Versatile O'Keeffe looking forward to Wexford's next challenge
By Michael Devlin
The scenes in Wexford took a bit of time to simmer down.
Supporters had been out in their thousands to celebrate not just the Model County senior hurlers’ Leinster title glory a fortnight ago, but also the successes to the ladies footballers and minor hurlers.
The streets of Enniscorthy, Ferns, Gorey and Wexford town were like a carnival on Sunday night, celebrations that hadn’t been seen since their last Bob O’Keeffe Cup triumph 15 years before. The following evening the party was still going, with a sea of purple and gold spreading across a sunny Wexford Park for the teams’ homecoming.
“The scenes in Gorey were something unreal,” said Diarmuid O’Keeffe, the recipient of the PWC GAA/GPA Hurler of the Month award for June. “Everyone was out on the street. The main street on Gorey is 700 or 800 metres long and it possibly took us an hour to get through it. It was just crazy.
“We went through Ferns and Enniscorthy, Oilgate as well, it was probably a little bit later in the night so it was a bit quieter but there was still plenty of people out. It was great to be part of it.
“When you don't win something for so long and then you do get a bit of silverware, it important to enjoy it. Some of the younger guys like Conor McDonald and Rory [O'Connor] would have Leinster U21 medals but the likes of us haven't any medals to show for it.
“I'd recovered by Monday evening. We got Tuesday out of it as well, Davy [Fitzgerald] was very good to us. It was back to training on Thursday. While we really enjoyed it at the time, it's time to leave that to the side for the moment.”
Now 27 years of age, O’Keeffe is in his eighth season with Wexford senior hurlers, a career that has seen him operate across several positions on the field. Under Liam Dunne, the St Annes’ clubman was a forward before Davy Fitzgerald turned him into an attacking wing-back. In 2017, he scored in each of Wexford’s eleven competitive inter-county games, totalling 3-13 from defence.
In recent seasons, he has moved up to the midfield berth, where his scoring displays have remained consistent, chipping in with 0-7 in this year’s Leinster campaign. He believes his form this year has been up there with his best in the Wexford jersey.
“When you come into the squad first you’re really fining your feet, and trying to learn your trade so to speak. This year has been up there with other season, I’ve moved positions in the last two years with Davy, I was wing back and now I’m middle of the field.
“On a personal level it’s all about trying to improve yourself week after week and game after game, and that adds to a team performance then and team improvement. I think it’s up there with the rest.”
In terms of that versatility, he doesn’t mind where he’s playing, so long as he’s playing. It’s that ability to straddle the lines and contribute to the performance collectively that he believes is a key feature of this Wexford team.
“I suppose when I was coming up underage I would have always played midfield, so possibly it’s the most natural position for me. I’m just happy to play, so long as I’m on the starting 15 I really don’t care where I’m playing. I say that to guys in work that are asking me the same question, it doesn’t bother me so long as I’m playing.
“I think there’s probably a cohort of 10 or 11 lads that are consistently there over the last couple of years, the Lee Chin’s, the Matthew O’Hanlon’s, the Paul Morris’, the Mark Fanning’s, and really any one of the lads can end up in any position, whether it be the forward line or the backs.
“Even in the backline, Liam Ryan is a phenomenal leader. I spoke of Matthew O’Hanlon, Sean Murphy has been there the last couple of years. They’re good at spreading the workload and balancing the whole thing out.”
Wexford will learn their semi-final fate this Sunday as their beaten Leinster final opponents Kilkenny take on Cork, while Tipperary play Laois in an All-Ireland SHC quarter-final double header at Croke Park.
O’Keeffe stresses that while he and his team-mates will obviously be keeping a keen eye on proceedings, any serious analysis of potential challengers will take place after the games are over.
“Possibly one or two lads might go to them. We won't look at them as a team. But I'd say the majority of lads will be looking at them. I suppose you'll be looking at the games from an enjoyment point of view more than anything. A lot of the lads play football as well so they might be looking at the Donegal-Meath game whether it's on the telly or the game between Dublin and Cork so it's just part of it. Following that, whether it's Laois or Tipperary we'll zone in on specifics.”