Sunday 22 September 2019

'There's a bond there between this group of players that we haven't had with any other manager and, look, it's great'

Wexford dynamo O'Keeffe basks in Leinster glory but insists they can go further

Wexford's Diarmuid O'Keeffe, here celebrating Leinster final success in Croke Park on Sunday, insists he and his team-mates won't be resting on their laurels. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Wexford's Diarmuid O'Keeffe, here celebrating Leinster final success in Croke Park on Sunday, insists he and his team-mates won't be resting on their laurels. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Having been one of the eight survivors from a Wexford side blown away by Dublin in Croke Park three years earlier, Diarmuid O'Keeffe has to do a double take to make sure this isn't all a dream.

To be champions of Leinster in 2019 is something few would have thought possible on one of their darkest days as they suffered a 13-point humiliation at GAA HQ, but there has been a common denominator in their rise from the ashes.

Davy Fitzgerald's arrival on Slaneyside just five months later has helped produce a remarkable transformation of fortunes in the sunny south east, which culminated in securing the Bob O'Keeffe Cup for the first time in 15 years.

Victory over Kilkenny - who battered them by 24 points in their 2015 Leinster semi-final meeting - was vindication for three years of blood, sweat and tears under Fitzgerald, a man they would go some distance to repay for his efforts.

"It's mad to think that there was 10 or 11 players who were playing that night (against Dublin) out there. Every year is different, you have to work really, really hard and stick to the game plan and hope it works out for you," O'Keeffe said.

"Matt (O'Hanlon) said something exceptionally accurate in the speech - he said that he (Fitzgerald) would do anything for us, he would die for us, and believe it or not, we would do the same for him.

"There's a bond there between this group of players that we haven't had with any other manager and, look, it's great.

"He brings a lot to it, energy, passion, but he's organised and communication is top notch. We couldn't fault him in any way."

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

Given the regard they hold Fitzgerald in, they went to hell and high water to hold on to him, with a large cohort flocking to the other side of the country for discussions when it looked like the Sixmilebridge native might walk away last winter.

They got their vindication when O'Hanlon and Lee Chin got their hands on prized silverware and set off jubilant scenes across the county, with extraordinary sights in Gorey for their homecoming on Sunday night.

"There was a lot said that day that we went down there. One of the things was that we knew Davy was a winner all his managerial career and we wanted to be the same," said O'Keeffe.

"It was just about trying to go the extra mile to get to a day like this. This group of players, we believe in our ability, we know what we're capable of, but we also know that if we don't work hard and bring all those things he's asking for, we're going nowhere," the St Anne's dynamo said.

While provincial success would sate many people's appetite for this summer, O'Keeffe has no intention of slowing down and is keen to strike while the iron is hot and see if they can go further than the last four.

"We'll enjoy this, but Tuesday night we'll get back at it again. The year's not over, though, we're not happy to just finish up here tonight," he said.

"There's no player in that dressing room who has got to hurl in the month of August so that's massive, they're all looking forward to it."

That sentiment was echoed by defender Shaun Murphy, who basked in the rare success, but insisted the taste of victory is something they intend on getting used to.

"We'll enjoy the next couple of days, but we haven't been able to get over a quarter-final in a long time. Winning the Leinster title has got us over that gap so we'll knuckle back down again.

"It was unbelievable. The feeling in that dressing-room now is unreal. As a group of players we hadn't experienced it. It's something to remember, but there's nothing done yet."

Having acted as sweeper under Fitzgerald up until this season - Kevin Foley stepped into the role with even greater effect this year - Murphy was the name on many people's lips as they debated the intricacies of their system, but he never needed silverware to justify their style of play.

Fitzgerald spoke of a system which players never questioned - even in disappointing times - and the Oulart the Ballagh wing-back hopes their victory might quieten some people that talk about it in a negative light.

"We didn't need to be convinced. Every team is playing some sort of structure, whether it be half-forwards going back or a holding six. We start out with an out-and-out sweeper, that might be the difference," he said.

"Things move on. It was nice to win something with it. It might stop people talking about it.

"It gives us licence to attack, you saw Simon Donohoe, a corner-back, getting up for a score which highlights that."

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport