Hurlers should have no fear of this Down team and it is one they are more than capable of beating
FOLLOWING their comprehensive victory over Fingal in their final League game the Wicklow hurlers have successfully qualified for the Division 2B final which will be played this Saturday in Navan at 3pm.
With the footballers involved in a must win league game away to Tipperary in Thurles on Sunday it is certainly the most important weekend to date this year for both teams.
The hurlers, who meet Down, will be seeking to reverse the result from their earlier meeting in the league section and I am confident that they will.
In fact, I think that they will win by at least six to eight points. Down, with the game now being played in Navan, will be out of their comfort zone of the Ards Penninsula. I have always found that Ulster teams play with a different mentality when fixed to play outside of their province.
This is a much changed and weaker Down team from the one that won the Christy Ring final last year and one that Wicklow are more than capable of beating.
I also think that they don't have enough attacking quality in reserve to replace their missing match winning forwards Paul Brannif, Gareth 'Magic' Johnson and the Coyle brothers.
Wicklow on the other hand will be buoyed up with the big score they registered last time out even if it was against weak opposition like Fingal.
The Wicklow management team have stuck with more or less a settled selection since the commencement of the League.
Realistically only one position has been changed regularly namely centre-half forward with Anto Byrne, Bernie Byrne, Andy O'Brien and Aaron Nugent all starting a game at number 11.
I expect the team to remain on the same lines with Andy getting the nod to start the final in this position.
After an absence of nearly three years from the county scene Ted Kennedy has returned to the county goal and has added greater stability to this area.
Ted is a solid, brave, safe, no nonsense keeper. He has considerable physical presence in the goal. H
e probably requires greater options from his defenders when in possession especially when forced onto his weaker side.
The placement of Stephen Kelly at fullback has without doubt transformed this team.
A standout player who gives great assurance to the full-back line with an added ability to cover his team mates when exposed.
John Henderson's importance to the team is right up there with Chester's. He has been outstanding at midfield and also at centre half back when required to play in this area.
Mikey Lee has probably been our most consistent attacker to date this year. Scoring 2-14 in any game is a remarkable achievement by any standards.
This excellent scoring feat was recognised by the national media with his selection on the hurling team of the week.
This is a great achievement considering that all the top counties were in action last weekend. If there is any down side to his selection it is that everyone will now be looking out for him in games. I am well sure Mikey can handle any extra attention and hopefully the other forwards can capitalise on any extra freedom that may now come their way.
Young player Danny Stanton will be happy with the progress he has made to date in his first year at Senior level.
There are many very experienced players with significant big match day experience on this Wicklow team such as Liam Kennedy, Ronan Keddy, Andy O'Brien, Wayne O'Gorman, and Jonathan O'Neill and I expect these players together with the four star players mentioned above to have enough knowhow in their locker to guarantee victory and more importantly promotion to Division 2A.
Thankfully the winners of next Sunday's final are guaranteed direct promotion to Division 2A. Spare a thought for the winners of the Division 2A final between Kerry and Carlow.
They won't be guaranteed promotion to Division 1B automatically. They will firstly have to beat Offaly (who lost the Division 1A relegation final against Antrim) making it doubly hard for a team from Division 2A to get promoted.
This also gives Offaly a further chance of staying up in Division 1B. This is another example of the GAA hierarchy doing their best to make things as difficult as possible for the so called weaker counties to make that step up.
I see the President of the GAA has announced the make up of the new Hurling Review Committee.
Some very capable and knowledgeable hurling people have been selected with Liam Sheedy (Tipperary) chairing the group.
No person from a county currently outside Division 1A and 1B has been invited to join the committee. This omission together with the non-inclusion of Wicklow, Meath, Kildare and Down in the recent announcement regarding additional hurling funding portrays serious doubts about the President's commitment to hurling outside the top tier.
Here's hoping that our county footballers can beat Tipperary away and that Antrim do us a favour and defeat Clare.
With Tipperary having already gained promotion and qualified for the Division 4 final and with their under-21 footballers in the Munster final the following Wednesday can we expect a much changed lineout from them on Sunday?
With the long delay until the Leinster Championship against Laois, a league final in Croke Park would be a big bonus not to mention the huge significance of promotion.