Wex­ford have re-fo­cused af­ter league semi loss

Gorey Guardian - - SPORT - BREN­DAN FUR­LONG Sports re­porter

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.

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