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Wexford need silverware to show progress - Fitzhenry

Former keeper feels Model are on brink of success

Former Wexford goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry pictured at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham yesterday to promote his role in this year’s Bord Gáis Energy GAA Legends Tour Series at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Former Wexford goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry pictured at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham yesterday to promote his role in this year’s Bord Gáis Energy GAA Legends Tour Series at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Optimism is high surrounding the prospects of Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford side, but Model legend Damien Fitzhenry has stressed the need for silverware to arrive in the sunny south east this year to validate their return to hurling's top table.

Fitzhenry - who along with Fitzgerald is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers from a golden age of netminders during the 1990s - always demanded the highest standards during his 18 years in purple and gold, and he is no different as a spectator.

"Absolutely," Fitzhenry responds when asked if only a trophy will suffice for Wexford this summer. "Anything less than a Leinster or definitely getting to the All-Ireland semi or All-Ireland final is no progress on last year. If you are talking about progress, you have to be moving on."

A lot has been made of the significant impact which Fitzgerald - All-Ireland-winning manager with Clare in 2013 - has made, with Wexford having secured promotion to Division 1A last year along with a Leinster final appearance.

Their place in the League's top tier was maintained comfortably during the spring but Fitzhenry only expects the Banner native to remain at the helm if a promising Model side can continue their upward curve.

Attainable

"If he produces the goods this year and there is silverware brought to Wexford, I can see him there for the foreseeable future, for the next year or two years. We will have to wait and see," the Duffry Rovers clubman said.

"If no silverware arrives, that is two years. How long do you stay? How long do you leave it? How long do you keep with the same crew to turn that around? A lot will depend on this year."

The two-time All-Star - an integral part of Wexford's last All-Ireland triumph 22 years ago - accepts it's a high bar to aim for but he feels it's attainable.

"That is the way the game is. You have to get there," the 43-year-old said. "We definitely have quality within the team to do that. We are definitely good enough to give every one of the top teams a run for their money."

One of the reasons why Fitzhenry has lofty ambitions is the emergence of Rory O'Connor, and he expects the sharp-shooting attacker to keep his feet to firmly on the ground - with the help of some wise heads around him - despite his tender years.

"He's an exceptional talent but you wouldn't expect anything else coming form the pedigree, John being the dad and George being the uncle. When Rory goes home and if he plays well he'll be told, 'look, you had a good game'.

"But also if it doesn't go well he won't be mollycoddled, he'll be told, 'look, this wasn't your best performance' and that's huge for young guys coming through, that they're not given the pat on the back every day when they probably deserve a little bit of constructive criticism.

"It's good to have a level head like that from a young fella because there's every possibility that someone who is producing those performances can go off the rails; they can think they're a little bit above their station. But I don't see that happening there."

Playing with a sweeper - although they played much of their victory over Offaly with a traditional formation - has divided the opinion of many hurling disciples, but the result is all that matters to supporters, according to Fitzhenry.

As for Saturday's visit of All-Ireland winners Galway to Wexford Park, he is expecting this to be their "game of the year". However, Fitzhenry believes the reigning champions may be a step ahead.

"They can definitely put it up to them but, all round, Galway are probably that little bit further down the line in their overall team structure. They have a strong middle and they have big men all over the field," he said.

"They are all able to chip in and produce match-winning displays every day and we may be a bit short on that yet, maybe two or three in different positions."

Irish Independent

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