Wexford have re-focused after league semi loss
WHILE KILKENNY may have lost that supreme air of invincibility despite their league success, andwith Galway defending their provincial title, the Leinster Senior hurling title race has become more intriguing than for many years.
Caught up in the middle is Wexford, who will be hoping to go one step further than last year and win the provincial title, but whatever happens in the Leinster race, Davy Fitzgerald’s charges have it within them to reach at least an All-Ireland semi-final.
But while the full house sign could be going up for Wexford’s third game in the group, should earlier results be favourable, it’s their clash with Dublin next Sunday in Innovate Wexford Park (2 p.m.) that will take on most importance.
This is a game where Wexford need to show no mercy, as anything but a positive result would heap pressure on the side for their remaining three games, particularly the clash with Offaly in O’Connor Park, Tullamore, six days later.
Davy Fitzgerald and the Wexford players will be calling on supporters to turn out in their thousands, and turn Innovate Wexford Park into a sea of purple and gold, as thus far this is the side’s most important game of the year.
Wexford have not had a healthy record against the Dubs in recent times, and while there is talk of the county being on the way up, and Dublin on the way down, a championship clash takes on a whole new meaning of its own. Indeed, there could be many scars on the way before the final three in the group are decided.
Innovate Wexford Park has been a difficult place for visiting teams since Fitzgerald took over at the helm. This is his second season in charge, only losing his unbeaten home record in the league semi-final to Kilkenny, but it was a result that was not lost on the former Clare manager and the players, as it led to them having to refocus, rebuild and set out different goals for the championship.
At the outset of the league the bookies would have had Galway and Wexford as clear favourites to advance through Leinster, but since then that has all changed.
The former kingpins of hurling, Kilkenny, have leapfrogged the Model county into second spot following their unexpected league exploits, with Brian Cody having rebuilt a side that must now have sights on a prolonged championship campaign.
With the overall picture pointing towards Galway and Tipperary to eventually meet in the All-Ireland final, there is still a real interesting feel about this new-look championship format, with the round-robin system piling the pressure on counties.
After all, there is now the cause for concern that the county most likely to emerge is the one with a real strength in depth to their squad as, given the quickfire nature of games over successive weekends, any injuries could hamper a side’s hopes very early on.
Wexford have had their injury problems through the National League, but they now seem to have got a bit of a run as they continue their build-up to the opener with the Dubs.
At the moment Fitzgerald is hopeful of picking from a full squad, unless there are any setbacks in the final days of preparation, but he will need to be able to deal from a full hand.
The Dublin challenge will be physical, backed up by quality and skilful players, who will seriously test the progress of this Wexford side.
From a do-or-die National League campaign where they retained their Division 1A status, having been promoted last year, Wexford have had to re-focus following their semi-final defeat.
The visit of Dublin this Sunday will sharpen that focus, but recovery from the Kilkenny defeat should now be complete, as they get down to the business end of the hurling season - the 2018 championship.
The downtime may have erased memories of that defeat, a three-weekend spell back with their clubs for football and hurling club championship games, but the wait is now over, and the players will no doubt have returned to a positive frame of mind as they dwell on the expected challenge that Dublin will bring.
There is an argument that Wexford need victories over both Dublin and Offaly to take into their final round clashes with Galway and Kilkenny.
But Davy Fitzgerald in addressing this will look no further than the challenge that Dublin will pose.
That’s really what Wexford need, and supporters should take this on board in the days leading up the game, get behind the players and help drive them over the line with a victory over the Dubs.
That is the most important scenario facing Wexford hurling at the moment.
We want to be in a provincial final, we know it’s going to be tough, but for me I will be happy come Sunday evening to have started with an opening round victory, and will bask in having gathered both points, no matter how they’re collected.