Doyle's troops well prepared
Wexford wary of Antrim
Forewarned is forearmed.
Given the defeat at a similar stage of the championship two years ago, Wexford will enter the Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland Under-21 hurling championship semi-final with Antrim in Semple Stadium, Thurles, on Saturday (4 p.m.) with a certain amount of fear.
When these sides met in 2013 at the same venue, Antrim pulled off one of the shocks of the championship, dumping the Model county army out of the title race and subsequently going down to a heavy defeat to Clare in the final.
Antrim will have Kevin Ryan in charge for what could possibly be the last time as he has signalled that he will not be returning to the Glensmen for another year in charge which will make them even more determined to succeed.
Following successive weekends of club hurling and football, Wexford manager J.J. Doyle is left with just one doubt before they finalise their starting 15 which will be announced following training this evening (Tuesday).
Ferns St. Aidan's player, Gavin Bailey, went over on a knee in their Pettitt's Senior championship victory over Shamrocks. He is having a scan on the injury to determine the extent of it but already he's being considered a very doubtful starter, which would lead to a change in midfield, where he played a significant role in their provincial final success.
However, Doyle is adamant that the players will be right both physically and mentally for the challenge.
'We trained on Sunday morning and everything went well. We spoke with the players, who at this stage are ready physically, so now it's a case of having them mentally prepared.
'The physical preparations are over. This week is all about having them mentally prepared but they are a mature bunch of lads. Many of the players have been in the squad for three years, more for two years, so they know the job they have to do,' he said.
'A number of the players are well aware of what happened two years ago so they will not be wanting a repeat. We have spoken with them, and they are focused on this game.
'Kildare gave us a good game in the preliminary round, but we saw what happened to them, as they went out and lost to Wicklow in the 'B' championship. We saw what happened both Waterford and Tipperary in their Senior semi-finals when the teams that were more focused, the teams that carried the more hunger, came out on top.
'This is all about as much in the head as in the body but I'm confident that Wexford are ready and can deliver. We may need to up our game again on Saturday, so the opening minutes will be vital.
'We will need not to concede early goals like in our last meeting, we need to take the initiative from the opening ten minutes, setting out our own stall.'
Doyle is also aware that Antrim will deploy a sweeper. 'We saw them in the Ulster final and they did that. Assuming they will use the same gameplan it's something we have to deal with, but we have the players down the flanks with pace and skill, so it's a case of having the defence delivering quick, accurate ball down the wings, and not pumping high ball down the centre to the sweeper.
'Our lads will go into this game wanting to make it happen so that is why I talk about maturity. Many of these lads coming back from the Senior simply want to make it happen, not wait for it to happen like Senior players who came back with other counties. The players believe if they make it happen they can go on to another All-Ireland final.
'They are mature and tick the right boxes. We will be determined from the start to make it happen, dictate the game, and make it all about getting the early scores. By no means will we be under-estimating Antrim,' Doyle added.
As Wexford wind down preparations. they are likely to show no change in the starting personnel, depending on Bailey's fitness, which will see Liam Ryan and Pádraig Foley man the centre of defence, while Kevin Foley and Conor McDonald will spearhead the attack.
Should Wexford produce their form they will dispose of Antrim but they will be taking nothing for granted. The game is followed at 6 p.m. by the second semi-final featuring Limerick against Galway.
The All-Ireland will be held in Semple Stadium on Saturday, September 12.