he's content with any position on the field but the name of his gym is a giveaway.

"With the system we play at times, you really have to buy into it. And if that means I am working hard for the team, I mightn't necessarily be scoring three or four points or 1-3 every game," he said.

Power and greater endurance are two things he has sought to improve in his game since last year and a new career aligns nicely with that.

"My general fitness and speed over the last year, I've worked on that a lot more. I was an area that I thought I could really develop on."

For Wexford to safely negotiate a new-look Leinster Championship, they will have to be something they haven't been at this level for a very long time - consistent. Their recent history is littered with 'one step forward, one step back' movements.

Even last year, on the back of a rising tide, their defeat of Kilkenny was followed by a disappointing Leinster final loss to Galway.

And while league performances have been strung together, a recent semi-final defeat to Kilkenny before a packed Wexford Park, was a reminder of how indifferent they can be.

"It is about getting consistency. In 2016 we turn around and beat Cork, the whole county thought we were back and then we ended up getting beaten by Waterford by 10 points in the quarter-final.

Screaming

"So, that's the one word that is screaming out to me, getting a few good performances together. I think it will be vital in this championship format, when we were out four weeks in a row, to try and get a consistent approach to every game and consistent performances."

McDonald's reputation as an underage prospect has had moments of delivery at senior level without anything sustainable. Still, he won't be 23 until later this year and sometimes it's easy to forget that. But he's conscious that he, and the team, can't be considered a work in progress forever.

"We're looking to push on. A lot of people would have said over the years, 'Ah yes, a young team'. But as the years go on you're getting older and older and you're running out of time to succeed."

He looked somewhat uncomfortable in the role of free-taker at times last season but now that Rory O'Connor has largely taken over, McDonald says he never felt an added pressure.

"I wouldn't say it's an added pressure. I actually think free-taking is a separate game. I think your mindset has to be completely different," he explains.

"You could be having a stinker out the field, or in general play, you're still expected to turn around then and put a free over the bar, whereas you could have hit three wides from play.

"So as a free-taker, you probably need to be in that mindset of playing two different games."

For Wexford, McDonald feels a return to a Leinster final has to be their immediate bottom line, before the season potentially opens out for them again.

Irish Independent

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