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Saturday 24 August 2019

Time is right for a Model silver lining

'Davy brings level of madness that Wexford people identify with,' says former ace Travers

Wexford corner-back Malachy Travers watches the presentation after Kilkenny beat Wexford in the 2008 Leinster Hurling Final
Wexford corner-back Malachy Travers watches the presentation after Kilkenny beat Wexford in the 2008 Leinster Hurling Final

Malachy Travers sounds like a man who literally can't wait for Sunday's Leinster hurling final, and what it might mean for his native Wexford.

"I'm really confident that they're going to go and deliver on Sunday. I really am," he says. "It kind of feels strange even saying that, because on the other side of things you've Kilkenny..."

Travers should know. Those killer Cats were the bane of his life and Wexford's well-being for much of the noughties. He was there in 2004 when John Conran - aided by Michael Jacob's famous late dagger - masterminded one of the great modern-day ambushes.

Brian Cody's men duly spent the next four summers inflicting ever-more painful forms of retribution, beating Wexford in four consecutive Leinster finals by three points, eight, 15 and 19, with a ten-point All-Ireland semi-final defeat thrown into the mix in '07.

Rematch

The last of those provincial showdowns also qualifies as the most recent Kilkenny/Wexford Leinster final. Until this Sunday's belated rematch.

Travers - a stalwart of Ballyboden St Enda's from 2007 to '18, and now a selector for the Dublin champions under Joe Fortune - harks back to that 2008 showpiece with no great fondness. Wexford were in year two under John Meyler and had fought back in the second quarter to only trail by two at the break, 1-9 to 0-10.

"I remember Meyler coming in at half-time and he was banging his chest, going 'Lads, if you ever wondered could you do it ... there you have it, you can do it!'"

Then, three minutes after half-time, Eddie Brennan did what Eddie did best.

"We tried to bundle him over the end line and he sort of flicked it under his elbow. I remember at the time thinking how did he actually (do it)? I thought he literally threw it into the net … he sort of snuck it in. Everything just capitulated from there. It was a strange one."

Kilkenny hit them for four second-half goals, Brennan's quick-fire brace killing the contest. It ended 5-21 to 0-17. "It was horrendous near the end," says Travers.

Some context. This was the greatest team of all time, in their peak season.

"Kilkenny put on the after-burners after half-time," the retired defender recalls. "I remember speaking to someone soon after, just saying 'It's like a tsunami' ... yeah, that was the full force of Kilkenny and Cody at their best."

Subsequently, Wexford were pipped by Waterford in an All-Ireland quarter-final. Then Meyler was axed, amid rumblings of some player agitation.

"He got a raw deal," Travers maintains. "And I think at the end of the day the county board pulled the pin there.

"Like anything, there were some things that weren't maybe the level they should have been. But I wouldn't have been pinning it on John and I remember I was pretty vocal about it at the time. I just didn't agree with that. Not where we were at the time."

Their position would get worse over time. When Colm Bonnar departed after the 2011 season, so too did Travers.

Five years later, in October 2016, enter Davy Fitzgerald. "Fundamentally, what Davy has done with Wexford is he's made them competitive every day they go out," Travers declares.

"The team has always been prepared to deliver a performance. And I think, looking back, that's where we fell down. We maybe weren't prepared to the level of other teams to deliver those performances. And that's why we'd be getting those ad-hoc victories here and there.

Nonsense

"Davy has brought that. But also, I know there's been a bit of nonsense in the public domain recently about this style of Wexford, but I don't buy into that. Like, what do you want? To hurl nice and get beaten?"

He continues: "Davy also brings a level of madness to it that, I think, Wexford people identify with.

"If you go back to Wexford teams when they've hurled their best, if you go back to the 1997 Leinster final (against Kilkenny) - it was an absolute war zone. It was one of the best contests I've ever seen … and I think Wexford identify with that level of madness.

"I thought Wexford, two weeks ago against Kilkenny, brought that level of aggression. And Kilkenny respect that.

"I think that really took Cody's attention, to be honest. And I think he'll be worried going into Sunday."

That firecracker in Wexford Park has whetted the appetite. Travers reckons it's "a good thing" that there was no winner on the day, ensuring "a fierce edge" to Sunday's Croke Park renewal.

You ask if he's confident and, after a brief pause, he answers in the affirmative, citing the "real impact" Wexford now possess off the bench.

Having lost to Galway in the 2017 final, the time has come for this team to deliver silverware.

"But," he warns, "all the talk is one thing, you've got to go and do it now. As much as I'd absolutely will them over the line, it's got to happen for them as well."

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