Kate Kelly has described Saturday’s crunch clash with Clare as Wexford’s All-Ireland writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. Defeat in the final round-robin game would consign the Model County’s four-in-a-row bid to the scrapheap without even getting to the knockout stages.
It has been a season of upheaval for the team, with stalwarts Claire O’Connor, Catherine O’Loughlin and Michelle O’Leary retiring, while Una Leacy, Deirdre Codd and Lisa Bolger are unavailable after taking a year out to travel. A number of those that might have been expected to step up have moved on too and Katrina Parrock’s broken thumb has stretched resources further.
There was also a change of management, with JJ Doyle standing down and Martin Lynch coming in, only for Lynch to part ways with the squad just two weeks before the commencement of the Liberty Insurance senior camogie championship. Doyle stepped into the breach and they won their opening tie against Derry but subsequent defeats to old rivals Galway and then Kilkenny have left them on the brink.
Clare would have had ambitions of their own, having only lost the league semi-final in extra time to subsequent winners, Cork. They only have one win registered too however, making this encounter – which precedes the Wexford-Laois SFC qualifier at Wexford Park- a winner-takes-all clash.
Kelly admits that it is “a little bit strange” to be in this position after such a golden period of success.
“It has been a tough enough year” says Kelly. “Things had been going relatively well. We got to a league final, we got to a Leinster final. We didn’t win either of them but we know we’re there or thereabouts.
“There was a changeover in management in June but it was so close to the championship, the players just kept their focus on the games as opposed to worrying about anything else. I know results haven’t gone our way but the games were tight enough. That’s just the way the championship goes.
“We always knew it was going to be tough. We’re just going to have to knuckle down for Saturday evening.”
The turnover of players has made it very difficult.
“That’s had a big impact. The few injuries haven’t helped either. But we’re keeping positive. We still have a strong team there. We’ve been in tough games before and it’s just a game we have to go out and win.
“I would say this is out All-Ireland. If you don’t get over Saturday the year is over. We’re definitely not looking any further than that. Our year could be very short if we don’t get over that hurdle.
“It is a scary prospect but you can’t just assume you’re going to be there ‘til September and we never do. It is very early in the year, it is July, but that’s the position we’re in.” Kelly isn’t making any excuses though.
“That’s life. That’s sport. They’re the things you have to deal with. Saturday is just going to be a tell-all day for both teams.
“We’re under no illusions that Clare are very strong and up-and-coming, and have won a lot underage. They’ll definitely be up for this game. They might have been a bit unlucky with results too, being on the wrong side of a few tight scorelines.
“But we can’t change the fact now, we’re both in a mini All-Ireland on Saturday.”