Wexford People - - SPORT - BREN­DAN FUR­LONG Sports re­porter

WEX­FORD FACE a huge chal­lenge when they play Clare in the All-Ire­land Se­nior hurl­ing cham­pi­onship quar­ter-fi­nal in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork, on Satur­day at 3 p.m.

Clare go into the game as the book­ies’ clear favourites with Wex­ford as rank out­siders, which in it­self is an in­di­ca­tion of the chal­lenge fac­ing the Model county.

De­spite hav­ing been beaten in suc­ces­sive Mun­ster fi­nals, Clare will not fear Wex­ford, a sit­u­a­tion which the Slaneysiders will rel­ish.

And should the un­der­dogsre­peat some of their dis­plays of the past 18 months, a pe­riod in which they have taken the scalp of all the big­ger coun­ties bar Tip­per­ary, then they are in with a real chance of up­set­ting the odds.

Wex­ford Se­nior hurl­ing man­ager, Davy Fitzger­ald, is re­fus­ing to play mind games ahead of the clash.

While Wex­ford come into the game on the back of a lack-lus­tre per­for­mance in their pre­lim­i­nary quar­ter-fi­nal vic­tory over West­meath, op­po­nents Clare ar­rive in on the back of a 2-24 to 3-19 de­feat to Cork in the Mun­ster fi­nal, a sec­ond suc­ces­sive pro­vin­cial fi­nal loss at the hands of the Rebel county.

Wex­ford, who had not played a cham­pi­onship game since their loss to Kilkenny on June 9 in the Le­in­ster round robin, had to de­pend on goals from David Dunne and Conor McDon­ald to seal their vic­tory over the mid­lan­ders.

Fitzger­ald, who won two All-Ire­land’s as a player and one as a man­ager of Clare, is keep­ing his thoughts on the quar­ter-fi­nal clash to him­self.

‘I don’t know, I’m not even think­ing about next week,’ was his im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion fol­low­ing the West­meath vic­tory.

‘It’s a tricky one for me so the less I say about Clare the bet­ter,’ Fitzger­ald added.

‘It’s too close to my heart and I know them well. I’ll be ac­cused of play­ing this game or that game, so I won’t say any­thing.

‘We’ll go out next week and give it our best. If we don’t play bet­ter than we did to­day we won’t be do­ing any­thing. I won’t be giv­ing any more in­ter­views this week.’

Wex­ford had too much fire­power for West­meath and af­ter they led by 1-12 to 0-8 at half-time, McDon­ald’s goal in the 46th minute put the re­sult be­yond doubt.

‘We did some great things out there, there were a few phases of play that were deadly, but it was tricky, we did what we had to do,’ Fitzger­ald said.

‘There’s lots of room for im­prove­ment. We’ll see what hap­pens.

‘It was com­fort­able enough, I didn’t think we were un­der pres­sure at any stage, and thought we played well.

‘We won by eleven points, and the goalie had two great saves in the first-half. A vic­tory is a vic­tory.

‘Look, we beat them by eleven points, but had we taken the two goal chances in the first-half along with a cou­ple of frees, it would have been 19 or 20 points.

‘In the past Wex­ford would have taken eleven points but that’s where our ex­pec­ta­tions have taken us, which is a pos­i­tive thing.

‘I’d like them to be bet­ter than they were tonight as they won’t win a quar­ter-fi­nal play­ing like that. If we have chances at goal we should take them but we know we have to im­prove on that.

‘Any time I felt we came un­der pres­sure they bat­tled away but in fair­ness to West­meath they worked hard and you have to give it to them.’

Wex­ford will have both Rory O’Con­nor and Conor Fir­man avail­able for se­lec­tion af­ter both play­ers were rested from the West­meath game fol­low­ing their Le­in­ster Un­der-21 fi­nal ex­ploits against Gal­way on the pre­vi­ous Wed­nes­day evening.

O’Con­nor is ex­pected to be handed an at­tack­ing role, while Fir­man should come back into the de­fence. It was heart­en­ing to see Liam Og McGovern in­tro­duced dur­ing the vic­tory over the mid­lan­ders but it’s still to be de­cided whether he will start the game.

But with cor­ner-for­ward Paul Mor­ris a con­sid­er­able doubt, the St. Anne’s man could still be handed a start­ing role. Mor­ris was forced to re­tire with an in­jured knee which is still the cause of real con­cern.

Clare will be favourites but the pride in the pur­ple and gold jersey should stir a huge re­ac­tion from the Wex­ford play­ers.

It’s cer­tainly go­ing to be an en­thralling 70 min­utes.

David Dunne tries to stop West­meath full-back Tommy Doyle dur­ing Satur­day’s pre­lim­i­nary quar­ter-fi­nal win in Mullingar.

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