Saturday 19 October 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Luck of the draw falls elsewhere, meaning Model are hampered in a season when they must make move'

Davy Fitzgerald with his Wexford team before their League quarter-final defeat to Galway in March. Photo: Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald with his Wexford team before their League quarter-final defeat to Galway in March. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

When it comes to venues for the Leinster and Muster hurling championships, Wexford are in a class of one.

Alone of the 10 contenders, they are the only county who are away in their first two games.

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They start their campaign against Dublin in Parnell Park tomorrow and will travel to Pearse Stadium to take on Galway a week later. Barring draws, it opens up three possibilities.

One: Two wins and Wexford will be all but booked into the last six in the All-Ireland race by the time they welcome Carlow to Innovate Wexford Park on June 2.

Two: They will be in a good position after winning one and losing one.

Three: Their prospects of extending their season past June 15 (when they play Kilkenny in Nowlan Park) will be in a perilous position.

Fear

The latter is the big fear for Wexford in a championship which is hugely important for them. Now in its third year, the Davy Fitzgerald project has taken them into the top six in the championship over the last two seasons and twice into Allianz League semi-finals.

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Despite widespread predictions to the contrary, they remained in the top flight in the league, finishing third and second respectively in 1A over the last two seasons.

All very stable, but obviously ambitions are running higher than merely being a solid side just outside the leading All-Ireland contender list.

The target is Leinster and All-Ireland glory, and while even the most optimistic supporters understand that's very difficult at a time when so many other counties are going well, they are expecting progress.

A Leinster title and/or qualification for the All-Ireland semi-final would represent progress this year, but how realistic is it?

Having finished second in 1A, Wexford lost their league quarter-final to Galway by 10 points in Pearse Stadium, a sign-off which wasn't what the confidence tanks required.

"I'd love to tell you what went wrong but I don't know," said Fitzgerald after watching his side being out-scored by 3-8 to 0-6 in the second half.

Galway lost to Waterford in the semi-final a week later and weren't exactly bouncing off the grass against Carlow last Sunday, so it's not as if their game is in perfect working order.

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Despite that, they overwhelmed Wexford.

Given Fitzgerald's fondness for mind games, there are those who claim that he didn't really want to take Wexford any further into the league, although quite why that should be the case is unclear.

They haven't won it since 1973, so surely it would be beneficial on all fronts to end the barren run.

That's in the past now and all that matters is how Wexford adjust to the demands of a championship, where the fixtures schedule has given them such a difficult start.

Of the 24 games in the Leinster and Munster round-robin series last year and last Sunday, only six have been away wins.

And since two of those involved Offaly, who were well off the pace in Leinster last year, it underlines the value of home advantage.

It's unfortunate for Wexford that they find themselves as the only county who start their campaign with two away games, a rota that inevitably raises the question - why has it happened in Leinster, but not in Munster, which also has five counties.

The answer rests in a decision taken by the counties themselves. In order to avoid a repeat of last year when Tipperary and Offaly were forced to play on four successive weekends, Leinster and Munster extended their programmes by a week this season.

That ensured that no county would be playing on four successive weekends. Munster opted to give all counties a break on the same weekend (May 25/26), whereas Leinster opted for two weekends (May 25/26 and June 1/2) with one game each.

That made it necessary for one county to have their first two games away and for one other to have their last two games away.

Wexford fell into the first category, whereas Galway have two home games first (Carlow, Wexford) followed by trips to Nowlan Park and Parnell Park.

Kilkenny have a H-A-H-A rota; Dublin is A-H-A-H while Carlow are A-H-H-A.

Undoubtedly, Wexford's schedule is the most difficult, adding to the load in a season where there's already immense pressure.

Despite that, hopes are high that something special could happen this summer.

Galway, Kilkenny and Dublin all have their own particular problems, enough indeed to encourage Wexford into believing that if they get their game right, a Leinster title is achievable.

There's talk of new plans by Fitzgerald after two championships where his strategies took Wexford a certain distance, only to come up short on the final push.

He will certainly have some new ideas for tomorrow in a contest where the middle third of Parnell Park is likely to be more crowded than the approach roads into Donnycarney an hour before the game.

If Wexford, who ended a losing run against Dublin last year, win it sets them up nicely for the trip to Galway but if they lose, the sequencing which handed them two away games first will become an issue. And understandably so.

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