By Peter O’ Dwyer
This weekend offers Wexford a chance to stake a claim at the top table of hurling with a win over reigning Leinster champions Dublin after years in the wilderness.
Despite Wexford’s turmoil of the past decade or so, this is a rivalry that doesn’t bear out that reality as much as others. In the last five championship meetings between the two counties each has claimed two wins with the fifth game ending in a draw last summer.
Dublin, of course, went on to win that replay before seeing off the not inconsiderable might of Kilkenny and Galway en route to a first Leinster title in 52 years.
It’s Wexford however that are the focus of many neutrals going into this encounter with their demolition of Antrim having signalled their intent to make amends for last year’s defeat and book a place in the provincial decider on July 6.
The full-forward line of Rory Jacob, Conor McDonald and Liam Óg McGovern looked particularly dangerous against the Saffrons last time out with Under 21 star McDonald the stand-out performer of that cohort nabbing 2-2 for himself.
Fellow U21 Jack Guniey - a name familiar to many having been around the senior panel for a number of seasons – is starting to mature and is another the Dubs will have to be wary of, while Lee Chin and Liam Ryan have added some much needed freshness to the Wexford rear-guard.
Liam Dunne has opted to name an unchanged side from the one that beat Antrim 5-19 to 0-21 last time out for what is likely to be a considerably more difficult assignment.
Dublin meanwhile are coming somewhat under the radar having not contested a meaningful match since the relegation play-off win over Waterford on March 30. One win and they’ll be within 70 minutes of claiming back-to-back provincial titles. Such is the nature of provincial hurling.
Getting to the pitch of the game early will be crucial to stopping Wexford getting their tails up on their home patch as they seek revenge for last year’s defeat, but with 11 weeks in the hurling wilderness that’s easier said than done.
Anthony Daly also has a few injuries to contend with; starting with the last line of defence where Gary Maguire misses out with a fractured thumb and is replaced by Alan Nolan. David Treacy and All-Star Danny Sutcliffe are also unavailable to Daly, but Liam Rushe has overcome a hamstring injury to take his place as the lynchpin of the champions’ defence.
Joey Boland and Johnny McCaffrey, who captains the side, resume their partnership in the centre of the park - while the Dubs will once again look to the elusive ‘Dotsy’ O’ Callaghan to lead the forward unit as he has so many times previous.
Daly will surely have worked hard on focusing his player’s minds on last year’s championship rather than this year’s league and if, like Limerick who were in a similar positions, that has been achieved they’ll take some stopping again.
Wexford have revenge, and a Leinster final, in their line of view and with a renewed confidence in the county this encounter has all the makings of a classic in Wexford Park.
WEXFORD: Mark Fanning; Liam Ryan, Matthew O’Hanlon, Keith Rossiter; Lee Chin, Andrew Shore, Ciarán Kenny; Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Harry Kehoe; Paul Morris, Podge Doran, Jack Guiney; R Jacob, C McDonald, L Óg McGovern.
DUBLIN: Alan Nolan; Stephen Hiney, Peter Kelly, Paul Schutte; Shane Durkin, Liam Rushe, Michael Carton; Joey Boland, Johnny McCaffrey (C); Alan McCrabbe, Ryan O' Dwyer, Colm Cronin; David O' Callaghan, Conal Keaney, Mark Schutte.