Sunday 19 February 2017

Wexford on the rise but Waterford ready to resume normal service

Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30

Waterford manager Derek McGrath:
Waterford manager Derek McGrath: "I’m just questioning ourselves in terms of did we over-train." Photo: Sportsfile

Derek McGrath didn't try to minimise the possible impact as he surveyed the wreckage of Waterford's Munster final misadventure on a wet Sunday in Limerick.

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"I'm not sure you know, a young group, hard to lift them. The demoralising nature of the defeat, it's very hard to quantify how they'll respond," he said.

"All I can think about at the moment is how really poor we were today. I'm just questioning ourselves in terms of did we over-train."

Over in Wexford, the mood was very different.

A season that seemed to have run aground with little chance of a re-float after the heavy defeat by Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final in May was back on full steam following an excellent performance against Cork on the evening before the Munster final.

Beating Cork may no longer carry the prestige of previous times but was still very encouraging for Wexford. Apart from taking them into the top six in the All-Ireland race, it was their first championship win over the Rebels for 60 years.

"We needed a break - I needed a break," chuckled Lima Dunne before telling his players to go out for the night and enjoy themselves.

It's against those contrasting backdrops that supporters from either county will head for Thurles tomorrow, wondering what lies ahead in only the fourth clash between them in championship history.

There's uncertainty in both camps, albeit for different reasons. A 21-point defeat leaves scars so the question for Waterford is whether they have healed sufficiently to enable them withstand a hard battle.

For Wexford, there's the memory of their last attempt in the quarter-final two years ago. They arrived in Thurles bubbling with self-esteem for their clash with Limerick after wins over Clare, the defending All-Ireland champions, and Waterford.

However, by half-time, they were 16 points behind and lost by 24. Ten of the squad who played that day are aboard again, so they know how quickly the championship season can turn sour.

In fairness, the 2014 quarter-final was Wexford's fourth game, two of which went to extra-time, in 22 days.

"From early on you could see that the heads wanted to get there but the bodies weren't able to bring them there," said Dunne at the time.

"I can't fault our fellas. It's been a tough couple of weeks. Four championship weeks in four weekends is a lot to ask of players."

This year's qualifier schedule has been much more conducive to having Wexford in prime condition for their attempt to reach the semi-final for the first time since 2007.

There's further encouragement to be derived from their close call against Waterford in the league quarter-final in April.

Coming at the end of a week when Dunne had to defend himself from local criticism for taking a few days away, Wexford, who had won only two games in Division 1B ,ran Waterford (2nd in 1A) to a point.

But then Wexford would traditionally have felt comfortable playing the Deise, which will blow more wind into their sails tomorrow.

However, they won't be placing too much store on Waterford's Munster final collapse.

Power failure

Apart from the fact that it looked very much like a one-off power failure, history shows that Waterford teams are especially good at recovering quickly from heavy Munster final defeats.

In 1998, they beat Galway by 10 points a week after losing to Clare by 12 points in a Munster final replay. In 2011, they again beat Galway by 10 points two weeks after suffering a 21-point hammering by Tipperary.

Noel Connors, Darragh Fives, 'Brick' Walsh, Kevin Moran and Pauric Mahony are all survivors from 2011 they know exactly what's required to re-fill the confidence tanks for the second coming.

It's unlikely that McGrath will make any substantial changes to the set-up, opting instead to trust it to restore equilibrium, once the players return to normal performance levels. Once that happens, a Waterford win looks probable.

Irish Independent

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