WEXFORD supporters will make their way to Croke Park this coming Sunday for what will be a second provincial final in four years – they will travel more in hope than with confidence.
Dublin are red-hot favourites but there will be no repeat of the last time the teams met in the decider when the Dubs crushed Jason Ryan's men. Pat Gilroy’s side will need to be at their best which has not always been the case when these two counties play against each other. If you look back at the record books there has been a lot of championship games that have gone down to the wire. Wexford teams for some reason don't fear playing Dublin and those with half decent memories will remember Dublin struggling badly in last year's opening championship game before eventually winning the game after extra-time.
Jason Ryan has a very good panel of players at his disposal and has worked hard to shape his team over the last few years. They have some very good forwards who are direct and if the supply lines are working constantly they will score. This of course is a huge step up for them and with Dublin coming through the harder side of the draw they will need to produce something very special to overturn the Dubs in their own backyard. In the semi-final Dublin looked comfortable for most of the game apart from a three-minute spell at the end. It was a very encouraging performance in many ways with some excellent forward play and great defending particularly from Paul Conlon and Rory O'Carroll. Ger Brennan too had a terrific game at centre-back. He looks more focused this year and is now attacking at the right time as opposed to all the time. Dublin need big performances from him if they are to go places later in the summer.
The Kildare game was further evidence that this Dublin team are learning from the mistakes of the past in terms of shutting out teams, but the game should also come with a serious health warning. Dublin did look good on the day but Kildare it has to be said were very average compared to some performances we have seen from them over the last two years. I believe Kieran McGeeney and his management team got it all wrong on the day, which made it easier for the Dubs. For a start they sold us all a dummy by naming one team and then lining out with a completely different line up. Picking Ronan Sweeney at full-forward meant that a lot of kick passes were aimed high onto the edge of the square in the hope that Sweeney would do the damage.
That is not the way this Kildare team play and O'Carroll and Conlon were sharper to the ball. It is hard to change your team tactics from one game to the next so it was no surprise when the plan backfired. Of course that game is now history with Kildare and Dublin heading in different directions but it would be no surprise to see these two teams doing battle again down the line. An easy victory for Dublin in Sunday’s final wouldn't really serve much purpose as they would be going into a quarter-final against a team who has regrouped and built some momentum in the qualifiers. We all know what happened 12 months ago as all four provincial winners went out in the very next game.
It is not something that the Dublin players will give any thought to and they will be keen to get their hands on the Delaney Cup. Dublin are the favourites and they should win this game with something to spare. After that the serious business begins. Kerry, meanwhile, retained their provincial title with a narrow victory over the All-Ireland champions Cork. It was a strange game in many ways with Kerry exploding out of the blocks as you would expect on their home ground. With some sublime football they built up an eight-point lead going in at half-time and that became nine early in the second half. At that point it looked like it would be a humiliating defeat for Cork but incredibly the game was there to be won for them at the finish. Aidan Walsh and Alan O'Connor started to dominate and the Cork forwards upped their work-rate and very nearly pulled off the comeback to beat all comebacks.
With Kerry leading by just one point in the closing minutes John Miskella missed a glorious chance to win the match. Kerry looked great at times but they still have major problems in midfield and in defence. They are back in an All-Ireland quarter-final where they fell to Down last year. I wouldn't be writing them off but I think they are still a little short in important positions to win the big one. Cork on the other hand have a great panel and despite yesterday’s defeat they will be there in the shake-up come September. PS: Very best of luck to Dessie Farrell and the Dublin minor footballers as they take on Meath in the Leinster MFC final. This level can be unpredictable at times but according to reports this Dublin minor team look very capable.