Brian Barry is here to preview the Leinster Hurling Championship clash between Wexford and Dublin.
How good are Wexford?
Looking at their 2013 season, Wexford can hold their heads high. Draws with Dublin and Clare, eventual Leinster and All-Ireland champions respectively, looks impressive on their report card. The wheels of Wexford hurling are starting to turn again, with youth coming up through the ranks of the underage system.
Liam Dunne is overseeing a revolution somewhat for the Slaney-siders. A solid league campaign set them up for a facile win against Antrim in the Leinster quarter-final, on a scoreline of 5-19 to 0-21. The full-forward line of Rory Jacob, Conor McDonald, and Liam Óg McGovern amounted 5-3 from play against the Saffrons, but will not enjoy the same amount of time against the Dubs. Wexford have improved under Dunne. Saturday will be a good barometer to see how far they have come.
Will injuries to Dublin’s key players tell?
Dublin enter the tie without three players key to their Leinster triumph last season due to injury; Gary Maguire, Danny Sutcliffe, and David Treacy. Question marks surrounded the fitness of Liam Rushe, but the St. Pat’s Palmerstown clubman’s hamstring has improved sufficiently to take up his position at centre-back.
Stephen Hiney has fought off competition from Cian O’Callaghan to earn a starting berth at corner-back, while Colm Cronin makes his championship debut at wing forward. Alan McCrabbe returns to the set-up, while Conal Keaney starts at the edge of the square. But how much will the absent parties be missed? Anthony Daly drew on the depth of his squad throughout the league campaign, and will have confidence that they have what it takes to come away from Wexford Park with a win.
What kind of game will Wexford play?
Last year, the Yellowbellies tried to stifle Dublin in their Leinster quarter-final. Recognising Dublin’s superiority, they shut down the game, and made it as tight as possible. A draw was the fair result considering neither side gained any sort of momentum. The Dubs had too much for Wexford a week later in Parnell Park, as they marched on to capture the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
Twelve months is a long time in hurling, and the morale in Wexford has risen tenfold. A Leinster u21 title has renewed confidence, and last week’s drubbing of Kilkenny in Nowlan Park at the same level ensures that the camp is in high spirits. The sense of belief is being instilled back into the jersey, and Dunne may no longer be looking to close down the Dubs. In front of a big home support, Wexford may well fancy themselves going against Dublin pound-for-pound.
Verdict: Many fancy Wexford to cause an upset, and with home advantage and a championship match already under their belt, the stage may be set to reach their first Leinster Final since 2008. But Anthony Daly’s young team looks a real force heading into this year’s championship, and will be eager to prove that last year was no fluke. Expect a battle. Dublin by 1.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.