Strong 60-minute showing needed to claim final spot
Preview: Dean Goodison looks ahead to the weekend's big games
Published 13/08/2016 | 00:00
It has probably been the strangest season that most of the experienced Wexford players have ever encountered. Ups and downs are, naturally, part of sport, but wild swings in form throughout a season, at the top level, are peculiar.
But on All Ireland semi-final day in Thurles, when the Slaneysides face-off against reigning double champions Cork (2 p.m.), everything that has gone before will be forgotten. The crazy days in Birr are long gone, so too the confidence rousing wins over Kilkenny, as well as Saturday's foes.
Then it's just 15-on-15 for a place in the Croke Park decider. Last year was the same when Wexford were lively underdogs going into that clash with Galway, and Saturday will be no different. Cork are the bookies' favourites to win it all at 5/4, with Wexford the outsiders of the four at 9/2.
But it didn't do Wexford any harm last season when they gave it their all and came up just short. The aim will be to go one better this time, giving the experienced players one last shot at a fifth title, and the younger ones their first experience of the big time. This is the time to make it happen.
Wexford joint-manager John Kelly is under no illusions about the task facing his side. 'Cork are All-Ireland champions, they are going for three-in-a-row, they are the team to beat,' he said.
'We beat them in the championship but it doesn't count for much now, we are all in the one playing field now, it's an All-Ireland semi-final, it's in or out now.'
Having watched his side scrape through their quarter-final with Tipperary, Kelly knows only too well that a partial performance won't be enough to see Wexford past the Rebelettes.
'We need to start better and be more tuned in than when we went down to face Tipp.,' he insisted. 'We need a 60-minute performance like the last quarter of an hour against Tipp. to topple Cork, no matter when you play them, but definitely next Sunday.'
The Wexford supremo is well aware of the threat that the Leesides pose. But he is equally as sure that his opposite number, Paudie Murray, has the same thoughts and worries about Wexford's star performers.
'Aisling Thompson and Orla Cotter, it's a strong midfield, and Briege Corkery up front, they are all experienced, with Gemma O'Connor centre-back. They are all after being around the mill, they will know what to expect.
'Like our team really, they are going to have earmarked our big players, Kate (Kelly), Mary (Leacy), Una (Leacy), so its going to be a tough battle, the team that wants it the most is going to come out with the spoils.'
Some believe that only extraordinary performances from the big players will be enough to get Wexford over the line, but Kelly is adamant that those around the big names need to stand up and make a name for themselves.
'We need the big players to perform, but we need the young players to tow along as well.
'The big players will play, and they are nearly always going to turn up, but it's the girls that surround them, if they turn up, and if we all put in a serious good performance for as long as we can, I think we'll give Cork all they want of it.'
Wexford will likely have to make do without Jackie Quigley who picked up a knee injury late on against Tipperary. Others, like Stacey Kehoe (ankle), Deirdre Codd (knee) and Louise Sinnott (hamstring), are carrying knocks and niggles into the game.
The younger players might have started their game against Tipperary nervously but there was an expectancy about that game.
This time Cork are tipped to win, meaning the pressure is slightly different.
If Wexford do put in something approaching a 60-minute performance, they can produce the shock that will send them back to Croke Park for the first time since 2012.
However, a replica of the Tipperary showing will make it a long afternoon for the Slaneysiders.