Paul Caffrey said after the Dubs’ comprehensive defeat by Tyrone that it had been a ‘crazy year’ and it’s not hard to imagine how he and his players will feel when they see Wexford run on to Croke Park tomorrow and think back to the hammering they gave them in the Leinster decider.
Wexford lost that game by 23 points and Tyrone beat Dublin by a margin of 12 points. Theoretically, that would put the northerners in the driving seat, and, understandably, they are the popular favourites. However, it would be very misleading to draw the obvious conclusion from how each of them fared against Dublin.
A casual look at some of the more recent results shows just how topsy-turvy the form book has been. In the third round qualifiers the only predictable result was Kerry’s win over Monaghan. We saw Wexford shock Down, Tyrone overcome Mayo with some difficulty and Kildare cause an upset by putting out Ulster finalists Fermanagh.
And even more surprisingly, Wexford went on and completely outplayed Armagh while Tyrone not only dismissed Dublin, but did so with an ease which caught everybody by surprise.
As both Sean Cavanagh and Mickey Harte have pointed out since, Tyrone have shown that there is life after all without Peter Canavan and Stephen O’Neill. They wouldn’t have been saying that earlier after they tamely exited the Ulster championship in a replay with Down, and weren’t overly impressive in their qualifier games against Westmeath and Mayo.
But everything came together against Dublin, who imploded after suffering the psychological loss of Alan Brogan after only a few minutes with a hamstring injury. Brian McGuigan described it as their best ‘team’ display since their 2005 All-Ireland final win over Cork, and nobody would disagree with that view.
Clearly, a repeat of that form would make it extremely difficult for Wexford to qualify for the county’s first final since 1918. That year, they won the last of five All-Ireland titles, marking the completion of the first ever four-in-a-row.
Irrespective of who wins the Sam Maguire, the consensus view is that Jason Ryan has been the manager of the year. What he has achieved is quite remarkable considering his total lack of experience at inter-county level, yet he would be the first to acknowledge that he’s working with some very talented players.
Naturally, the focus has often been on Matty Forde, a gifted footballer by any standard, but there is a lot more scoring potential in the forward line as a whole.
They showed against Armagh how strong they are at midfield and central defenders David Murphy and Philip Wallace are seasoned campaigners, along with team captain Colm Morris, while Anthony Masterson has been a huge success in his first season in goal.
Ultimately, it will boil down to how consistently they play over both halves. My own view is that they will push Tyrone hard as they are more than capable of competing with them all over the field. But realistically, their chance of winning will be reduced if Tyrone play to form, as I believe they will.