Wexford go west for acid test against top-tier Tribe
What a difference a year makes. Last February, Liam Dunne was setting out on his fifth (and final) year at the Wexford hurling helm. Their Allianz League Division 1B campaign opened with clashes against heavyweight duo Limerick and Clare.
They lost both - promotion ambitions killed at birth.
Twelve months on, Davy Fitzgerald is in his honeymoon period. Once more, the fixture-makers have put Wexford against their chief rivals on the first two weekends.
But now, in the fuzzy afterglow of a comeback victory at home to Limerick, Wexford will travel west - to Galway's Pearse Stadium this Sunday - with a pep in their step.
Certain spinmeisters might even surmise that they're 70 minutes away from near-certain promotion. "No matter what happens, we still have a chance because Limerick are playing Galway in the last game," says former Wexford forward-turned-radio pundit Tom Dempsey.
"It's a good start to the league but, to a certain extent, Wexford are stepping into different territory with Galway.
"Galway are probably a top-three team and, in some people's eyes now, a top-two team. This is going to be a completely different game.
"I think the media have been too tough on Galway. I know the Anthony Cunningham thing maybe was a little bit unfair, but Galway have given us some great days in Croke Park. And let's not forget that they should have beaten Tipperary last year.
"I'm not a bookie but if you were using bookie's odds, Galway would probably be 1/3.
"But Galway's only downside is they're a little bit unpredictable at times," he adds.
"And maybe if Wexford can stay in the game for a long period, they have the ability now to catch them. And I'm sure Davy will have a few little tactics up his sleeve.
"But if I was a tipping man, I think you'd have to go with Galway for Sunday."
Dempsey was encouraged both by Wexford's passion and performance levels throughout the field last Sunday, while stressing: "There were a couple of incidents in the second half, had they gone the other way, Limerick would have won the game."
An All Star corner-forward on the last Wexford team to scale the All-Ireland summit - in 1996 - he has seen enough false dawns over the last two decades not to get caught up in any premature euphoria.
"I've said it before, Wexford people need to keep their feet on the ground," he says. "It's been a very, very positive start and there's a buzz and excitement around the camp. You're talking 4,000 people for a Walsh Cup semi-final against Kilkenny … they just want something to grasp onto."
He reckons Wexford needed the 'X-factor' of a big managerial appointment, while stressing: "Full credit must be given to Liam Dunne in his tenure. Let's not forget that we'd a fantastic 2014, albeit in kind of ended suddenly. Liam blooded a lot of young players. We beat Cork last year.
"But I do believe that we needed a big appointment. The support base is incredible down in Wexford. I think it was a bit of a coup to get Davy to come in and take the reins."