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'We have potential to reach that level again' - Wexford hoping to revive the glory days

Martin O’Connor grew up on a diet of watching Wexford sides competing at the top table.

Sean Cavanagh takes a shot under pressure from Wexford players in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final.
Sean Cavanagh takes a shot under pressure from Wexford players in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Updated May 20th 2022, 12:42 PM

WHEN MARTIN O’CONNOR was growing up, Wexford footballers were knocking on the door of football’s elite.

Under Jason Ryan, they reached the All-Ireland semi-final and a Leinster final. In 2010 they brought Dublin to extra-time in the provincial quarter-final. A year later Dublin were All-Ireland champions.

They were heady days for Wexford football but things have slipped since. Still it inspired a new generation to want to represent Wexford in a county where the hurlers are the flagship team. 

“I was lucky enough to be playing underage football when Wexford was going really well so I had a lot of really good role models to look up to,” says Model skipper O’Connor.

“The likes of Colm Morris, David Murphy, Brian Malone, all these lads looking up to growing up. I always wanted to play football for Wexford.

“Obviously we would all love to be back there (when we were competing) in the ’08 semi final and the ’11 Leinster final. We’d love to be back to those days but realistically we are not quite there. I know we have had a huge turnover in players recently.

“We have potential to reach that level again and I think the Tailteann Cup is a great chance to bridge the gap from where we are now and where we want to bring Wexford football.

“Being named captain this year was one of my best achievements personally and it just makes me want to drive on even further for that then.  

“To be fair there’s always been a good, strong Wexford football following. It is small there’s no doubt about it. Even in times when Wexford were going well, hurling was always the top supported, it was mainly lads going to that.

“But I think it’s up to ourselves to start performing and start getting results if you want to get that following.

“Obviously it helps when times are going bad if they get around us and show us that support that we will come on that bit more. But it’s completely up to ourselves, if we want that support we’ve got to start putting in the results and performances.”

Ben Brosnan is the sole survivor from that team, while current manager Shane Roche was also involved in a playing capacity. Veteran Brosnan unleashed his scoring power on Offaly in the Leinster opener, firing 1-5 to seal a three-point victory.

“He’s flying, in recent years he has put unbelievable work in behind the scenes to get his body right again,” says O’Connor of his team-mate. “I know he’s struggling with an injury this last year or two. 

“The league didn’t necessarily go too great for him either and he didn’t start every game. But his drive and will to push on is admirable and a lot of the lads still look up to him. The younger lads and forwards coming in have to look and see what he is doing. He has his body in really good shape so hopefully we get a few more years out of him.”

martin-oconnor-with-paddy-small Wexford's Martin O'Connor goes past Paddy Small in the Leinster SFC. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Offaly and Wexford will renew acquaintances for the second time in the space of a month after being drawn against one another in the preliminary round of the Tailteann Cup.  

O’Connor says Wexford are viewing the introduction of the new second tier competition as a major positive.

“It is a fantastic opportunity, our whole camp down in Wexford think so. At the start of the year we knew where we were at so our goals were not to win the All-Ireland, but looking at the Tailteann Cup it is a realistic and achievable goal.

“Going into it is Division 4 and 4 teams, so you wouldn’t fear any team. We see it as a really competitive competition. We’re going well in training everyone is in good spirits and really looking forward to it.

“We don’t see why we can’t go all the way at the minute but we’ll take it week by week. Momentum can build fairly easily.

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“We’re going to take it one step at a time. We have Offaly this weekend and we played them in the Leinster championship as well and we beat them but it is going to be a different game this time around. We can take some sort of confidence going into it.

“To be fair the last day they had a good few injuries and I can imagine they will have a different team out so it might not be the same game.

“Sometimes going in after beating them , we were underdogs the last day and we might be favourites going in this time around. 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.”

The civil and structural engineering Masters student in UCD says a major carrot for the group is to play in Croke Park, where the semi-finals will take place.

“I’m yet to play in Croke Park. That’s the dream to get there. 

“It would be unbelievable. That’s the goal, that’s the target to get there.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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