Wexford to win if forwards produce their very top form
The build-up to next Sunday's Leinster Senior football championship clash between Wexford and Carlow has been a low-key affair, as the Wexford team recover from a disappointing finish to their 2017 league campaign.
In recent years we would expect this to be a routine victory over our close neighbours, but things have changed in the world of Gaelic football from a Wexford perspective.
Much has been said and written about the last three games of the league campaign and the Westmeath performances, but they are long forgotten and the focus for the last six weeks has been solely on next Sunday's opposition.
The ten-point Carlow victory over Wexford in the last league game will have given them confidence, but should have no bearing on next Sunday's encounter.
Seamus McEnaney's first league campaign in charge has achieved the main objective of promotion from Division 4, but the three successive defeats at the end put a dampener on the sense of achievement.
His management and motivational skills will have been tested over the past few weeks as he had to re-build confidence and momentum within the squad. 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. It is the same in every county though and 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 their next game.
Club games also serve as a sharpening process and a confidence booster for county players at this stage of the season. They are in supreme condition and invariably perform excellently for their clubs.
Having not seen the team play for a number of months, it is very difficult to assess how they will line out on Sunday. There are sure to be a number of injuries and players carrying minor knocks after three weeks of championship action.
The experienced team members like Brian Malone, Daithí Waters, Michael Furlong, Ciarán Lyng and P.J. Banville look to be certain starters, while newer squad members like Eoghan Nolan, John Leacy (depending on injury) and Jim Rossiter have made themselves automatic starters over the last few months.
Kevin O'Grady was one of the best performers during the league, while John Tubritt, Adrian Flynn, the Rossiter brothers, Ben Brosnan, Donal Shanley and Joey Wadding all add talent and experience to the selection headache.
It would be a surprise to most neutrals if Wexford do not win on Sunday, but I think Carlow are an improving side and people should remember they would have been promoted ahead of us only for their momentous slip-up against London.
I think the Wexford players and management will have been stung by the criticism they received for some listless performances and see this as a chance to restore the faith from the supporters' point of view.
All the pressure is on the visiting side but if Wexford forwards play to their capabilities, I would expect Wexford to win.
The Senior game will be preceded by the Minor clash in what should be another close game.
John Nolan expressed his disappointment at the inequalities in our system in a damning article in this paper last week, and really the team have reached this stage against the odds with a great win against Wicklow.
A victory in this game would be a just reward for John, Matty Forde, the players and the rest of the backroom team who persevered for the good of Wexford football.