Composure has been added to the champs' well-stocked armoury
NEXT SUNDAY is a pivotal day for the Wexford Senior footballers when they take on Dublin in the Leinster semi-final in Croke Park. They face a mammoth task as they take on the reigning All-Ireland champions in their own fortress.
Dublin's indifferent league form, in which they lost more games than they won, can be put down to experimentation with team selection and style of play. Anybody who saw them in their championship opener against Louth cannot be anything but impressed. They look physically stronger and more focused as they set out on the difficult task of retaining their title.
Louth were very poor that day, but the manner of the victory was impressive. The Dublin squad has grown in confidence due to their success last year, and strength has been added to the panel. Teams from the capital always play with a swagger, especially within Leinster, but the confidence of being champions has brought a new self-assurance to their play.
Pat Gilroy has done a brilliant job of re-shaping the team, but the biggest change I think he made was to introduce composure in pressurised situations. This was evident last year when they were on the ropes against Wexford, being stifled by Donegal and of course the amazing All-Ireland final win against Kerry. These are games they would have folded in in recent years, but now they have introduced resilience to their already heavily-stocked armoury.
Wexford this year have been a bit of an enigma in league and championship. Some brilliant performances were mixed with some poor performances, as the management also introduced some new players to freshen up the team. To date the performances have not been as good as they were at this stage last year, but this can be put down to our opponents as much as it can to the team.
This Wexford team has been knocking on the door for a number of years and are highly regarded and respected as serious opponents by any team. They all know our strengths and therefore set out their tactics to counteract them.
Frustratingly, teams pack their defence to close out the attacking threat posed by our excellent forward line. Dublin will be no different in this regard, as they drop back their wing-forwards to defend. The big problem is the outlet Dublin have in the forwards, with the two Brogans, Connolly and McMenamin and the chances they create with their movement.
Wexford have struggled defensively in a number of games and should have been punished by Longford in the first two matches. If they are to succeed against Dublin, they have to prevent any goal chances and offer Anthony Masterson maximum protection. David Murphy is back fully fit and should resume at centre-back, with Brian Malone probably dropping back to corner-back.
I am sure Wexford have been working hard on tactics in the last few weeks, and the management will have devised a plan to topple the reigning champions. Every Wexford player will have to perform to the maximum of their ability.
The defence needs to tighten up, midfield will have to gain a fair share of possession and the forward line will have to be composed and accurate. We probably won't create as many chances as Dublin so the forward line needs to be efficient with any attempts on goal.
The manner of the victory over Longford has provided a massive boost to the Wexford squad. Intensity levels in training have increased as they anticipate the biggest game of the year.
They need to show the spirit and commitment for the full game, that they showed in the last 15 minutes in Tullamore.