CONOR MCDONALD CAN sense what a seismic occasion it is for the people of Gorey this week.
For the first time the Naomh Éanna club will have a direct involvement on Wexford senior hurling final day.
Six years after plying their trade in junior ranks, they have climbed up to be within one victory of the summit of the club game in their county.
“First ever senior final, so the town is going a little bit mental at the moment. Everyone is just raring to go. It’s more excitement than anything.
“I’d say probably in the last ten years the club has really focused on the underage and our team is quite young at the minute. We probably have three players over 30, other than that it’s probably 24 and down.
“It’s been a big drive at underage over the last 10 years. The first year I actually played adult hurling we were actually in junior which would have been 2012 and we won it.
“And then we won the intermediate in 2015. We’ve been in quarter-finals then, we’ve been riding on the crest of the wave.
“We’ve had three quarter-finals. Last year we would have been in the semi-final for the first time.”
For icons in Wexford hurling, Billy Byrne and Ger Cushe, the chance to see their club be crowned senior hurling champions heightens the signifcance of this game.
Wexford hurling hero Billy Byrne in the 1997 Leinster final.
Source: © INPHO
“Oh yeah, they’re heavily involved,” says McDonald.
“Ger is heavily involved in the camogie side of things as well and Billy has been over the U21 teams for the last number of years.
“They spend an awful lot of time up in the pitch. It would be massive. To see them achieve so much on a county scale, I suppose it’s kind of surreal to watch them looking at us training and going into a senior county final and they’ve never been in one.
“For the likes of those people as well it’s obviously an incentive to try to do it for them as well as the elder people who have put their heart and soul into the club for years. You’d love to give back to them in some way, that the first one was a victorious one.”
He’s appreciative of the scale of the task in front of them. Oulart-the-Ballagh, for so long the masters of the Wexford hurling scene, may not be involved but reigning champions St Martin’s represent formidable opponents on Sunday.
For McDonald the challenge is to tap into a winning habit.
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“I think I’ve only one county medal, U12. We got to every single county final every year but the Rapparees, Liam Ryan and Kevin Foley’s club, beat us every single year.
“They have every underage medal and I have one of them. Yeah, and I think there was always a thing with Gorey and the Martin’s over the years of the year below my year.
“We’ve always got to finals but not necessarily won them. We’ve always been there or thereabouts. The club have tried to be up there and compete at the highest level and it’s rubbed off over the last 18 months.”
Conor McDonald celebrates hitting the net for Wexford against Clare in July.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Success would round off a season that McDonald largely views in a disappointing manner after how he fared with the Wexford senior side.
“I’ve said it a few times now, for me personally I would find that if I’m not winning silverware or part of a team that’s winning silverware then it’s a failure. The moral victories now for this team I think are washed away.
“Really, we were beaten in a quarter-final and that’s where we exited the last couple of years. Until we overcome that then we won’t be showing we’re progressing.
“We were beaten in a quarter-final, I know we were beaten in Leinster final, but we were still beaten in a quarter-final last year so we probably did stay still.
“It was obviously really disappointing to leave the way we did. I suppose the only way we can put that right is hopefully go on into the New Year and attack it.”
The confirmation that Davy Fitzgerald is remaining at the helm of their setup is a major boost and McDonald rejects suggestions that the Clare native can only have a short-term impact in managing a team.
“We’re going into our third season so if we win, then all those years when people are saying that about Davy will be shot out the window.
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“If we turn around and win an All-Ireland Final next year, and please God we will, are people going to say Davy is a one-trick pony for two years considering he’ll have spent three years with us?
“I find it hard to believe that this is still a thing. He’s probably one of the best coaches around. If you’re that, you’re not going to only be able to sustain something for two years, are you?
“I think it’s probably a little bit of lazy analysis. Hopefully time will tell and prove me right.”
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