Sunday 16 June 2019

Fitness test in store

O'Connor cousins doubtful for U-21 semi versus Cork

With Rory O’Connor a major doubt, Wexford couldn’t afford to be without his first cousin, Joe (above), as well
With Rory O’Connor a major doubt, Wexford couldn’t afford to be without his first cousin, Joe (above), as well

Brendan Furlong

Wexford's outstanding young player, Rory O'Connor, faces a fitness test to see if he will be available for Saturday's Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland Under-21 hurling championship semi-final with Cork at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny (4 p.m.).

Rory confirmed on Monday morning that he will undertake a fitness test at training this Thursday evening.

'I'm hopeful that everything will go well,' he said.

The St. Martin's clubman injured what is regarded as his good knee during club training and, following a scan last week, he has been advised to rest for six weeks. However, he is prepared to assess his fitness this Thursday when he will undergo the test.

Only last year, O'Connor underwent an operation on his other knee for cartilage trouble, so this latest setback is a huge blow to the young player, having suffered injuries to both knees over a twelve-month period.

Despite his earlier setback, O'Connor bounced back to enjoy a sparkling season with the Senior side, while he turned in a player of the match performance despite the provincial final defeat to Galway after extra-time in what was an enthralling Under-21 game.

Wexford are also sweating on the fitness of Rory's first cousin, Joe O'Connor, who has been outstanding through this campaign. The St. Martin's midfielder is also carrying a knee injury, which has curtailed his preparation so much that he now has a less than 50-50 chance of making the game, but he will also undergo a test beforehand.

Rory O'Connor, following an MRI scan, has been ordered to rest completely for six weeks, while also being handed a rehab programme in an effort to get him back to full fitness, which medics hope will rule out the need for surgery.

But it seems as if he is prepared to put his body on the line in Wexford's final quest for silverware.

'Rory has played a phenomenal amount of both hurling and football in the last six years both at club and inter-county, and these injuries are the scars of such a hectic schedule,' his club Chairman, Michael Morrissey, said.

'The only positive to emerge from this latest setback is that Rory avoids an operation. Still, we'll be lucky to have him back for the (club) championship quarter-finals.

'The likes of these players are suffering burn-out rapidly. If they don't change something fast and come up with something we will evolve like rugby, with clubs playing without their inter-county players.

'It's totally irrational the way it's going. If they don't get a handle on it there will be no clubs,' Morrissey added.

Rory O'Connor is one of the most talented young hurlers in the country, and the question now is, how can Wexford handle a team of Cork's quality if he doesn't make it?

The two teams are very closely matched, but without Rory, and possibly Joe, the challenge facing the Model county would become far more difficult.

A lot will depend on how Cork react to their All-Ireland Senior semi-final defeat to Limerick, following extra-time, as by the end of the 90-odd minutes, no fewer than six of the Under-21 side had figured.

They had three players in the starting 15 - Mark Coleman (Under-21 centre-back), Darragh Fitzgibbon (midfield) and Shane Kingston (right full-forward) - while Robbie O'Flynn, Tim O'Mahony and Jack O'Connor all figured during the course of the game.

Saturday's showdown is all about the quality players coming to the forefront. Cork will be looking to the above mentioned players for leadership as shown in the Munster final against Tipperary, while Wexford also have their quota of hurlers with experience.

While Cork will be trying to recover from Sunday's setback, Wexford will be trying to step up their game another notch from the provincial final against Galway, when Rory O'Connor was inspirational in the closing stages in particular.

Wexford will need to create a battleground and take the game to Cork from the outset, win primary possession in the middle third of the pitch, and utilise the ball to the benefit of their inside forwards, to apply pressure on the opposing defence.

Oylegate-Glenbrien's Damien Reck will man the centre of defence where he was outstanding against Galway, as was Darren Byrne at full-back, while Aaron Maddock, Ian Carty and Gary Molloy will help in bringing stability to the defensive set-up.

In midfield, captain Conor Firman will carry much of the responsibility if his injured clubmen are absent, while in attack, Rory Higgins, Seamus Casey and Liam Stafford were hugely impressive, along with Stephen O'Gorman, in the provincial final, with the Oylegate-Glenbrien player figuring prominently in the scoring from his full-forward role.

Everything points to what should be a close encounter.

Incidentally, members of the Wexford management were not available for interview despite repeated attempts, with all calls unanswered.

Enniscorthy Guardian