ALLIANZ HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
OFFALY v WEXFORD
(Tullamore, Tomorrow 2.30)
TWO counties clearly bereft of belief, whatever about down on their luck, are bound to be filled with trepidation as they exit the Tullamore dressing-rooms tomorrow afternoon.
This is a massive game for both Offaly and Wexford, a contest that neither can afford to lose -- yet which of them has the gumption to actually go ahead and win it?
Even such noted hurling brains as Liam Griffin and Pat Fleury struggled to answer that conundrum in conversation with the Herald this week. Griffin perhaps summed it up best when declaring: "This is like a championship match. I think the form of either team is irrelevant."
Perverse as it may seem, given they've lost four from four and boast a scoring difference of minus 37, but Wexford's form looks marginally more convincing -- if only because they've clearly improved from the day-one debacle in Galway when they shipped a grisly 21-point defeat.
They've pushed Waterford all the way, avoided the usual Kilkenny trimming thanks to a 'victorious' second half ... and even their heavy home defeat by Dublin (3-21 to 2-15) represented a better performance than Offaly's 2-23 to 1-13 collapse to the same Sky Blue opposition.
Keith Rossiter's return at corner-back is another reason for cautious optimism although, on the flip side, Offaly's attacking options are bolstered by the recovery of Shane Dooley and Ger Healion.
The Faithful are certainly crying out for some scoring impetus after tallying just 0-10 against Tipperary last time out: they have averaged an underwhelming 1-11 per game this spring and their scoring difference is an alarming minus 45. And yet, given the daunting fixtures that both counties face in the last two rounds, the distinct probability is that whoever wins tomorrow will keep their top-flight status.
Offaly will hope that Dooley's return, coupled with home advantage, can swing the pendulum. Our sneaking suspicion is that Wexford will actually edge it but, as another partisan observer reflected this week, anything can happen when two nervous teams collide ... a flying start from one could even inflict a hammer blow to the other's brittle confidence, prefacing a one-sided outcome.
We're more inclined to expect a close encounter of the turgid variety, given all that's at stake.
ODDS: Offaly 4/5, Draw 9/1, Wexford 6/5