Friday 21 July 2017

Hurling round up: Davy Fitzgerald guides Wexford back to the top flight with win over Offaly

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with Lee Chin
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with Lee Chin

Sean McGoldrick

FIVE months after his shock appointment as Wexford hurling boss, Davy Fitzgerald has guided the team back to hurling’s top flight.

For the first time in seven seasons, Wexford will play in Division 1A of the Allianz League in 2018. At the start of the campaign they were at best third favourites behind Galway and Limerick to win Division 1B and secure a coveted spot among the elite.

But they have surpassed even their own wildest expectations by winning the division with still one round of fixtures remaining on March 26.

Following their victory over bottom of the table Offaly in Tullamore, they cannot be caught regardless of how the results pan out next time.

Once they beat Limerick and Galway, Wexford were in pole position to be promoted.  With Limerick and Galway meeting in round five, only one of them can finish level with Wexford. Thus in the unlikely event of Davy Fitzgerald’s side losing their last game against Laois they would still win the Division on the head to head rule.

Ironically, they were never actually ‘relegated’ from the old eight county Division One. They finished 7th in the table in 2011 but when the GAA re-organised the competition in 2012 they found themselves placed in Division 1B where they have remained until now.

Prior to today’s game they were already assured of a place in the League quarter final where they will meet the fourth placed team in Division 1A.

They’re probably fitter than any other hurling team in the country at the moment and may have peaked for the League. But credit goes to Fitzgerald and his management team for lifting their morale, spirit and form. 

David Redmond of Wexford in action against Derek Moran of Offaly
David Redmond of Wexford in action against Derek Moran of Offaly

They were well below their best against an Offaly side yet to register a point in the current league. A Conor McDonald goal gave the visitors a 1-7 to 0-7 internal lead. With the advantage of the strong breeze it was anticipated that Wexford would pull away in the second half.

Instead the home side hung in and Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning had to save a Shane Dooley penalty while Stephen Quirke hit the woodwork for the Faithful County who ultimately succumbed by five points.

All-Ireland title holders, Tipperary, despite dropping a point to Kilkenny on Saturday night – remain the only team in Division 1A assured of a place in the quarter final.  The other five - Waterford, Kilkenny, Clare, Cork and Dublin - could join them or be relegated depending on the results in the final round.

Two late points gave Clare an unconvincing win over Dublin at Cusack Park. While Dublin held a five point advantage at the break (1-10 to 0-8) this didn’t reflect their superiority in the second quarter. They squandered at least 1-3 as the lack of a reliable free-taker came back to haunt them again.

Clare gradually reeled them in when they had the advantage of the breeze and a Seadna Morey point in the 56th minute had the sides level. It was nip and tuck from there to the finish but Clare edged it in the end.

Cork were the surprise packets of the day; hammering last year’s beaten League finalists Waterford by eight pints (1-21; 1-13) in Walsh Park. Shane Bennett had an early goal for the home side but the visitors were always in command leading by seven points at the break. A second half goal from Luke Meade sealed the win for the Rebels.

The final round of fixtures on Sunday week, March 26, features Clare v Waterford; Cork v Tipperary and Dublin v Kilkenny. 

Tipperary top the table on seven points; Clare, Cork and Waterford all have four points – but Waterford have dropped to fourth place on scoring difference. Kilkenny have three points while Dublin prop up the table with two and have the worst scoring difference.

Essentially Dublin will not alone need to beat Kilkenny – but by a significant margin to have any chance of reaching the last eight but more significantly avoiding the dreaded relegation final.

In Division 1B Kerry fashioned a spirited performance against Galway in Tralee but still went down by 13 points.  Galway and Limerick join Wexford in the last eight of the league.

One of Laois, Kerry and Offaly will join them.

Allianz FL Division 1 round 3

Tyrone 0-19 Cavan 1-9

Allianz HL Division 1A round 4

Clare 0-20 Dublin 1-15

Cork 1-21; Waterford 1-13

Allianz HL Division 1B round 4

Galway 1-12; Kerry 0-12

Wexford 1-17; Offaly 0-15

Allianz HL Division 2A round 4

Westmeath 2-20; London 2-7

Antrim 2-18; Armagh 2-11

Kildare 2-17; Carlow 1-20

Allianz HL Division 2B round 4

Derry 3-15; Roscommon 0-12

Meath 2-19; Mayo 0-15

Wicklow 0-18; Down 0-11

Allianz HL Division 3A round 5

Donegal 1-21; Monaghan 2-13

Tyrone 1-22; Louth 2-10

Allianz HL Division 3B round 4

Sligo 3-16; Leitrim 1-15

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