Saturday 18 November 2017

Will Davy Fitzgerald show his full hand to Kilkenny this weekend with possible provincial semi looming?

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A small but not insignificant milestone for Davy Fitzgerald and Wexford in Hollymount last week.

For the first time in nearly eight years a Wexford senior team recorded a victory over Dublin in a competitive match. You can question the competitive bit, for sure. Walsh Cup doesn't cut it for some counties with bigger fish to fry.

But Fitzgerald hasn't been looking at it in those terms, quite the opposite in fact. When a weakened UCD team arrived in Gorey for the first round the hosts put 35 points on them, following up with a similarly ruthless approach to Carlow. Dublin, then, had an added purpose for them.

Since 2009, when the metropolitans finally turned them over in a Leinster Championship match, it has been all one-way traffic. Embarrassingly so for Wexford.

Three more Championship losses, two in the League and even four previous Walsh Cup defeats in the seven years since have left no one in any doubt as to where the Model are in the provincial pecking order.


Only the 2013 championship draw in Wexford Park, 1-17 each, has offered any respite.

So 11 games without a win across three competitions against a county that it likes to think of as an equal did not represent good business for Wexford hurling.

It may not, ultimately, mean much in the greater scheme of things but it is a hook that Fitzgerald (above) can potentially pitch to his players as a measure of some small progress.

But any other early season milestones will be tougher to gather, especially against Sunday's opponents. Kilkenny have had Wexford in a far tighter headlock for even longer with little sign of it loosening.

Since the Model's shock Leinster semi-final win in 2004, the counties have met 16 times across three competitions, with just an eight-point Walsh Cup semi-final victory in Blackwater in 2013, when the Cats played none of their 2012 All-Ireland winning squad, to break the monotony of defeat for Wexford.

Most of those 15 defeats since 2004 have been heavy, so the scarring is something Fitzgerald will be acutely aware of.

Clearly, the fuel of momentum from early season wins is something he wants to fill the engines with. Unusually for a pre-season competition, Fitzgerald has largely kept faith with the same team for their opening three games.

Twelve players have started each game including joint-captains Lee Chin and Matthew O'Hanlon, and Conor McDonald.

Barry Carton, a 2013 Leinster U-21 winner who didn't make an impression under Liam Dunne, has got a run in the last month. In all, only 18 different players have started the three games, a very low spread considering the propensity to chop and change at this point of the season.

David Redmond, Shaun Murphy and Richie Kehoe, who all missed most of last year through injury, have restored strength to the panel but the impetus from the trio of Leinster U-21 winning squads has not been as strong as expected.

Chin, McDonald, Simon Donohue, Cathal Dunbar, Liam Ryan and Carton among the starters, Kevin Foley, Shane O'Gorman and Andrew Kenny among those who have come off the bench as substitutes.

Paudie Foley has stepped away for a year and Jack Guiney is only edging his way back to fitness after returning to the squad, robbing Fitzgerald of the two of the quality players involved with those teams.

With a potential Leinster semi-final against the reigning provincial champions in June Wexford have a decision to make about whether they show their full hand to a Kilkenny team that devoured Antrim with six goals in Abbotstown last weekend.

But at some stage they need to test themselves to the limit against a team that have had such a hold on them at any stage in recent history.

Irish Independent

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