Hurlers must deliver
Last chance to advance in home clash with Rebels
The Wexford Senior hurlers are in the last-chance saloon as they look ahead to their All-Ireland qualifier opening round game with Cork at Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday (5pm).
There was something of a swagger about Wexford hurling approaching the opening provincial championship game with Kilkenny, and expectations were high.
However, the manner in which the reigning champions cast them aside leaves the county now with a fear of losing rather than any great expectation against a county they have not beaten in a championship game since 1956.
The Kilkenny outing was an awful match from a Wexford perspective. Despite the blow, the players have re-grouped and are no doubt dreaming of a victory which would lighten up the summer once again.
There is no way that Cork will under-estimate their Wexford rivals. They may have beaten them in the league quarter-final but they will see this as a different challenge, particularly as the Model county men are a completely different proposition on home soil.
Nobody knows what state the home team is really in. However, it has also to be taken into the equation that Cork lost their opening championship game to Waterford, while they will be without influential defender Shane O'Neill, ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Wexford's tactics fell flat against a fast-moving Kilkenny combination, a side that hurls with abandon, and they can expect the same from Cork, who like to utilise the quick ball and open spaces.
The priority for Wexford is not to concede goals as Cork have built up a side that can strike over 20-plus points in any given game, leaving it a difficult task for any side to overcome, even without the concession of a goal.
Wexford will want all their big guns in the battleground, particularly in defence as they try to curtail players like Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane. Wexford will be looking to Matthew O'Hanlon, Lee Chin and Andrew Shore to stand up and deliver on their basic defensive duties.
Manager Liam Dunne will also be focusing on midfield where Cork's Aidan Walsh can be so influential given his physicality and strength in carrying the ball forward.
Taking on Cork in their current situation can be highly dangerous as one can expect a big backlash from Jimmy Barry Murphy's charges. Apart from those mentioned they have quality in each line but far more will be expected from the Wexford attack.
They have had time to reflect on the Kilkenny game, where it was evident that unless they are given a quick, quality ball from outfield, the inside line of Liam Og McGovern, Conor McDonald and Paul Morris will not reach the highs to test what is a suspect Cork last line of defence, particularly in the absence of O'Neill.
Even at this stage Wexford have areas to sort out so one can expect different roles for many players in an effort to meet the expected Cork challenge.
It will be a major setback for Wexford if they don't win. Nobody knows what they will do, possibly including themselves.
But they will need to bring back the steel and spirit that was evident last year, especially on both days against Clare and subsequently Waterford.
The key for Wexford will be an increase in their workrate, particularly in the middle third of the pitch.
Defeat for Wexford would spell doom again but hopefully it will not happen.
If the Wexford heads are right this is a game they can win.