Chin hoping Wexford can make most of second chance
By John Harrington
Wexford’s season to date has been something of a headscratcher.
They generated serious early momentum when winning their five Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A games, but then fell to a 19-point defeat to Waterford in the semi-final.
Their Championship campaign so far has had its ups and downs too.
They laboured for long stretches of their opener against Galway before showing great character to snatch a draw.
They then lost to Dublin, hammered Laois, and only managed a draw against Westmeath that meant they needed to beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in their last group game to qualify for the All-Ireland series.
That looked like a tall task against a Cats team with a far better form-line, but when their need was greatest Wexford produced their best performance of the year to defeat to beat Kilkenny by four points.
How did they manage to raise their level so significantly to beat Kilkenny a week after drawing with Westmeath?
According to team captain Lee Chin, there were a couple of different factors at play.
“During the week there was an element of frustration involved in it, that we’d left ourselves in the position that it was a knockout championship,” said Chin yesterday at the national launch of the All-Ireland SHC series.
“I suppose, during the week, with that element of frustration, we were able to transfer it into some form of motivation. We did a bit of soul-searching as well, during the week.
“We did a lot of work on Kilkenny; we knew what threat they posed. We’ve had great battles over the last number of years, and we were going to Nowlan Park and it was a big incentive for us obviously to remain in the championship.
“We used what we could as well. During that week someone had mentioned that we hadn’t beaten Kilkenny in Nowlan Park ever in the championship – not that we might have played them much over the years in championship in Nowlan Park, but it was a nice thing to go there and try to achieve.”
Another key factor in Wexford’s win over Kilkenny was that a fully fit and match-sharp Chin produced one of his greatest ever Championship performances for his county.
It must have felt good for the Faythe Harriers man because he’s had a very frustrating season due to a long rehab from a recurring hamstring injury that limited his participation in the League to 20 minutes against Waterford.
He had to make do with a place on the bench for Wexford’s first two championship matches as team manager Darragh Egan eased him back into action, so it’s only now that he feels like he’s back hurling at full throttle.
“You can prepare yourself to any degree, off the field, training, in the gym; you can prepare yourself and condition yourself, but you just cannot get that match fitness without games,” he says.
“And I suppose that was the missing piece to my jigsaw this year, just that lack of game time. Unluckily for me, I didn’t get a chance to even get to the latter end of the league, so just had to go into the championship with no real game time.
"I could even see it and feel it myself with each game that went on that I was just getting that little bit sharper and fitter as well. There was a period there where I didn’t know if I was going to make the first round of the championship, so I’m just happy to be where I’m at, at the moment.”
Much like Chin, it would be understandable if this Wexford team was a work in progress this season considering they’re under new management.
Darragh Egan has impressed so far in his first year hurling at this level of the game, and Chin believes one of his best decisions was to not completely rip up the script written by his predecessor Davy Fitzgerald.
“He’s just added layers to our game. Darragh didn’t want to come in and just reboot the whole system, it was just about adding certain things to the way we were performing and I think he’s done a great job of it.
“In training every night a lot of it would consist of Darragh, the Tipperary man trying to put a stamp on what he values most - a lot of skill work and ball work and stuff.
“It’s a very enjoyable way to train as well. Obviously there’s been great foundations there from Davy, we love displaying for him and loved playing that system and Darragh has just come in to try and add different tiers.
“We’re just grateful to be in the championship. We’re getting another chance at it as well.”
That chance entails a long cross-country trip to play Kerry in Saturday’s All-Ireland Preliminary Quarter-Final.
It’s a match Wexford should win if they reproduce anything like the level they did against Kilkennny, but Chin is taking nothing for granted against a Kerry team that will be fired up to produce a big performance in front of their home crowd.
“We’re coming down against an opposition that you wouldn’t regular see much of, so it’s intriguing and, look, we’re going down at the weekend again with that attitude of it’s a knockout championship.
“You’ve got to be on your game.”