Monday 23 September 2019

John Mullane: 'It's now or never for Davy Fitz and O'Connor's wizardry can show he's Wexford's X-factor star'

Rory O'Connor. Photo: Sportsfile
Rory O'Connor. Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

The stakes are high everywhere you look this weekend but nowhere more than Parnell Park. From the minute that the Leinster SHC schedule was revealed, everyone knew that Wexford's visit to Donnycarney would tell a significant part of the provincial tale.

Last week's defeat to Kilkenny only intensifies its importance for Dublin as victory would open up their summer once again, whereas a loss would likely mean another early finish to their season.

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Mattie Kenny must continue to steer the ship forward in spite of the Kilkenny setback and the Dubs have always been at their most dangerous on home soil when people are writing them off.

The first half had a lot of positives, but also some big regrets. Dublin dominated and should have been further clear while you'd have to say that the Greg Kennedy incident lit a fire under Kilkenny.

It really riled Brian Cody and when you annoy him, there's usually only one outcome, with the timing also backfiring as it allowed the Cats to regroup at the break before upping the ante thereafter.

I was half laughing when I saw Greg on the pitch and while it wasn't in the good nature of the game, it was quick-thinking as his playing instincts sensed danger when his defenders should have.

Greg was a character back in the day, a teak-tough corner-back for Galway and he probably knew that he was taking one for the team. If anyone can relate to what he did, it's Davy Fitzgerald.

Davy admitted himself that he was trying to gee-up his Wexford players when he also went inside the white lines of Nowlan Park and ran into Jason Forde during their league semi-final defeat to Tipperary two years ago.

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Wexford are entering the summer in an ideal situation. Nobody is talking them up as potential Leinster winners or putting any pressure on them and that's unlike any team Davy has ever managed.

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It may suit them to come in under the radar. Hype diluted in the sunny south-east after Galway swatted them aside in the league quarter-final but last week showed that spring form is temporary.

Davy has done everything right compared to previous years - where a lot of energy went into the league - and they could be a dangerous animal this summer as their tank is full of the energy.

You could sense that the sting was going out of their tail as the summer progressed in the last two seasons and they wound up exiting the championship with a whimper.

I don't expect that this time around and Davy will be going gung-ho for Leinster with a win tomorrow, combined with one victory against either Kilkenny or Galway, putting them into the provincial final which he craves.

It's probably a now-or-never summer in Davy's Wexford project as you'd wonder how much energy he has to keep challenging himself after three years in the job, considering the travel demands.

It has been an outstanding success and this year he strengthened his panel to ensure that he has more than 20 players to choose from and the variety of options needed off the bench to tip the scales.

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He deserves massive kudos and with the significant injuries in Kilkenny and Galway, victory tomorrow would leave him fancying his chances of climbing the Hogan Stand steps and lifting the Bob O'Keeffe Cup on June 30.

Dublin and Wexford are both likely to retreat and play sweepers so expect a scrappy affair. How opposition managers counteract each other's systems of play will prove crucial in a venue where space will be at a premium.

The key match-ups in an intriguing affair are likely to be Chris Crummey and Lee Chin, Eoghan O'Donnell on Conor McDonald, Rory O'Connor against Paddy Smyth, Liam Ryan and Liam Rushe, and Matt O'Hanlon on Danny Sutcliffe.

What Wexford have in O'Connor (left) is a wizard of a hurler who can change a game in the blink of an eye and he's fast becoming a game-changer in the bracket of TJ Reid or Patrick Horgan.

When he's out of the team, Wexford tend to struggle but his presence makes them tick and maybe he will be used in the same role that John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer played last Sunday, where he had a licence to pop up anywhere in attack.

Dublin lack that go-to man up front and that was evident last week. Expect a tight, tense affair but Davy might outfox Kenny and prevail by the smallest margins, with O'Connor providing the 'X-factor'.

Everything was perfect in Walsh Park last Sunday bar the performance but all is not lost for Waterford if they throw caution to the wind and go more direct.

Pauric Mahony needs to be restored to free-taking duties against Tipperary tomorrow but I'd still save Maurice Shanahan as he's a trump card off the bench with 25 minutes to go.

It's hard to judge Tipp by one game, especially as Cork never laid a finger on them, but they look to be back to the fluid forward movement of 2010/2016 where they don't stay in the same position for more than five minutes. Every week is different but everything still points to a Tipp win, I just hope Waterford go for it and see where it takes them.

As for Cork, you don't know what you're going to get with them. They blow so hot and cold and yet you wouldn't be one bit surprised if they shook the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow and beat Limerick because they are that unpredictable.

They should have Bill Cooper and Alan Cadogan back to lift their spirits. They have the fire-power up front to do serious damage but the problem is at the back, they have to bring some type of physicality to the table or they are doomed.

Cork won't fear Limerick but John Kiely has the All-Ireland champions flying high and their intention is to push on and win a Munster medal. If Limerick perform, they will win this game.

Carlow put up a gallant display against Galway in the opening round but I don't see Kilkenny being nearly as kind. I fancy Cody's side to be cut-throat and to cover the handicap of -11 in a local derby.

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