Saturday 24 February 2018

New Wexford boss Dunne warns players to jump before they are pushed

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Liam Dunne doesn't plan on meeting his Wexford hurlers as a group until January 10 next year. But by then he wants to have heard of a few announcements from those he hopes have the "cop on to retire gracefully".

The blunt message from Wexford's last All-Ireland winning centre-back, intent on doing things "my way", is typical of a man who has never tried to put a gloss on what he said or did.

He wants certain players to jump before they are pushed in the coming weeks, a sign of the no-nonsense approach that has steeled his Oulart-The Ballagh club side for three county titles in a row in Wexford and put them on the cusp of a first ever Leinster club success.

"I don't know what the set-up is going to be or who is going to be what," says Dunne. "I just hope there are one or two fellas who have cop on enough to retire gracefully. That's all I'll say.

"One or two of them, their time is up," warns Dunne. "I didn't need anyone to tell me when I knew my time was up. I hope they are the same. I don't want to be retiring anybody. I just hope fellas will look at themselves, see what is ahead of them. If they want to do it again, that's their own choice. One or two of them should know that now is their time."

Dunne himself was left off a Wexford squad early in his career and found out by reading the sports pages of the Irish Independent at the time. It's something he will make sure isn't repeated on his watch when hard calls have to be made.

"I'll talk to certain players. Fellas deserve that as well after their years. We've moved on from the days when I was dropped from the panel," he says.

Dunne compares taking on management with Oulart with having a headache, but Wexford is a step up to a migraine and he wasn't sure during the summer, when the vacancy first arose after Colm Bonnar's departure, that he really wanted it.

"It would probably be a hard sell to someone else from outside the county or within the county as such, because Wexford is at a very low ebb at the moment. They did remarkably well to stay in Division 1 last year. I didn't think they would," he says.

"I wasn't convinced myself that I wanted the job really. If you had asked me three months ago, I would have said: 'no, I don't want it.'

"You could say 'how much lower could we get', but I think that's a little bit disrespectful to the lads that stayed in Division 1 and Colm Bonnar in his third year.

"The GAA saw fit to put us back into the second division, but it's probably not any harm for me coming in. You say you creep before you walk, but I'd like to think, come January 10, these boys are old enough and big enough and wise enough to know the creeping is over.

"We've Offaly on June 2 and I was saying to Keith Rossiter that we have to set little goals. We haven't won in Croke Park since 2007 and if we get over Offaly it would be a little goal to get back, but then I was looking at the fixtures and put my hand over my head.

"If we get over Offaly we've got Galway in Portlaoise a fortnight later, so you've a bit to go before we get to Croke Park again. But that's the challenge."

He knew a few days before the county final he would be Wexford manager but didn't want anything to distract from what they were trying to achieve.

He admits it was a "pleasant distraction". Within a couple of days of the official announcement, however, he was summoned to a meeting -- in Hayes Hotel in Thurles of all places -- by his employers of the previous seven years and told he was being made redundant. As he drove away after getting the dreaded news, the messages of congratulations were still flooding in.

He has vowed to be his own man over the course of the three-year term he has agreed but will be open to change as circumstances dictate.

"I know 12 months down the road of inter-county management, I would probably say: 'well, I do things an awful lot different than what I am thinking now.'

"I am thinking different in the club now than I did three years ago. It's a learning curve and who better to ask than Brian Cody. But he wouldn't tell you! I know myself it is a huge task, an absolutely huge task. I will take that on come January 10. I will do it my way. It will be sink or swim."

Oulart-The Ballagh contest Sunday's Leinster club final in Nowlan Park against Offaly champions Coolderry and Dunne appreciates that winning it could have the potential to lift all boats in the county.

"Anything in Wexford, in reality, would be a lift. To win a Leinster club title for our own fellas would be massive, we have never done it. We've been beaten in three finals," he added.

The attitude that they have a soft underbelly still prevails in the province, despite their imperious status in Wexford.

"I was walking by a guy on the line involved with the Laois champions (Clough Ballacolla) in Wexford Park and he was roaring and shouting. He was waiting for a reaction.

"He said, 'they'll do the Wexford thing, they're s****ing themselves, they're s***ing themselves.' Eoin Moore just stuck the ball over the bar and I just walked by with a smile on my face."

He dismisses the notion that he is too close to the Oulart-The Ballagh players, having played with many of them in previous county finals before he took over as manager.

"Lots of people in my own parish say that I was too close to the players, which I thought was rubbish. Myself and (Martin) Storey were on a different wavelength to these fellas.

"I'd never socialise with them. I never actually even watched one of them lift the cup over the last three years. I have done it twice myself and got beaten for the three-in-a-row as captain.

"Not that I would disrespect winning a county title or watching them do it, but I always felt I wanted a bit more."

Now they have the opportunity again.

Irish Independent

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