Wexford hurlers ready to put tame 2020 campaign behind them
By Kevin Egan
Expect some ring rust when it comes to fitness and touch, but no shortage of fire and brimstone when the Allianz National Hurling Leagues get underway this weekend – that’s the message from Wexford’s Diarmuid O’Keeffe, who feels that his county has a lot to prove after their 2020 campaign.
“As tame an effort to retain a Leinster title as anyone has come out with," is how he described the Model County’s 2020 championship, which consisted of back-to-back defeats to Galway and Clare by a combined margin of 20 points.
“On a personal level it was just so below par, all we can do is forget about it, put it behind us and move on," said the St. Anne’s player at the official launch of the 2021 league competition this week.
O’Keeffe went on to offer his view as to why they offered up such an anaemic defence of the provincial trophy.
“We anticipated that games would come back sooner than they did, so we got our fitness levels up too early. Then the club championship was played first and some lads would feel they had a better club championship than they did with the county”.
There was an added spanner in the works for Diarmuid and his St. Anne’s colleagues, as the matter of a county final with their club presented itself.
“We got to an intermediate championship final which was played well into October, when training with the county was back. The three of us tried to manage, but it was not easy with the club and county pulling you in different directions. It was probably no different to how the April period used to be”.
This season things have been completely different, and like so many other players around the country, the Wexford wing back is itching to get things up and running this weekend.
“The way things went, you were nearly doing a pre-preseason, trying to manage it so that you can be okay to come back into training and be ready for contact.
“This year we were due to start on the first of January, we were coming back in off some stale performances in November so the plan was to start back and do some boxing, but of course that couldn’t happen.
“There’s only so many 4K and 5K runs you can do, so I’m eager to get going sooner rather than later.
“I think players will be going full throttle, heal for leather this weekend. Will the skill and touch be a little bit off, probably, and will lads be right for fitness? No. That’ll come with time. But you’ll certainly get full-blooded hurling all the same”.
In his work as a secondary school teacher, O’Keeffe has seen first-hand how lockdown has affected young people, saying that it’s not just in the world of sport where it’ll take some time for people to get right back into the rhythm of life.
“Structure in your day is key, and for the first couple of weeks of a run of teaching online, everyone stuck to the timetable and things went okay, but it broke down. There was an extra three weeks of home schooling, then another three weeks, and kids fell by the wayside, they lost motivation.
“Now, since coming back, the kids have been a lot quieter, it’ll take some time for them to find themselves again. It’s the same with regard to playing for their clubs, and it’s really important that as many come back in. They’ve been finding entertainment in other ways, in online gaming or whatever, so clubs will lose numbers, but they’ve got to keep plugging on”.
The long-awaited return of inter-county hurling takes place this Saturday, May 8th, with the commencement of the Allianz Hurling Leagues. Over 70 games will take place across the four divisions in an action packed seven-week festival of hurling. This campaign also marks the 29th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA as sponsor of the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest-running sponsorships in Irish sport.