O'Connor believes Tailteann Cup can be stepping stone for Wexford
By John Harrington
From a young age Martin O’Connor was determined to represent the Wexford senior footballers.
He grew up during an era when they were highly competitive, reaching the 2008 and 2011 Leinster finals as well as the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final.
Players like Colm Morris, David Murphy, and Brian Malone were early role-models and he dreamed of following in their foot-steps.
By his own admission the current Wexford team are still some way off competing at the same level their predecessors did, but he feels like the Tailteann Cup can provide the momentum they need to start climbing the ladder again.
“Obviously we would all love to be back there in the 08 semi-final and the 11 Leinster final, we’d love to be back playing those days, but realistically we are not quite there,” says the current Wexford captain.
“I know we have had a huge turnover in players recently. Of the lads on that ‘11 squad I think Ben Brosnan is the only one surviving from then. Shane Roche our manager would have been on that team too but there’s a whole new transition.
“The average age of our backs against Offaly was 22 so we know we have experience to earn but we have potential to reach that level again and I think the Tailteann cup is a great chance to bridge the gap of where we are now and where we want to be to bring Wexford football to that level again.
“Our whole camp down in Wexford think it is a great opportunity. At the start of the year we knew where we were at so our goals were not to win the All Ireland championship we know we are not there but looking at the Tailteann cup it is a realistic and achievable goal.”
The vagaries of the Tailteann Cup draw have meant Wexford find themselves in the unusual position of playing Offaly in the preliminary round, the team they defeated in the preliminary round of the Leinster Championship.
That was something of an upset result considering Offaly played in Division Two this year while Wexford were in Division Four, and O’Connor knows it won’t be easy to repeat the dose.
“It’s just a month ago we played Offaly , to be fair the last day they had a good few injuries and I can imagine they will have a different team out last time so it might not be the same game.
“We were underdogs the last day and we might be favourites going in this time around so the the fact that we might have that behind us might not necessarily work in our favour but we know what we are capable of and we’ll take it as it comes we’ll bring our own confidence into the game and hopefully it will get the win.”
Whether they do or don’t, O’Connor is confident that Wexford football is on the right track again after a few difficult years.
A new generation of players has emerged that he believes can propel the county back up the pecking order.
“Even in the Sigerson campaign, across the colleges there was a good Wexford contingent playing,” he says.
“Whereas for a while we maybe only had one or two people playing Sigerson every year, but the fact we have lads competing at that level without a doubt brings on those young lads because they get confidence from that.
“They see that they can play at that level and then they bring that confidence and they bring the standard of Wexford football up a peg or two as well when they are playing at that level.
“We might be lacking a bit of experience at the minute but we definitely have the talent. The more games we play, especially with this Tailteann Cup, if we get more and more championship games that's only going to build our experience. It's only to help improve, especially those younger lads who just want more game time.”
He knows the destination he’d like to get to eventually, but O’Connor is determined to enjoy the journey along the way too.
Wexford football might be at a relatively low ebb at the moment, but he’s never doubted his own commitment to the cause nor the many benefits he takes from being a county footballer.
"No doubt about it, the sacrifices have to be made and I know it's not for everyone, but I personally love the idea of living that athlete lifestyle," he said.
“I've obviously work and colleges to go along with it but I think the balance between them, if I didn't have it (inter-county), I'd struggle more so.
“The skills and experience I bring from the GAA definitely helps me in other parts of my life.
“Even just in terms of building relationships and friendships with other people, it definitely helps in other parts of my life whether it's in work or college. I think they go hand in hand.
“Without the GAA I don't think I would be where I am in a lot of other parts of my life as well.”