Monday 23 October 2017

John Mullane: Free shot for Wexford in championship dress rehearsal but Cody’s Cats smell blood

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

John Mullane

It really doesn't matter what happens for the remainder of the 2017 season - it's already 'mission accomplished' for Davy Fitzgerald.

Winning promotion for Wexford from a pool that also included Galway and Limerick was no mean feat.

And what that's done is effectively given Fitzgerald a 'free pass' for the rest of the year.

The objective would have been to secure top-flight hurling and while he might not have envisaged it happening so soon, they're now ready to mix it with the big boys in front of big crowds next season.

Wexford's finish on top of Division 1B has pitted them against likely championship opponents Kilkenny in the league quarter-finals.

Is it a game Fitzgerald would have wanted at this time? He'll relish the challenge of playing Kilkenny because it will provide him with an ideal gauge of just how far his team has come, and how they stack up against the Cats.

It's win-win because Wexford can be competitive, lay down the gauntlet to Kilkenny and send out a message that they're good enough to challenge them in the summer.

Give his team and the Wexford supporters something to cling onto - that will be Fitzgerald's aim.

Brian Cody, meanwhile, will look for a ruthless streak in his players, urging them to sow a seed of doubt in Wexford's minds by trying to bury them.

He's done that with various opponents in the last 15 years or so and for Wexford, it's about performing well and finding out a bit more about themselves. What they cannot afford to do is lose heavily.

The momentum is with Kilkenny. After losing two games, they had to beat Cork, had to get a result against Tipperary and had to dig out a result at Parnell Park against Dublin.

I think Cody will want to go and win the league now but Davy won't fear him. He was in charge of Clare last year when they beat Kilkenny well in the league semi-final.

Elsewhere, that was a big win for Waterford against Clare. I'm pleased for Derek McGrath and his management team.

Getting a result in Ennis, and without the likes of Maurice Shanahan, Jamie Barron and Noel Connors, is encouraging. The Bennett brothers stood up but the changing of the game was Tom Devine's introduction.

Overall, Derek's done an unbelievable job with this bunch and the criticism he's come in for in recent weeks is unwarranted.

Austin Gleeson mentioned how the players stick to the plan and what goes on inside their own circle is all that matters. They won't be distracted by outside sentiment or opinion.

I got a sense that they owed this result to Derek, who revealed this week that he's taking an extended period of time off teaching to look after the team. I'd have a fair indication of the level of work he puts into Waterford and trying to combine both is next to impossible.

Inter-county management is now a full-time job in itself, far removed from merely picking a panel of 30 lads and training them two nights a week.

A word, too, on Cork, who sent Tipp crashing to a first competitive defeat in almost a year. Cork have genuine firepower up front and if Kieran Kingston can get his defence and midfield right, they could be a match for anybody in the summer.

Irish Independent

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