Monday 16 September 2019

Confident All-ireland champs will be very hard to dislodge

BRENDAN FURLONG Sports reporter

EVERY TIME that Wexford put themselves within reach of a provincial title they come up against Dublin, so they should have no problem in getting fired up when they meet the reigning provincial and All-Ireland champions in the Leinster Senior football championship semi-final at Croke Park on Sunday next (4 p.m.).

The second game on a hugely-attractive doubleheader, as Kildare and Meath meet in the opening semi-final, Wexford are sure to walk out into a real cauldron, adding to what is a huge ask of the Model county men to dethrone the titleholders. But apart from one meeting involving the sides when Dublin dismantled Wexford in the provincial final, last year will be remembered as a provincial title that slipped away from the underdogs. Having got themselves into a winning position, a freak goal hauled Dublin back into the game, and they went on to a narrow victory, but it is still a game that Wexford should have won.

Wexford have had great battles with Dublin but this game takes on more demanding circumstances as on this occasion they are meeting a side high on confidence having finally won that longawaited All-Ireland title last year. This was demonstrated in their quarter-final mauling of Louth when their physique and footballing ability saw them dominate the game, so much so that it must have sent the frighteners through the other provincial hopefuls.

But Wexford are ready to engage with the Dubs. They may have struggled to see off Longford after a replay, but one would have to be impressed by the battling qualities shown in the replay when they hauled themselves back from the brink of defeat to fashion a magnificent victory in the closing ten minutes. Perhaps after a slight dip in form they are returning as a real threat at the appropriate time, but on this occasion they will need to be revved up from the very start, as anything else could see the Dubs put this game beyond them early on.

Wexford have real quality in the side particularly in attack, but manager Jason Ryan must be concerned with his midfield and defence, which has failed to come up to the demands of this standard of football in recent games. The defensive frailities have been well chronicled so they will be hoping that the return of team captain and centre-back David Murphy will help to bring improvement in this sector. Murphy missed out on both Longford games, having been hospitalised with blood poisoning in the leg.

But having returned to full training and also gotten a club championship game under his belt he will now be expecting to take the No. 6 jersey, releasing Brian Malone for a possible return to the last line of defence where his experience will be needed against the much-vaunted Dubs full-forward line.

The rivalry between Wexford and Dublin has become quite intense in recent seasons. This is something that the Model county will not want to dwell on, as they have yet to record a victory over their great rivals, and the fact that they are coming up against the reigning All-Ireland champions makes victory all the more difficult. But Wexford have shown they can match the Dubs and should they shore up their defensive frailities they will once again make it mighty difficult for their opponents.

It's a game that Wexford are looking forward to. They always play their best football in Croke Park so once again it's going to be a great occasion and a hurdle that they will be determined to get over. That will be their objective no matter how difficult people believe it will be.

The Wexford players have great belief. They know it will be a tough game but they will still be determined to get there.

Wexford for the first time will be looking to pick from a full squad of players with the majority of their injury concerns having cleared up.

They had suffered with injuries in the lead-up to both Longford games but they will need a fully-fit squad to take on the Dubs challenge. There's so much at stake that Wexford will need all their more experienced players against a Dubs side which is roaring favourites with the bookmakers.

There is great enthusiasm in the Wexford training sessions. There is a great buzz there with all those involved showing a passion and commitment, and should they take this to the Dublin game it will help to make for a rousing 70 minutes of championship football.

The two games against Longford will have aided Wexford. Still one expects to see some changes in the 15 that will eventually take the pitch with Jason Ryan no doubt looking closely at his defensive and midfield options.

Should he get this right it would go a long way towards helping Wexford build up a real challenge.

This might be the game that will energise Wexford to one huge effort. They have quality defenders in Graeme Molloy, Brian Malone and David Murphy, while Anthony Masterson will be seeking to put last year's championship nightmare behind him. But the Castletown player is still one of the best shot-stoppers in the game.

Wexford have been experiencing some trouble in midfield so will be demanding a big game from Daithí Waters. Waters has had a slight dip in form but he can stiill be depended upon to meet the midfield demands.

Rory Quinlivan has been struggling with form, while Andrew Shore missed both Longford outings with injury, so it's hugely important the formation that Jason Ryan eventually comes up with.

If you were a betting man you would say that Wexford have one of the best attacks. They have potential match-winners in Redmond Barry, Ben Brosnan, Eric Bradley and P.J. Banville should he be included from the start.

Both Barry and Banville sparkled for their clubs in recent championship games - a welcome sight and something that will not go unnoticed by the Dubs defence.

When one looks through this Dublin side they have such quality in every line. One could not say they have any possible weak link in either defence or attack, but they have been experiencing problems with a settled midfield partnership, a sector that Wexford could take advantage of.

Wexford are just 70 minutes away from another provincial final appearance but a victory would go down as one of the huge upsets of the current championship campaign.

Wexford will still be doing everything possible to make it difficult for the reigning champions but there's no doubting the task facing them.

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