Underdogs in with a shout
Not a lot expected from Wexford on trip to Mullingar
On the eve of a new dawn for Wexford football the omens may not be all positive, with relegation to the lower reaches of the National League.
GAA Leinster Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final
Still, for many players this will be the start of a new dawn when they clash with Westmeath in the Leinster Senior football championship quarter-final at Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Sunday (3.30pm).
The last thing Wexford needed was having to travel to the midlands, but that is the hand they have been dealt with following the opening round of provincial championship games, when Westmeath emerged with a comprehensive victory over Louth.
As a result they set up this mouth-watering tie, with the winners going forward to a provincial semi-final against either Meath or Wicklow in Croke Park on June 28.
Wexford will not be happy to make the long journey just to put in a good shift. Manager David Power, in his first championship game in charge, will be determined that his side enters the game with a winning mentality, as he is a winner himself, and will accept nothing less from this young group of players.
When one reflects back on the last ten years, Wexford football sides would have always travelled with confidence, but there's something new about this year, as Power has had to revamp his team following retirements. This ultimately led to league relegation, leaving him with a massive task to build a championship-winning side.
Power has invested a lot of time working on the skills of the players, trying to bring a plan to their game, suitable to a side that will be taking on a huge challenge. They have put in a huge effort in preparation for this outing which has been their target since day one.
Now that the day is fast arriving, the players will be determined to deliver a performance, which they hope will be capable of achieving a result.
This is mid-June but this team will still be hoping to be motoring come July. Given the progress of Westmeath under their new manager, Tom Cribbin, this is going to prove a huge test, but given the background of the respective managers one can expect an open game of attacking football.
No doubt Wexford will cherish this opportunity as it presents a golden chance of securing a place in the provincial semi-final. Westmeath have also been rebuilding although they expect to have available some key players who missed the victory over the Wee county available for selection, which not alone will bolster their challenge but also bring more experience to their starting 15.
As Wexford run out on Cusack Park, manager Power will have his side focused on nothing but a victory, but for the first time in many years very little is known about the real quality of this football side. Still, that must also be a drawback to the midlanders' preparation, as many of the Wexford faces will be total strangers to them.
Although the under-achieving side in the league will be rank outsiders, they still have been preparing away in the background. As the success in the league dwindled, expectations dissipated to the extent that even loyal Model county football followers know little of what to expect.
Not many will be predicting a win but it should be remembered that this side is also backboned by a core of experienced players who know what it is like to travel away and achieve championship success.
Yes, it's a sure sign of the times, when one looks at the odds, that David Power will be under pressure, but whatever the outcome of this game, this is a long-term project to bring Wexford football back to a higher level. But he will know the importance of a performance from his side as it would provide the ideal starting point to start bringing them back up the pecking order.
Undoubtedly Wexford will now be in a better place than they found themselves in the league. At the outset of the league they were left with a huge rebuilding programme with little or no time to have a side brought together capable of delivering a sequence of victories to keep them in Division 3.
But they will have learned much from this programme of games, along with subsequent challenges, to go into this Westmeath game with sufficient confidence to fashion a result.
The breakdown in Leinster football goes something like this: Dublin, Meath, Laois and Kildare, followed by the rest.
If you were to believe this there is little chance of either Wexford or Westmeath commanding respect irrespective of the outcome of this game, but for both sides they will be looking no further than Sunday, with the eventual winners then, and only then, thinking of a provincial semi-final.
Wexford will be hell-bent on getting a performance and restoring pride. Wexford will feel they have to beat Westmeath as it's not all about the backdoor. Westmeath are still vulnerable irrespective of their opening round result over Louth, so Wexford will treat this game as a very winnable one.
Wexford have not been overly exposed since the league campaign so one is somewhat at a loss to predict the thinking of Power and his management team as to the exact combination of his starting 15.
While doubts persist there is still a feel-good factor within the Wexford camp and signs that they have put their recent struggle behind them.
There's no doubt they will have paid much attention to their defensive game which is where players like Brian Malone, Michael Furlong, Kieran Butler, Simon Donohoe and Robert Tierney will have come in.
Pushing forward, midfield will be crucial to the outcome of this battle. Paddy Byrne, having missed the closing league games, is back in contention to start alongside Colm Kehoe, but this is a sector the management is still very much out on as to who will comprise the starting duo. Should they go with a Kehoe-Byrne start-up they will carry a huge responsibility into this game.
No doubt Westmeath will adapt a system to try to curb any influence both Ben Brosnan and Ciarán Lyng can have on this game. Lyng has been in sparkling form at club level over recent weeks, a welcome return to top form and fitness at the appropriate time, as he can prove a matchwinner on any given day, while Brosnan should he show a great work appetite can help to bring a deadly attacking formation to test the home defence.
Much can also be expected of St. James' clubman Kevin O'Grady to utilise his speed and undoubted finishing power, while players like Michael O'Regan, who could be handed either a midfield or attacking role, Tiarnan Rossiter and Graeme Cullen could also leave an impact on the eventual outcome.
It's going to be an intriguing tussle but while question marks still hang over Wexford's vulnerability in certain areas, they still have the quality players capable of springing a victory.
It's their array of scoring options that could swing the result their way.