Tuesday 21 November 2017

McDonald wants Wexford to supersize ambitions

Wexford's Conor McDonald. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Wexford's Conor McDonald. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It's 20 years since, but for Conor McDonald, the events of the summer of '96 didn't extend much beyond stories that seemed like they were from a different time and place - until a couple of weeks ago.

The Wexford star got his hands on a DVD that was doing the rounds in the county of their Liam MacCarthy Cup win that year. Watching the two-decade-old images of unconfined joy, McDonald had a better grasp of what it all meant.

But when the footage of the homecoming to Gorey popped up on screen, he saw a host of familiar faces and a 13-month-old version of himself.

Suddenly it all became much more tangible for him.

"There was a remake, the old videos were burnt on to CDs," McDonald smiles.

"It was 20 years ago. I was watching it and there's a small little clip of me in a buggy, at the homecoming in Gorey.

"Wild Swans playing music up on top of a pub, crazy scenes now. It's something you'd want to be involved in."

They start their latest campaign tonight when they take on Dublin in Croke Park. It's hard to believe but it's their first Championship outing in Croke Park since 2008, though they have played the Dubs there already this year when going down heavily in the Walsh Cup final.

"I don't really think it's an advantage (for Dublin) in Croke Park, especially in hurling. There could be more Wexford people there than Dublin," said McDonald.

"Obviously it's a big open pitch and Dublin have a lot of fast players but we're hoping to put a stop to that and implement our own game."

The focus for Wexford will be intense with the county's footballers in action at HQ too when they face Kildare.

Liam Dunne's hurlers come in off the back of a mixed League season that eventually saw them go down by a point to Waterford.

They also had to deal with reports of unrest after the manager missed a training session to take a short break abroad but McDonald insists that didn't affect preparation.

"People were saying (there was unrest) in the camp but it was the furthest from the truth for me anyway," said McDonald.

"I actually didn't hear of it. I'm based in Dublin mostly in college so I didn't hear of any of it really until I heard that there was something in the local papers or whatever saying that there was upset in the camp, but I was going training and it was never any different.

"If anything, it was kind of more exciting building-up to the games like Saturday and getting to the latter end of the League. There was never really any sign for me."

Wexford haven't won Leinster since 2004, when Michael Jacob plundered a memorable late goal to beat Kilkenny. McDonald's memories of that are more clear.

"I was sitting behind the goal. I nearly ended up three seats down, jumping up and down," he recalled.

There have been many dark days since but McDonald is one a new breed. He was a three-year minor and has claimed a provincial medal at that grade.

Later this month he'll go in search of a remarkable fourth consecutive Leinster U-21 title.

The seniors now have different expectations of themselves but they know the men of 1996 remain the benchmark in Wexford.

And McDonald doesn't see any reason why Wexford shouldn't shoot for the stars.

"If you'd asked us at the start of 2015, where do you see yourself, even yourselves (the media) would have thought, since we'd beaten Waterford in 2014. . .

"And where did Waterford end up? In an All-Ireland semi-final.

"Everyone's so close now at this stage, I think anyone can beat anyone on a given day.

"I think the main thing is we expect more of ourselves than other people would be expecting stuff from us."

Irish Independent

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