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'A lot of the lads would be hoping Davy stays on. He's bringing us on in leaps and bounds'

Wexford senior and U21 hurler Conor Firman hopes that Fitzgerald will be back at the helm in 2019.

WEXFORD HURLER CONOR Firman has enjoyed a busy 2018 to date, balancing both senior and U21 inter-county hurling commitments.

Davy Fitzgerald speaks to his players Davy Fitzgerald with his Wexford side. Source: Tommy Greally/INPHO

He was on Davy Fitzgerald’s extended panel last year but this time round, established himself as a regular starter and got his name out there much more.

“It’s a huge step up,” he says. “But it’s sort of one you just have to mould your own way into it and take it every game as it comes.

“You can’t put too much pressure on yourself either or you won’t perform. It’s all about just taking advice from lads that are there who give you good help and advise you on how to go about things. It’s been a very enjoyable year so far.”

One of the things that made it so enjoyable is working under Fitzgerald.

“The fact that he’s been there, done that as a player and a manager with Clare in 2013,” Firman explains. “He has had experience and a wealth of knowledge of the game too.

“I think he’s brought on Wexford with the league and in championship as well, we got to the Leinster Final last year. We probably didn’t perform the way we probably wanted to, but, you know, he’s bringing us on in leaps and bounds, so it can only be positives really.

Bord Gáis Energy U21 All-Ireland Semi-Finals Media Day Firman and Mark Coleman at today's media launch. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“A lot of the lads would be hoping that Davy would stay on. No-one really knows what he’s going to do, but, as far as I know, he’s still the Wexford manager so we’ll be hoping he’ll be back there next year.”

As the curtain came down on their All-Ireland SHC campaign following their quarter-final defeat to the Banner, Firman’s entire focus switched solely to the U21 grade.

“There’s not too much pressure, there is a bit, but it’s not as much as it would be with the seniors. I always enjoy coming back and playing U21.

“It’s nice to have the break and play with lads your own age that you grew up with and were hurling with since you were a young lad.”

One of those players is fellow St Martin’s star Rory O’Connor. He’s made serious waves on the senior stage for the Yellowbellies this year, but it looks like the U21s will be without his valuable services as they face Cork in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

“A big set-back for Rory,” Firman says of his injury-stricken clubmate, who’s struggling with his knee.

“He was going well there this year, sort of breaking onto the scene as well. It’s unlucky for him, but it creates an opportunity for someone else to come into it. In the games at the weekend you saw how it was all about the panel. It’s not just the 15. It’s all about the lads who come in and having everyone around there encouraging.

Rory O'Connor signs autographs after the game Rory O'Connor. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’d say he’s gutted to miss out. An All-Ireland semi-final, it’s what you want to be playing, it’s what you train for throughout the winter.

“It would be hugely disappointing for him. I suppose he’ll be there encouraging us all and wanting us to do well.”

Taking to Nowlan Park on Saturday (throw-in 4pm), Wexford will hope they can put the disappointment and heartbreak of their Leinster final defeat to Galway to bed.

With mere seconds left in extra-time, Sean Bleahane found the back of the net to hand the Tribesmen a one-point win in the most dramatic fashion to cap an absolute thriller in Portlaoise.

It wasn’t all that bad though, Firman reflects: “It was a good game.

“It was up and down the field the whole game. It was unlucky to come out the wrong side of it in the end. Credit to Galway for the way they fought back and got that goal. But I suppose we got our goal at the end of normal time to get the draw and extra-time.

Conor Firman dejected Firman dejected after their championship exit to Clare. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Look, it was sort of mixed emotions, but it was a good game, a nice one to play in. We were just unlucky to come out the wrong side of it. That’s sport, I suppose. You have to deal with them sometimes.”

He adds: “There’s huge positives to come out from it.

“The fact that you’re competing with the top teams like that is always a plus. I suppose the fight that some of the Wexford lads showed, I couldn’t have faulted them. I was very proud of some of the players and the way they went about the game.

“At stages there we were sort of dying off but we came back into it. Look, again, mixed emotions. We’re happy to come out with a performance, just unlucky to be on that losing side after extra-time.”

It’s on to the next one.

They won’t get too carried away by the Munster champions as they prepare for their challenge, that said, but you can tell that Wexford are raring to go and make amends — and back themselves to do so.

Shane O’Donnell with Conor Firman In action against Clare's Shane O'Donnell in the All-Ireland quarter final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Cork are a good team, you have to respect them too. They have good players in and around the senior set-up, but, I think, you have to focus on your own game too, you can’t get caught up in what the other team are, that takes from your own performance.

Keep it inside the county, that’s the safest thing to do. And thrive off that new confidence that’s come to Wexford hurling over the past few years, he concludes.

“I suppose there is a sense of belief that we are up there with the top teams. We probably went through a bit of a dip there, but with the U21s the last few years, it just shows we are up there and have the hurlers. It’s just about getting that performance on the day.

“That’s something I think we need to work on. Being able to produce performances day in, day out. I think we wouldn’t be far off All-Irelands, hopefully, if we did that.”

- This piece was originally published at 17.44.

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Emma Duffy

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