Guiney: Close just isn't good enough
Hotshot urges Wexford to turn promising near-misses into big victories
Was the Wexford hurling glass of 2013 half-full, or half-empty?
Most pundits would go with the former viewpoint seeing the Model men took eventual Leinster champions Dublin to a replay and eventual All-Ireland kingpins Clare to extra-time, displays which hinted at consdierable potential within the county.
However, Jack Guiney sees it differently. They were, he asserts, missed opportunities rather than plucky performances. "A lot of people would pat you on the back and say 'you were this close'," said the Wexford marksman at yesterday's launch of the Bord Gais Energy U-21 Hurling Championship.
"But actually our performances in those games were very poor. I know we were in with a shot of winning the game, but our performances were very poor – way under par."
They are back in championship action on Sunday. A battle-hardened Antrim, fresh from the round-robin series, will rock up to Portlaoise with little to lose. Wexford went to Ballycastle and won in the league and they'll be expected to beat the Saffrons again this weekend.
Sky Sports are thinking in a similar vein. They were in Wexford Park, scoping the place for the Slaneysiders' expected Leinster semi-final clash with Dublin, and Guiney knows it's the perfect scenario for the Ulster side.
He was part of the Wexford U-21 side ambushed by the Saffrons in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. Antrim's preparation was far from ideal and Guiney is hoping forewarned is forearmed.
"I was talking to (Antrim hurler) Stephen (McAfee) there last night. He was telling me about their preparation," he said.
"One of the Antrim players stopped into a garage for pick-and-mix. A massive bag of pick-and-mix sweets!
"Now, this is very hard to listen to when they're after beating you in an All-Ireland semi-final.
"But he was eating pick-and-mix sweets, the whole way down on the bus. And he must have had a sugar overdose by the time he got into the dressing-room. He said they didn't realise they could win that game until they got into the dressing-room at half-time.
"It was a real kick in the teeth. We played Westmeath and Carlow in the run-up to the Leinster final. We were very poor in those games. We thought maybe we could play poorly again and maybe still get a result. But Antrim came down and showed us how to hurl for most of the game.
"Our focus was on the All-Ireland final. But they definitely deserved to win the game. It was a lesson, hard-learned."
Perhaps such setbacks are part of the learning curve but it seems Wexford are realising what it takes to cope at the highest level. A fortnight ago, they recorded an encouraging challenge match win over an experienced Tipp side, where Guiney hit 2-5.
"We're just building now. Liam Dunne is kind of doing a Cody on it, putting the emphasis on the panel more so than the team," he explained.
"A strong panel is more important than a strong team. The competition for places is what's going to bridge the gap for us. It's so hard to make the team now, let alone hold your place.
"Cork and the likes of Clare and Kilkenny, what they always have is competition for places and the level of training is going up the whole time. We're just starting to get there.
"Dublin were building for a number of years. They were knocking on the door for a long time before they made the breakthrough.
"And once they made the breakthrough, they got a bit of momentum and things started going for them and confidence grows.
"That's what we're looking for. To get over the line against Antrim and get a bit of momentum going. It's going to be a tough game but if we can win, we can get a rhythm into our season."
For now, patience is a virtue. Guiney's father Dave hurled with Wexford for 13 years before getting his first championship start in 2003. Dave's twin Rod played at half-back on the team that secured All-Ireland honours in 1996.
"If he can wait for 13 years for a start, I can wait a little while for a trophy. The team they had in the '90s, they went to three league finals. They were coming – a team doesn't magic out of nowhere," said Guiney.
"People say Clare came from nowhere last year. They didn't. They had All-Ireland-winning teams coming in the last few years. And that's what happens. Keep knocking and it'll come."