Saturday 21 September 2019

Cyril Farrell: 'Kilkenny should relish return to Croker, but Wexford's need is greater'

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TJ Reid. Photo: Sportsfile
TJ Reid. Photo: Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

This is it for Wexford, the day they need to make the big statement. Provincial titles may not mean as much as they did in the times when there were no second chances, but there are still circumstances when they are very important.

Wexford are in that situation now. This is their third season under Davy Fitzgerald, so the project is at a fairly advanced stage. Progress has been steady and sustained, albeit without taking them into the top four in the championship in either of the last two years.

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No shame there. It's extremely competitive at the high end, so not reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals doesn't mean it's a failed season, certainly not for a team like Wexford who are trying to make the breakthrough. Now they have a chance to not only do that, but also to win Leinster for the first time in 15 years. It's some prize. Kilkenny will be delighted if they win tomorrow, but it won't mean like as much to them as it would to the Slaneysiders.

For Kilkenny, winning Leinster has long since been seen as a stepping stone towards the All-Ireland rather than an end in itself. And while Wexford will harbour similar ambitions if they win tomorrow, the season would still be regarded as a huge success even if they lost the semi-final.

We saw two years ago how much getting to the Leinster final meant to the Wexford public. Galway brought a decent following to Croke Park, but the vast majority of the 60,000 crowd were from Wexford.

As it happened, Wexford weren't ready for such a big test against more seasoned opposition. They have added banks of experience over the past two years, so that won't be an issue tomorrow.

Significantly too, they have stayed very much on par with Kilkenny in the intervening period, up to, and including, the game last Saturday week. Years of bad results against Cody's men took their toll on Wexford's confidence, but that's behind them now.

Their capacity to dig in against their great rivals was underlined last Saturday week when a late Lee Chin point secured the draw which saved their season. Now they have to do it all over again, this time in Croke Park, where it won't be as easy to turn the game into the sort of war we witnessed in Wexford Park.

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It was so packed in the middle third of the pitch that players hadn't a millisecond on the ball before being chased down by a posse. In the circumstances, some of the striking was incredibly good, underlining the level of skill the modern-day player has. Sometimes, that's not fully appreciated.

Wexford have refined their approach somewhat with the passing of time and, in fairness, it has been for the better.

Kevin Foley is doing well in the sweeping role and, further up, they are getting more players into attacking areas. They go long from time to time, and they work very well in groups too, pouring forward together with pace and power. Others drop back to cut out counter-attacks if moves break down.

Dublin also used that system well against Galway, who were caught out at times because forwards didn't track their men when they went forward.

Kilkenny did very well to cope with the injury bug which hit them earlier on and are gathering momentum all the time. Eoin Murphy's return has been crucial, not just because he's the best 'keeper in the country, but also because he adds to their scoring threat from long range.

Davy's troops did a good marking job on TJ Reid the last day, holding him scoreless from play, but it won't be as easy in the wide, open spaces of Croke Park. It will take extra manpower and energy to track him which could leave more room for his colleagues to cause trouble.

It was interesting to see Adrian Mullen playing for the U-20s on Monday night. With respect to Laois, Kilkenny would probably have beaten Laois without him, but he was picked anyway.

Legislated The big fear from a Wexford viewpoint is that they may not have the same strength in depth as Kilkenny, especially in defence. That's why it's so important that their front-line men avoid injury which, of course, can never be legislated for.

Kilkenny are favourites but I think this could be the day when Wexford finally land a big prize. It really is a chance they cannot afford to miss.

By throw-in time at Croke Park, the Munster final will be over and I suspect that the green of Limerick will be in celebration mode.

Tipperary have been the form team of the entire championship, but this will be the toughest test they have had so far. Limerick's team selection for the clash with Tipp last Sunday week suggested that John Kiely had a shadow-boxing mindset.

It wasn't that they went out to lose, but it's fair to say that if it were a knockout game, he wouldn't have left some key men on the bench.

This isn't knockout either, but there's a Munster title at stake and Limerick would love to complete a title treble (All-Ireland, league and Munster) in the space of ten months.

It's also important for them to break Tipp's momentum. Liam Sheedy is getting a lovely tune from the squad again and the more they win, the greater their confidence will become.

And while defeat wouldn't end Limerick's All-Ireland ambitions, three defeats in five games would encourage niggling doubts to take hold.

The absence of 'Bonner' Maher is a setback for Tipperary. He was having his best season for years, getting in a huge amount of work in an attack that has rediscovered its touch. Limerick's case is stronger without him, strong enough to take the honours.

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