Wexford not just there to make up the numbers

WEXFORD fans will want to take more home from Croke Park this afternoon than the memory of a first ever championship meeting against Armagh.

At the very least, they will expect Jason Ryan and his players to put up a decent challenge against a team which is considerably more experienced and which, predictably, go in as strong favourites.

Of the three quarter-finals this weekend, this is the one which could produce an upset. It’s improbable, but not beyond the bounds of possibility. Wexford’s confidence will have been boosted considerably by their impressive win over Down and a repeat of this form would see them put up a serious challenge at the very least.

It’s easy to forget that Armagh made little impact in the championship last year, going under to Donegal in the Ulster quarter-finals and then Derry in the first round of the qualifiers. And, while early summer form can be misleading, it’s not so long ago since Down pushed them hard in the provincial semi-final.

Peter McDonnell, who succeeded Joe Kernan, made the interesting comment earlier in the week that Armagh have so far ‘failed to deliver’. Realistically, the team is going through a transition, reflected in the departure of players like Kieran McGeeney, Diarmuid Marsden and the McEntee twins — in total eight from their 2002 All-Ireland winning team.

And while no one is saying it publicly, this campaign probably represents their ‘best’ chance of bringing back Sam Maguire before Oisin McConville and Paul McGrane (and possibly others) hang up their boots. McGrane has been giving strong leadership, McConville retains a big scoring threat and Ronan Clarke’s return after injury has added further power to the attack. And what of the untiring Francie Bellew at the heart of the defence, a much-maligned player but a model of consistency and loyalty to the county?

What Wexford have to offer is a colossal amount of honesty and endeavour which roughly translates into a powerful team ethic and a fair degree of skill and craft all over the field. Matty Forde, still admired as one of the finest players of his generation, no longer shoulders the main responsibility up front, Philip Wallace showed last Saturday what he is capable of at full-back and they have lots of options around midfield. I don’t think they are good enough to win, but still expect them to enhance their growing reputation and that of manager-of-the-year Jason Ryan.

Verdict: Armagh

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