Tuesday 20 February 2018

Hurlers on high alert

Under-21s won't be taking the Lilywhites for granted

Brendan Furlong

Conor McDonald at the Under-21 hurling championship launch in Glendalough, Co Wicklow, last week
Conor McDonald at the Under-21 hurling championship launch in Glendalough, Co Wicklow, last week

In the aftermath of the Minor hurling defeat to Westmeath, Wexford will be on red alert when they open the defence of their Bord Gais Leinster Under-21 hurling championship title with a 'banana skin' game against Kildare in St. Conleth's Park, Newbridge, tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7.30 p.m.

This will get the 2015 campaign up and running, with Wexford once again live contenders to successfully defend their title. While manager J.J. Doyle has a wealth of options open to him, there will still be that little pressure coming up against the All-Ireland 'B' champions of last year on home soil.

One could not argue with the strength of the Wexford side as included from last year's team will be Oliver O'Leary, Eoin Conroy, Liam Ryan, Andrew Kenny, Jack O'Connor, Jim White, Conor Devitt, Conor McDonald, Pádraig Foley and Kevin Foley. In addition, quality players such as Peter Sutton, Shane Murphy, Simon Donohoe, Tony French, Gavin Bailey, James Cash, Sam Kelly and Cathal Dunbar are all coming into contention.

However, St. Martin's attacker Joe Coleman will miss the game with a broken thumb received prior to his sending-off against Rathnure in last Sunday's club championship game. Incidentally, the red card would not have affected his inter-county appearance.

Whatever the arguments for a handsome Wexford victory, manager Doyle is by no means taking the game lightly as this is a Kildare with little known of their standard, although they will include star attacker Gearóid Keegan, who is figuring prominently at Senior level. Keegan was player of the match in last year's All-Ireland 'B' final, while he was also honoured as player of the year in the Nickey Rackard Cup in 2014.

While Wexford will go into this game as favourites, Doyle will be seeking his squad to bring their 'A' game to the championship opener.

'We are just focusing on ourselves, getting our own house right. Under-age is different to adult when it comes to games. We have to get our own performance together.

'This is Kildare's first chance in Under-21 proper so they will be up for it. As the Minors showed and we showed ourselves two years ago, no one team can be taken for granted on any given day. They (Kildare) will look upon it as a brilliant opportunity to show how much they have progressed and the work they have put into under-age,' he said.

'But I firmly believe if we perform to the best of our ability we will win. It has not been easy to prepare given the demands on players, but they are fit and strong. It will be the first time for this 15 to start together, but I've no doubt the big players will lead by example.

'We have a very strong squad, a very strong team, but we will still have to perform. We have to earn it, we have to make it happen.

'Kildare may well believe that we are treating them as cannon fodder but that's not the case. We will be up for the game, so hopefully we can start off with a good win,' Doyle added.

The winners of tomorrow night's game face Offaly or Westmeath in the provincial semi-final on June 24. Dublin or Kilkenny, who meet next Tuesday, will face Laois or Carlow on the other side.

Wexford People

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