Strong appetite to see Wexford through
WHEN YOU look back on championship campaigns over the past five years, Wexford have come mighty close to ending their barren spell without a provincial title, with only Dublin coming in their way.
Now under the management of Aidan O'Brien there just seems to be something different about their approach. The players look in more relaxed mode, which was evident in their marvellous quarter-final victory over Louth in Drogheda.
You could sense that there is a drive about their play, which was evident in the league despite their relegation, as it was only slippage in a couple of games that drove them back down to Division 3. But more importantly they learned from their experience in Division 2, which sets them up nicely for their challenge against Meath: a huge game for the players, but one they are capable of coping with.
Meath found the league somewhat strange playing down in the lower divisions, but they seem to have resurrected their passion for championship football, which was particularly evident with the manner in which they stifled the Wicklow challenge down in Aughrim.
When teams go to Aughrim they always find life difficult. Meath found it no different but they showed an appetite and passion which had been missing from their game for some time. Meath never fear a championship challenge irrespective of who the opposition is, so Aidan O'Brien will have his Wexford charges well versed on the Royal county's reputation.
After Wexford's heroics in Drogheda expectations will be high. However, Aidan O'Brien will be instilling into his charges the importance of approaching one game at a time, as the Louth victory is now history.
It's only human nature that much will be expected of Wexford as they intensify their efforts to qualify for a provincial final. The training has gone according to plan while they had a very competitive challenge game with Armagh on Tuesday of last week.
Wexford will have to move the ball at pace if they are to shake off the Meath challenge. Although looking at Meath more recently, the physical challenge which had been so much part of their make-up has all but evaporated, as their new management gradually bring them into the new era of possession football, with quick passes into the forwards, rather than an otherwise more direct and high delivery of ball into the danger zone.
Wexford will have to cope with the long, quick, low ball which can cause some panic in the defence, particularly in the full-back line where O'Brien has endeavoured to carry out remedial work following the league campaign.
Despite their efforts to win that elusive provincial title, Wexford have not lost their appetite. The past may have been frustrating in many ways, but it did show that they have players of ability to mix it with the best. The obsession of winning a provincial title has not gone away and that is why they will go into this semi-final clash full of confidence and with enough passion and skills stashed in their repertoire to cope with what Meath has to offer.
Wexford have been very close to Leinster's big prize. It has to be said that the longer the wait, the more difficult it can become, so it is important for the players that they deliver a big game and victory against Meath, as for some it could be the last throw of the dice.
This is the type of match that is going to ask mighty questions of Wexford. It's not the sort of match that any county particularly likes facing into given Meath's championship reputation. It is very much a case of dealing with what is put in front of you on the day.
Wexford have experience in every line of the pitch. From 'keeper Anthony Masterson right through to left full-forward P.J. Banville they have players capable of providing the spark that's needed to ignite a championship battle.
Graeme Molloy has always enjoyed his Croke Park outings from full-back, while on this occasion he's likely to have both Lee Chin and Michael Furlong alongside him in the last line of defence.
Veteran David Murphy will once again be expected to man up and curtail the avenues through the centre of defence, but it is in midfield where the game could be decided.
Much had been written about the Louth midfielders, but in that quarter-final the Wexford pair shone. Rory Quinlivan blossomed and, along with Daithí Waters, surely one of the most consistent midfielders in the game, they controlled this sector. A repeat performance from both would certainly send Meath mentors into early conclave.
The Wexford attack is capable of reacting to anything a defence has to put in front of them. They played some marvellous football to destroy the Wee county defence, and with Ciarán Lyng back to top form following his injury nightmare, along with Ben Brosnan, P.J. Banville and Redmond Barry, they carry the type of threat that will make for some sleepless nights for Meath defenders in the lead-up to the game.
People say that Meath are not as good as in the past. They have gone through a rebuilding programme but still have the mix of experience and youth to seriously trouble any side.
Given how structured Meath football can be, this is going to be a difficult game for Wexford. The players realise that, the management realise that, but on their day they have the quality to qualify for the provincial final and a meeting with the winners of Dublin v. Kildare, and maybe a set-to with former manager Jason Ryan.