Dunne and team deserve credit for a convincing win
Not many saw it coming, but Wexford deserve credit for what was achieved in the past week. As a result it showed that hurling is on a far more secure ground than many believed.
On Wednesday evening, Liam Dunne managed the Intermediate hurlers to the provincial final, with victory over the reigning All-Ireland champions, Galway. This was achieved against a background of many players, including some of the successful Under-21 sides of the past three seasons, turning their backs on the county jersey. Whether it was a lack of desire or interest, it was an insult to the famous purple and gold.
There has been lots of background noise on the progress of our adult hurling sides. It wouldn't have been planned for Liam Dunne's squad to have been decimated with injuries but he has continued to drive on, with what is one of the youngest teams in the championship race. He has lost a number of experienced hands through injury in particular, and retirement, but he has responded to the challenges laid down as a result.
Critically for Wexford, his new-look side produced an excellent display in disposing of Offaly in phase one of the qualifiers. Liam Dunne and his management team had a major challenge in processing a plan to dispose of an Offaly team coming off the back of three games and two victories, while Wexford had a seven-week wait since their opening round defeat to Dublin.
The road certainly had become steeper for Dunne but the manner in which he prepared his side and responded to the challenge suggests the county is still on an upwards curve. Dunne in his post-match interview was at pains to say that had he got his 'full hand' they would be up there challenging with the top sides.
But given the squad he has now developed he deserves credit for his efforts in what are trying circumstances given the 'high-pitched' voices in the background, many of whom have little or no hurling experience on or off the pitch.
It was crucial for Wexford that they went in against Offaly with the zip, spirit, fire and confidence that they showed against Waterford in the league, in what was arguably the game that showed on big days they have what it takes to match what is presented in front of them.
They displayed all of the above, closed Offaly out in the first-half when playing into a strong wind, while in the second-half they totally dominated, so much so that their winning margin could have been far greater.
The Wexford players showed the greater physique, greater workrate, and also more aggression, but more importantly a greater level of hurling skill. I think the level of Wexford's hurling was far greater than seen for a long time with an excellent first touch, clean striking and solid defending, while their direct route to goal brought handsome results.
It was obvious for this game that Dunne wanted his players to get the ball forward quickly and it certainly paid handsome dividends with Conor McDonald on fire at full-forward.
Dunne still has work to do but he must be credited for the marvellous job he did with his injury-ravaged squad. He has to take it step by step with Cork now his next major step with his young side.
Wexford are improving, while Cork will feel they have a great chance of making it through to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Wexford are still capable of stepping up more on their Offaly display.
Dunne will have studied Cork on Saturday evening against Dublin, and should he go for the same template as against Offaly with his direct style of hurling, it's clear they are in with a real chance.
Wexford want Lee Chin to be their Michael Fennelly. He fits the bill - skilful, athletic with an ability to drive forward in possession, but more importantly to get a quality ball to the inside forwards. Cork's weak line is their full-back trio which is where Wexford should lay siege.
So the Model county breakthrough into the top tier of counties has been achieved, and now they are just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland qualifier. No one deserves it more than Dunne, his management and players for their commitment in what has been a trying period for Wexford hurling.
No one can doubt Dunne's commitment. After the Seniors' victory over Offaly he took the training session with the Intermediate hurlers as they prepare for a provincial final. Incidentally, he had seven of that Intermediate team included on the substitutes' bench last Saturday.