Shields: Rebels stepping into unknown

THE catalogue of senior football championship clashes between Cork and Wexford is far from extensive, yet not even their league meetings are of relevance in informing Michael Shields about his opponents in this Sunday’s All-Ireland qualifier tie.

Sixteen months ago Cork faced off against Wexford in a dire NFL Division 2 clash in Páirc Ui Chaoimh, the home side cantering to a 12-point win in a game where the meagre attendance of 528 patrons illustrated the lack of interest. Shields is expecting radical changes for this weekend’s clash. Wexford have enjoyed a renaissance this season after a horrible run of setbacks in 2009 and that should be reflected in a bumper home crowd in Wexford Park.

“That league game was a bit of a farce really,” recalls Shields. “There was no real atmosphere that day and I don’t think Wexford were at their peak. I’ve only played against them in few challenge matches apart from that so it’s a bit of a step into the unknown. But I’d expect Wexford to be really fired up this time.”

The positive vibes floating around the Wexford setup are on the back of ambushing Galway on their home patch in Salthill last Saturday. Felling the Connacht football giant has earned them Shields respect.

“I saw the highlights of that Galway game and you’d have to be impressed with them. The good movement of their forwards was something I noticed and likes of Ciaran Lyng, Matty Forde and Redmond Barry would be an addition to most teams in Ireland. I mean we didn’t play too well against Galway in the league and we were at home, so that shows what they achieved in going up there to win. That speaks volumes for their potential. We wouldn’t be a team that would be cocky anyway and we’ll approach as a tough game ahead.”

Wexford’s battle with Galway started an hour earlier than Cork’s tie against Cavan last Saturday, yet around the time the final whistle was blown in Pearse Stadium, Cork had already sealed their berth in the next round. That demonstrated what a lopsided encounter Cork had participated in but for Shields tapping into a winning groove again after their Munster championship exit was still pleasing.

“We were disappointed that we didn’t get a test. It isn’t often that after 20 minutes that a game is done and dusted. The key was that we got our match-ups right on the day and it was important that we got a win under our belts. We would have been nervous going into the game after the loss to Kerry so it was a nice boost to get back on the winning road.”

Maintaining that success rate will see the action machine-gunned in Cork’s direction at a relentless rate in the coming weeks. Playing high-octane championship matches every week necessitates careful husbandry of Cork’s playing resources and meticulous tailoring of their training regime.

“With this sort of a schedule, you need to be ultra-concentrated on your preparation,” says Shields. “We haven’t been in the scenario where we’re on every week so you have to be tuned in. We did the warm down after the Cavan game and the next day got a swim in. The big thing is that you’re waiting for the draw to see where you’re going to be playing. If we were at home we could do an extra night this week, but now we have to be ready for the travel to Wexford.”

The popular school of thought is that Sunday’s game for Cork is a precursor to an assault on the All-Ireland series when it hits Croke Park in August and September. But Shields has been keenly observing the championship results this summer and has seen enough results that provoked surprise, to remind him of the need to be alert to the challenge against Wexford.

“I’d agree that the standards are levelling off this year. I’d have good time for those Mayo and Galway teams, and you think about how much they’re hurting at the moment. Their defeats just show you can’t take it for granted. Look around the country, Louth were very unlucky not to win Leinster, and either Sligo or Roscommon are going to win Connacht. In Munster, we’ve see Tipperary make great strides and Limerick be very close to winning the last two Munsters. Wexford deserve our respect on Sunday and they’ll get it.”


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