Wexford hoping to Clare tough hurdle
Inishowen await winners in Oscar Traynor final
Wexford Football League will be hoping to book their place in the final of the FAI Oscar Traynor Trophy when the take on champions Clare in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday at 5 p.m., with a meeting with the Inishowen League awaiting the winners.
The Slaneysiders have shown a steady improvement since their opener against A.U.L. Dublin in Clonshaugh in November, when goals from Courtown Hibs duo Eugene O'Brien and Leighton Gleeson earned them a creditable 2-2 draw.
The Wexford defence hasn't been breached since that game as they overcame the United Churches League 5-0 and the Defence Forces 3-0 to top the group on goal difference, before renewing acquaintances with the A.U.L. in the quarter-final.
They put in their best display of the campaign to date to overpower the Dubliners 3-0 in their last eight clash in Ferrycarrig Park, with Paul Murphy bagging a brace after his recent return to Junior football and Adam Beary also chipping in with a goal.
The team is built on a solid defence, superbly marshalled by the ultra-consistent captain Gareth McCurtin, but there's also plenty of solidity and creativity in midfield and attackers that thrive on a decent supply of ball.
There's no shortage of goals in the Wexford squad, with Adam Beary (three), Paul Murphy (two), Eugene O'Brien (two), Colin O'Brien (two), Leighton Gleeson and Kyle Dempsey all getting their names on the scoresheet.
Robin Dempsey, who has since joined Waterford FC from North End United, and Connal Flood, who has departed Cloughbawn for Bray Wanderers, got the other goals for the Slaneysiders in their march to the last four of the prestigious competition.
Wexford manager John Godkin believes his charges have been gradually getting better as the season progresses and hopes they are building up a head of steam at the right time.
'We've steadily improved. It's our first year together as a group and it takes a bit of time. It's not like playing with your club team. It's a little bit more difficult to get a bit of momentum going when you're over a county team,' he said.
Having demolished the Leinster Senior League 5-2 in the Oscar Traynor Trophy final last year, Clare will certainly provide a stern examination for the men from the Model county.
The Munster side, who are unbeaten since May, 2015, also reached the knockout stages with two wins and a draw, although they were pushed far harder in their group games than Saturday's opponents.
The champions began the defence of their crown by coming from behind to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win over neighbours Galway, with David McCarthy and Eoin Hayes getting their goals.
They chalked up another 2-1 win in the second game against Mayo in Castlebar, thanks to another two goals from the prolific Hayes.
Clare finished top of Group E after drawing 1-1 with Roscommon, who also progressed to the knockout stages, in their final game.
Roscommon took the lead on 27 minutes but substitute Tommy McKeown rescued a point for Clare with a late strike.
In a repeat of last year's final, Clare then signalled their intent to hold on to their crown by overwhelming the Leinster Senior League 6-0 in their quarter-final.
The ever-dangerous David McCarthy contributed a first-half hat-trick, with goals from Eoin Hayes, Niall Whelan and Tommy McKeown completing the rout.
Godkin is well aware of the threat posed by Clare and says his team will have to improve their level of performance considerably to see off the holders.
'We're definitely stepping up in class now. Clare are unbeaten in two years. They're the current holders and they were very, very impressive in their quarter-final 6-0 win over the Leinster Senior League and they've currently three Irish internationals in their squad.
'It's a semi-final and it's going to be a tough task. We definitely will have to improve on our group and quarter-final performances.
'There's no doubt about that. If we don't improve we won't go through. Clare are a very tight-knit unit. They've been together with the same panel of about 18 for the last two to three years, they're the champions, they're unbeaten in two years so they've a lot going for them going into the game,' he said.
However, facing Clare will bring back happy memories for Godkin as he led the Wexford Football League to their sole Oscar Traynor Trophy triumph with a 6-0 win over the Banner boys in the 2010 final in Doora.
'We won it in 2010 and I've five of the starting line-up still in the squad (Lee Walker, Leighton Gleeson, Kyle Dempsey, Paul Murphy and Eugene O'Brien), and seven years later that's a nice bit of experience to have and there's a lot of new faces as well. There's a nice balance there,' he said.
So what are Wexford's chances of repeating the trick and garnering another victory against Clare this time around?
'We have the home draw and I hope we have the hunger and desire to bring another title back to Wexford. If we do we have a great chance,' said Godkin.