Saturday 24 February 2018

U-21 hurlers face Offaly

Wexford at home for Wednesday’s quarter-final clash

Brendan Furlong

Wexford have enjoyed a remarkable record in the Under-21 hurling grade over recent seasons, and they will open their Leinster championship campaign when they face a promising Offaly outfit at Innovate Wexford Park this Wednesday (7.30 p.m.).

The Slaneysiders, having won three provincial titles in a row, lost their grip on the trophy last year when going under to eventual provincial winners, Dublin, so they will be hoping to return to winning ways despite what will be a formidable Offaly challenge.

Now under the guidance of Shane Carley and his backroom team, the Wexford squad has put in the preparation for this game since January, while many of the players have also been part of Davy Fitzgerald's Senior set-up.

While little is known about Offaly, they will have confidence increased following their Seniors' defeat of Westmeath, and with five of that squad available, along with several of last year's side which lost the provincial decider to Dublin, they can be expected to seriously test the home team.

However, manager Carley and his backroom team still expect Wexford to respond to whatever challenge is presented by the midlanders.

'We do not know a lot about Offaly other than they have up to eight players from last year available, while they also have four to five players in their Senior squad.

'All we know is that they played challenge games against both Clare and Westmeath and there was very little between those sides. So we are prepared for whatever challenge they throw at us,' he said.

'We are happy with our preparations. We may not have had a full squad all of the time, as some players were with the Seniors, but still all has gone as planned. Yes, we are happy with our preparation and looking forward to the game.

'We are hopeful of getting off to a winning start but it will not be easy. There's no easy game in this grade now, as we all know what happened to Kilkenny last year against Westmeath. But still, we are confident, although it's going to take a huge effort from the squad to get our campaign off on a positive note,' Carley added.

Wexford will have Darragh Hughes of Naomh Eanna, who was drafted in as Senior substitute 'keeper in last Sunday's victory over Laois, as their netminder, while they can also call on such players as St. Martin's players Aaron Maddock, Rory O'Connor, Harry O'Connor, Joe Coleman, Conor Firman, Jake Firman (who has been with the Senior footballers) and Darren Codd.

Stephen O'Gorman (Taghmon-Camross), Gary Molloy (Naomh Eanna), Cathal Dunbar (Ballygarrett), Joe Coleman and Rowan White (Glynn-Barntown) are also expected to feature.

With Wexford having disposed of Laois in the Senior clash, it's now important for the Under-21 side to maintain the winning momentum as the county looks forward to a provincial semi-final clash with old rivals, Kilkenny, on Saturday week in Innovate Wexford Park.

Tomorrow's victors will face Kildare or Carlow in the semi-final on June 21 at an away venue, with Kilkenny or Dublin to meet Westmeath or Laois.

All four quarter-finals are down for decision this Wednesday evening at 7.30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Minor footballers have been pitted against Louth in the Leinster semi-final after the exams on July 5, with Dublin facing Kildare on the other side of the draw.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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