We have forwards to upset the odds
Published 21/05/2016 | 00:00
The build-up to next Saturday's Senior football championship clash between Wexford and Kildare has been a low-key affair as the hurling team will take up most of the media attention for this attractive double-header.
Previously, days out in Croke Park were taken for granted as an annual right by Wexford supporters, but in recent years lack of success has seen our county teams with a limited number of opportunities to perform on the greatest stage of all.
Next Saturday is a fantastic opportunity for both teams to show they belong on the big stage, but both have difficult tasks ahead of them.
The footballers face tough opposition when they take on Kildare, newly promoted to Division 2 of the National League. The Lilywhites stormed through Division 3 with victories over Clare, Westmeath, Offaly, Longford, Limerick and Tipperary.
However, they are a bit of an enigma as they lost away to Sligo and Clare pick-pocketed the cup from them in the league final, in which they were overwhelming favourites.
Kildare replaced Jason Ryan with former Kerry selector Cian O'Neill, who was involved with the Kingdom when they won the All-Ireland in 2014. He also had previous involvement with Tipperary and Mayo, so he has loads of experience at the highest level.
I am sure one of the first things he addressed is the well-known inability of Kildare forwards to take a high percentage of the scoring chances they have created. It is a problem that has haunted Kildare teams for many years and it is one facet of their game I will have particular interest in on Saturday.
David Power's second year in charge has had its ups and downs, with some indifferent league form resulting in a disappointing failure to gain promotion from Division 4, which was the primary target this year.
On the plus side there were a lot of young players introduced to county level football, and many did not disappoint. Preparation for the first championship game has not been easy for the managers of our county teams, as the club hurling and football championship games affect the training regime.
However, we must remember that the clubs are the most important part of our association and club players cannot hang around all summer wondering when they will be playing, so local games have to go ahead. Club games can also serve as a sharpening process physically and psychologically for county players at this stage of the season.
They are in supreme condition and invariably perform excellently for their clubs. Take for example the performances of Lee Chin, Brian Malone, Michael O'Regan, Conor McDonald and Simon Donohoe to name just a few.
Having not seen the team play for a number of month,s it is very difficult to assess how things will pan out on Sunday. The team has been affected by a number of injuries. Naomhan Rossiter and O'Regan are definitely out and I'm sure there are a few players with minor knocks picked up over four weeks of championship action.
No doubt it will be extremely difficult but one thing never lacking in a Wexford football team over the last number of years has been spirit. Having Daithí Waters and P.J. Banville back this year is a great boost to the panel and the return from injury of Shane Roche is also an added bonus.
Players like Ciarán Lyng, Brian Malone, Anthony Masterson, Adrian Flynn and Ben Brosnan will again be expected to lead by example, as their previous experiences in Croke Park will be invaluable.
It would be a surprise to most observers if Wexford win but I think we can on Saturday. Keeping the Kildare score rate down is crucial. They averaged 1-12 per game in the league, but with the open spaces of Croke Park and the improvement in weather conditions (hopefully), we can expect them to score a bit more on Saturday.
If Wexford achieve parity in midfield possession and keep the Kildare score to around 18 points, I think we have the forwards to upset the bookies' odds of 1/6 for a Kildare win. Kildare are favourites based on their league level, but if you look at the teams they have beaten there are no top-ranked teams in their division.