In the first top-flight hurling game of the weekend, Wexford will travel to Tullamore on Saturday night to take on Offaly in a crucial Round 3 game.
Offaly, after two straight losses are now facing the real possibility of relegation to the Joe McDonagh cup, while the yellowbellies are looking to go joint top after a last gasp win against Dublin last time out.
In reality, the championship begins for the faithful county this weekend after playing the All Ireland champions Galway and league champions Kilkenny in their opening two fixtures. By no means have Offaly been pushovers in those games, only trailing the cats by three points in the sixty-second minute, producing some fantastic hurling which will give their supporters real hope they can pull off a victory to keep them up in their final two matches.
Kevin Martin and his charges will be underdogs to avoid relegation but will have no fear of playing Wexford at home and will really fancy having a go at them in front of their own following. Players like Eoghan Cahill, David King, Joe Bergin and Shane Dooley have been fantastic of late and have the ability to sink Wexford this weekend.
Wexford enter this encounter after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against the Dubs last Sunday at home. Davy Fitzgerald’s men showed fantastic character to win that game when you take into account a David Treacy point put Dublin up a point heading in the 69th minute. Young sensation Rory O’ Connor drew them level with a free before edging them ahead with an outrageous point from fifty yards in injury time.
Diarmuid O’Keefe and Harry Kehoe then combined brilliantly, for the latter to land a fantastic point from the left wing to seal the game for Wexford. In all honesty, Davy Fitz would have been very disappointed Wexford were ever in that position given that they held a five-point lead in the fifty-fifth minute. If they are to become genuine contenders they need to be more ruthless and finish off teams when they get the chance.
This is a game Offaly would have been eyeing up for a while and will be right up for it. Their Liam McCarthy status is at stake and they can’t afford to take a step back before they play in Dublin on June 3rd. Whether or not they have the ability to break down the defensive system put in place by Wexford is yet to be seen, but if Bergin and Dooley turn up they will be there or there about’s.
Until Wexford are successful in terms of silverware they will not command the respect the likes of Galway and Kilkenny do. That being said with Liam Ryan commanding the square, Sean Murphy perfecting the sweeping role and with attacking diamonds like Rory O’ Connor, Lee Chin and Conor McDonald they should have enough to see them get the victory in a very tight game.
Verdict: Wexford, with Offaly to beat the 7 point handicap.
Odds: Offaly 5/1 Draw 14/1 Wexford 1/7
Ray Brennan, Pundit Arena