Kehoe grateful to Lyng for giving him wake-up call
Wexford star Harry Kehoe's winter of discontent has seen him emerge as a much more complete hurler in 2014.
Kehoe was left devastated last July when he was dropped for the All-Ireland qualifier against Clare at Semple Stadium, where the eventual All-Ireland champions were taken to extra-time by a gritty Wexford.
He recalls: "I didn't take it well at all and from a personal point of view, it was really disappointing."
But Kehoe, who joined the Wexford panel at the age of 18 six years ago, was told in no uncertain terms by former team-mate Diarmuid Lyng that his career was stalling.
And it was constructive criticism that Kehoe needed as he went on to strip his game down completely before starting all over again.
"I was doing grand, but grand is the word," Kehoe admits. "I have high standards for myself and I want to be up there with the best.
"I've been middle of the road for the last couple of years – the odd good game, but I want to be playing better the whole time.
"I remember being on the phone to Diarmuid Lyng and we were talking about it. He said to be me that I wasn't progressing as he would have thought.
"I would have hurled with him for years and if there was a eureka moment, maybe that was it.
"I just said to myself that I'd have to change something. I thought a bit over the winter and the process is different this year. Hopefully, it will work – so far, so good."
Kehoe has already enjoyed a good season – starring on the Waterford IT side that stormed to Fitzgibbon Cup glory and earning himself an All Star for outstanding performances throughout the competition.
With Wexford, Kehoe is now playing in the position where he feels most at home, forging a dynamic midfield partnership with Diarmuid O'Keeffe.
Kehoe says: "It's not that I don't like playing in the half-forward line, but I know myself games have been at midfield, with county and club (Cloughbawn).
"Then again, in the Fitzgibbon, LIT were hammering us in the semi-final and I went in full-forward.
"It was a roll of the dice from (Colm) Bonnar – I don't think I'd ever played there for the college. It couldn't have worked out any better and I played the final at full-forward too."
But Kehoe stresses: "Midfield is definitely my favourite position – I played there during the league and thought I did well. The Kilkenny game was a bit of a step up for us alright, but other than that, my performances have been good.
"But I know there's a lot more in me. That's coming back to frustration again – it's just about getting it out of me. But I'm definitely in a better place than I was in previous years."
Kehoe embarked on a journey of self-analysis following last year's championship.
Confronted with his own weaknesses and coming to terms with the reasons why he wasn't kicking on like he should have been, he quickly resolved to do something about the situation. "I thought about it an awful lot – especially over the winter," Kehoe confirms.
"It was back to basics – concentrating on the basic parts of the game, the simple skills.
"In the last couple of years, I was too focused on the strength and conditioning side of things.
"I'm still doing all of that and we couldn't have a better guy from that perspective than Gerry Fitzpatrick, but I'm focusing on smaller things instead of the bigger picture. So far, I'm definitely playing better than I have for the last couple of years."
Kehoe adds: "I've always been in good physical condition, that wasn't an issue, it was more the mental side of things.
"I'm really thinking about things on a deeper level than I was the last couple of years."
And so, on the days when he's not training, Kehoe will make his way to the club's ball alley or work on his skills against a wall or shed on the family farm.
"I'll usually do it before I go into the gym and it works as a warm-up," he explains.
"I've been lightening my hurls a little bit – it's the small things that make a difference. The real test will be how I get on in the summer."
And summer begins on Sunday – against Antrim in Portlaoise – with Kehoe vowing that Wexford will not lose the hard edge that saw them return as a really competitive force in 2013.
He reveals that manager Liam Dunne "wants lads to have a hard edge" – essentially a mirror image of Dunne as a player himself.
But Kehoe accepts that there is a line that cannot be crossed or Wexford will pay the price – like they did when Andrew Shore saw red early against Dublin in last year's Leinster SHC replay for a wild pull on Ryan O'Dwyer.
"Yeah, discipline did cost us a little bit last year," Kehoe admits. "Even this year, we've had a few men sent off.
"(But) I think I'd rather be closer to the edge than going around with no intensity in the team.
"I think it's a positive thing that we are trying to play that way, but we jut have to be careful that we don't step over the line.
"Referees are very quick to send people off – there seems to be an awful lot of red cards in games these days."