The daunting task of facing Dublin but employing a positive approach
Turlough O’Brien wouldn’t dream of offering Wexford manager Shane Roche advice on how to set up against Dublin today. But he knows the drill. His Carlow side defeated Wexford in the Leinster Championship in 2017, their first win in the province since 2011, earning them the longest of shots at Dublin in the quarter-finals.
To O’Brien it was a day they warmly embraced and went unashamedly defensive in their tactics, but going toe-to-toe with Dublin in Portlaoise made little sense. At half-time they were just three points behind, and four adrift when they lost Brendan Murphy to a red card in the 48th minute. From there Dublin pulled away and won 0-19 to 0-7.
Wexford’s win over Wicklow last weekend was their first in the province for seven years, a similar breakthrough to Carlow’s in 2017, and Dublin have become no less intimidating and out of reach. After playing Dublin, Carlow went on to win two matches in the qualifiers before losing to Monaghan. But Wexford haven’t that option this year with the knock-out system; they will have to take what they can from it into next year.
“There has been a lot of talk about changing emphasis to a more attacking type of football,” says O’Brien. “Football has moved on from 2017 and we’re seeing big scorelines during the national league and first round of the championship. But, tellingly, there have been some heavy defeats for lower-ranked teams. And maybe not so lower-ranked teams as well.
“I don’t want to pass comment on Wexford because I haven’t seen them but I suppose the point I am trying to make is that teams have to set up to their own strengths really and get their own game right. Be clear in their own head what they want to do. We had a philosophy in the way we wanted to play the game and we still feel that we gave Dublin a really tough challenge. And I don’t buy the narrative that it can’t be done.”
Carlow derived satisfaction from denying Dublin a goal. The year after, Wicklow met Dublin in the quarter-finals in Portlaoise, the first championship meeting of the counties since 1990. They ended up losing 4-25 to 1-11 and were soundly beaten by Cavan in the first round of the qualifiers. Dublin played against the wind and a packed Wicklow defence in the first half but they were 1-3 to no score up after seven minutes, and 2-7 to no score up after 15. At half-time Dublin led by 18 points, 4-13 to 1-4.
In 2019 Louth defeated Wexford in the preliminary round, scoring 22 points in a
five-point victory. In the quarter-final Dublin beat them 5-21 to 0-10 despite Dublin playing with 14 men for more than half the game. In the first round of the qualifiers Louth slumped to an eight point loss to Antrim. Longford did manage to recover from a hammering from Dublin (4-25 to 0-10) in 2015 to enjoy an impressive run in the qualifiers but the usefulness of a tanking, when all the glamour and coating is stripped away, is questionable for weaker counties.
“Wexford are obviously up against the greatest team of all time,” says O’Brien. “It is a home game which is great but unfortunately there will be few people at it so the advantage of that is minimal. The pitch in Wexford is a very big pitch and it will suit Dublin. You have to go at it with a positive attitude and you have to embrace it for what it is and you want to see where you stand against the best teams. It is a great learning opportunity for people.
“You have to be realistic, and be able to say we are going to use this to develop this team for next year, because obviously there is no back-door for this year. I think they will be looking forward to it. They had a great win over Wicklow in Aughrim, never an easy place to go to. Their under 20s had a win this week as well. So there is a lot of positive stuff there for Wexford.
“They’ve a local man in charge of the team and great pride in their own county. I think they are beginning to build a bit of momentum for themselves. I see a lot of players back in the panel that haven’t been back in the panel for a few years. But it is a daunting challenge, there is no doubt about it.”