Passion and skill vital for Wexford to record an upset
Wexford make their first appearance of the year in the qualifiers next Saturday evening in Innovate Wexford Park against Fermanagh, managed by former All-Ireland winning Down supremo Pete McGrath.
Hopefully it will be a memorable occasion like last year, when Wexford surprised Down in an excellent game of football on national Féile weekend.
I remember travelling to the last two qualifiers against the same opposition back in 2006 and 2007, when we lost disappointingly both times. When I heard the draw this time my prayers were answered with a home game as Enniskillen seemed like a two-day camel ride the last time I travelled there.
Fermanagh arrive to the south-east after losing disappointingly to Donegal in the Ulster championship. Pete McGrath had targeted victory over Donegal to lay down a marker as he strives to get to the same level as the stronger counties in Ulster.
He would have seen Donegal as an achievable victory and his players were well in the game at half-time. They were only trailing by two points, had missed a penalty and were playing against 14 men for the entire second-half.
However, in the second-half Donegal did what experienced teams do and, despite not playing well, easily beat the Erne men by seven points.
McGrath has made great strides with this team and they comfortably retained their status in Division 2 this year with impressive victories over Meath and Laois, and draws against Galway and Tyrone. These performances show the level they are capable of playing at and prove that they will be a major obstacle for Wexford.
Some people might not remember but it was only in 2011that Fermanagh were beaten by London in the qualifiers so it shows how much progress has been made that they are now a threat to the perceived elite in Ulster.
Last year they reached the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland and although they were well beaten by Dublin they contributed to an entertaining game. Declan McCusker and Mickey Jones are two outstanding defenders to watch out for while Barry Mulrone is equally comfortable as a marauding wing-back or a roving half-forward.
Seán Quigley and Tomás Corrigan are the pick of the forwards, both excellent free-takers but crucially also capable of scoring goals.
From the Wexford team's perspective this is a chance to recover from the Leinster championship defeat to Kildare. The players were disappointed not to win that day and will hope to get back to winning ways.
The panel has been ravaged with injuries to key men, and players like Ciarán Lyng, Michael O'Regan, Michael Furlong and Brian Malone are all doubtful to take part. Losing players of this ability is a serious handicap to the team's chances, but the loss of the experience they bring is also vital.
With the list of injuries it is hard to predict the Wexford line-out at this stage, but there are still plenty of positives to bring from the Kildare game. Simon Donohoe, Daithí Waters and Donal Shanley are in excellent form and should inspire the younger players on the team to perform in front of the home crowd.
This game will be one of the toughest qualifier matches Wexford has had over the past few years, but if they play with the passion and skill they showed against Down last year, Wexford could upset the bookies and advance to the next round.
Congratulations to the Faythe Harriers Under-14 team on their magnificent victory in the All-Ireland Division 1 Féile last weekend in Tipperary. It was a great boost for club and county and all concerned deserve tremendous praise for the work they have done at under-age to get to this level.
There were emotional scenes at the final whistle and at the team's triumphant return home, as many former greats turned out to honour this wonderful achievement.