By Peter O’Dwyer
Opportunity must be fond of Wexford hurling for rarely one to knock twice, it almost kicked thE championship door in for Liam Dunne’s men to clamber through last week.
The euphoria that greeted their eventual defeat of the All-Ireland champions was something to behold though, and reminiscent of the scenes in both the Gaelic Grounds and Clones a year ago.
The difference, of course, is that no silverware was up for grabs last week and that must be remembered. Still, that won’t worry Wexford – they’re building from a low base and last week’s result was a monumental step in the right direction. The victory meant everything to the people of Wexford and to a team of young men too, you would imagine.
The test now is to show that the team that hurled Clareoff the pitch for much of the two games is the true Wexford, not the one that disappointingly floundered against Dublin in the Leinster semi-
Waterford for their part come into the game after a three week lay-off. Their victory over Laois was impressive in its emphatic nature in what looked a tricky tie.
If as a Waterford fan you need cause for concern however, you need look no further than the comments of centre-forward Pauric Mahony in relation to the Munster quarter-final replay with Cork for which he claims the side, incredibly, didn’t properly prepare.
“We had to look at ourselves after the Cork game. We didn’t prepare the same way as the first day. The first day we were going out there to give it everything. Maybe we were over-confident the second day having been nine points up and in the driving seat the first day,” said Mahony.
Where the rest of the country felt the Déise had missed a golden opportunity and would have to re-double their efforts in the replay to stand any chance, it seems the Waterford lads –albeit a very young group – felt they’d account for last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists with ease. Confidence is one thing but that level of misplaced optimism is frightening.
Those who say, Derek McGrath’s men have nothing to lose and nothing to prove, failure to prepare properly for Wexford could prove otherwise.
Liam Dunne deserves much of the credit for Wexford’s win over Clare last week, built upon the steady progress of the last 18 months. In unearthing Jack Guiney, Conor McDonald, Liam Ryan, Lee Chin and welcoming Liam Óg McGovern into the hurling fraternity, he accumulated a hugely talented group of young hurlers.
With that level of talent in place, the next step of beating one of the top teams had to be taken sooner rather than later to continue their progression and that’s exactly what last week gives them.
All of the above performed heroically against Clare, with Guniey, McGovern and Chin particularly impressive. McGovern’s pace caused the Clare rearguard serious problems while Chin seems a natural midfielder, albeit in need of more game-time there to hone his craft.
Add to the mix captain Matthew O’Hanlon, Andrew Shore and Keith Rossiter manning the defensive positions and it’s a Wexford side packed with quality and favoured to progress to an All-Ireland quarter-final with Limerick.
Waterford themselves are a team of young, talented hurlers that can cause the best problems on their day however, as in evidence against the Rebels on the opening day of Munster championship action.
Jake Dillon, Shane O’Sullivan, Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony are a dangerous forward unit, as Cork and Laois can attest, and will need to play well to give the Déise a chance at success. Any Wexford hangover would help their cause too.
In truth, a win for either side wouldn’t be a surprise but in light of toppling the All-Ireland champions, Wexford will be fancied to progress to their first All-Ireland quarter-final in 2008.