Wednesday 20 February 2019

Footballers seek upset

Wexford rank outsiders for first round visit of Laois

Wexford’s Naomhan Rossiter with John O’Loughlin of Laois at the Leinster championship launch in Trim Castle, Co. Meath. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Wexford’s Naomhan Rossiter with John O’Loughlin of Laois at the Leinster championship launch in Trim Castle, Co. Meath. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Brendan Furlong

When Wexford and Laois meet in the opening round of the Leinster Senior football championship at Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday (6.30pm), it's going to come down to a battle of the fittest.

The two teams who come into the campaign with contrasting league form.

For Wexford it was a dismal league, suffering relegation straight back down to Division 4, with just one group victory to their credit, and that came in their final game against a depleted and already promoted Armagh outfit.

This was in stark contrast to Laois, who not alone won promotion from Division 4 but comfortably accounted for Carlow in the Croke Park final.

It would be an understatement to say that Wexford did not hit any great heights during the league. While the margins of defeat may have been small in many games, they never looked like achieving a result in the vast majority, and this must be the most worrying aspect facing manager Paul McLoughlin.

In his first season in charge, the former Kildare attacker lost many of the more experienced players through one reason or another, leaving him to re-build a team mainly of young and experienced players.

They looked off the pace and with a lack of experience at this level of competition, and in Laois they are meeting an experienced group of players who, despite their short stay in Division 4, will be strong favourites to advance from this game.

Wexford will be without one of their younger talents, Barry O'Connor, who is out of contention owing to a broken thumb.

O'Connor was developing into a quality player through the league but met with this unfortunate mishap in a Senior versus Under-20 challenge game. His absence is a cruel blow to the side's chances of upsetting the visitors.

When Wexford defeated Armagh in that final league game it gave some hope that it will give the players some confidence, but still so much will depend on how far they have progressed over recent months.

There's a lot to be said for experience when it comes to championship football, and this is where McLoughlin will be looking to both Brian Malone and Daithí Waters to guide the young charges through the tense opening 20 minutes.

Wexford must try an early bombardment in an effort to unsettle Laois. The quick high ball to the fringe of the square, should Nick Doyle be handed the number 14 jersey, is a direct ploy that could work in the side's favour, particularly with some quality young attackers capable of pouncing on the breaks.

If Wexford drop off the pace, Laois will get into their rhythm, move the ball into space and use the width of the pitch that they're always so keen to exploit, particularly with quality forwards like Gary Walsh and Ross Munnelly.

But they won't be necessarily able to do that should Wexford press forward, utilise the kick-outs, retain possession and show composure when advancing. That would make the game more off the cuff, which would suit Wexford, as it would keep their opponents thinking as to the next move.

For Wexford to win they will need to play to their strengths. Players like Brian Malone and Daithí Waters will be crucial, while others like Jim Rossiter, Naomhan Rossiter, Glen Malone, Eoghan Nolan, Darragh Pepper, Conor Carty, Ben Brosnan, Tiarnan Rossiter and Donal Shanley will need to impose themselves from the very start. They are all incredibly skilful and capable of grasping the game. It should have helped that they ended their league campaign with a win.

They have been through a lot but they are capable of kicking on and upsetting the favourites Laois.

The game will be preceded at 4.30 p.m. by the Leinster Under-17 hurling championship clash of the same counties.

Wexford People

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