A daunting debut
Tough task for new boss in Fermanagh
Wexford senior football manager Paul McLoughlin has delivered a loud and clear message ahead of their Allianz League Division 3 opener away to Fermanagh on Sunday: 'We face a daunting season.'
Wexford, having won promotion from the basement last season, will quickly find out that the higher level is anything but the joy division given the tasks facing them over the coming months - an opening game away to Fermanagh, back on the road to Sligo seven days later, and then a home game against Division 4 champions from 2017, Westmeath.
After that they will still have take on Longford (away), Offaly (home), Derry (away) and Armagh (home).
One can understand the fear factor in Paul McLoughlin who, like his players, is also on a learning curve, this being his first Senior managerial appointment, with the Rosslare-based former Kildare footballer fully expecting a baptism of fire in his first league game.
Having put in the preparation and finishing their O'Byrne Cup campaign with a victory over Dublin, albeit a depleted opposition, McLoughlin is now looking forward.
'On the day we played well against Dublin but at the end of the 70 minutes we were in no different a position than we were against Offaly eight days earlier when we lost. We are now looking to Fermanagh and fully realise the challenges facing us,' he said.
'There are not too many teams in Division 3 who are not competitive. Fermanagh are one of the best sides in the division. They are looking towards promotion, they have done really well in their pre-season games.
'We fully realise what is facing us as they have so many quality players. In Eoin Donnelly and Ryan Jones they have possibly the best inter-county midfield pairing around, while in attack they have the two Corrigans back, the two Quigleys, along with Conal Jones. They are all quality players.
McLoughlin also feels Fermanagh have got what Wexford are missing: 'stability'.
'Fermanagh have got stability over the last few years. A lot of their players are in their prime.
'They only lost narrowly to the likes of Tyrone a few weeks back, and beat Donegal, both in McKenna Cup games, so that's what stability brings.
'They have Rory Gallagher back as manager, with Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin in as coach. They have achieved, with Gallagher assistant to Jim McGuinness in Donegal's All-Ireland win, while McMenamin is an All-Ireland medal winner with his native county.
'This is a savage ask of us as Fermanagh will be favourites for promotion. We'll have a young and inexperienced side but there is only one way to learn and that is by playing,' McLoughlin added.
'It will be really tough but what better environment for the players to learn in? We will be playing in front of possibly 5,000 home supporters, with about 30 from Wexford. Where better to learn than in a hostile experience?
'We have trained reasonably well. The boys are working well and learning. We are all learning.
'We need to play to inter-county level, cutting down on unforced errors, moving the ball forward quickly. We moved the ball quickly against Dublin but we still need to be even better.'
Wexford have a number of injury concerns. Both Naomhan Rossiter (back) and James Stafford (hamstring) have been ruled out of contention, while there's considerable doubt regarding Ben Brosnan (hamstring) and Conor Carty (quad muscle).
Both players have been unable to take a full part in training and will face late fitness tests. Also out is Taghmon-Camross clubman Ian Carty, still recovering from a knee operation.
Long-serving Ciarán Lyng has not yet made himself available to the squad. Lyng's last inter-county game was the qualifier defeat to Monaghan.
However, team management have been left in something of a quandary regarding his future availability.
'We spoke with the player prior to Christmas but we have heard nothing back since,' McLoughlin said. 'He's definitely out of contention for the opening round league games.'
The message is loud and clear: Wexford face a daunting task.