Repeat of last year versus Laois might prove enough
Wexford must step it up after a mediocre league
Eyebrows were raised when Wexford took Laois to extra-time in last year's Leinster Senior football championship opening round clash at Innovate Wexford Park.
Wexford were complete underdogs going into this game, but for the opening 35 minutes they totally outclassed Laois. Strange things can happen in the heat of championship battle.
A first-half injury that forced full-back Jim Rossiter out of the game proved pivotal to the end result, as in the second period it gave Laois full-forward Donie Kingston the space and time to launch his side back into the game before their eventual victory following extra-time.
This Rossiter injury, to his cruciate knee ligament, has kept him out of the game for the past twelve months.
And that blow, coupled with the decision to take a point from a penalty close to full-time, when a goal would have put the opposition away, came back to haunt Wexford.
The midlanders, clearly relieved after this reprieve, launched themselves at their rivals in the closing minutes to force extra-time before securing eventual victory.
However, Wexford failed to build on that display, as in the qualifiers they were shocked by lowly Waterford. This defeat, coupled with league relegation to Division 4, sent Model county football hurtling down the ladder.
Major worries arose when Wexford football dipped to No. 32 in the country at one stage during an indifferent league campaign, that included shock defeats to both London and Waterford.
Wexford's year started with an O'Byrne Cup victory over Louth, but it will be a different Wee county side they will meet on this occasion, since the visitors have enjoyed a hugely successful Division 3 league campaign, form that will see them go into this game as favourites.
But unusual occurrences can crop up in the opening round of the championship. To say the least, Wexford were not happy with their league campaign, but they were equally annoyed with the time allocated for preparation for this game, having just returned to training on the Bank Holiday Monday last month following a four-week break for club championship activity.
However, all eyes must now be cast on Louth, and what is needed to achieve a victory. While visiting sides will never get it easy when visiting the county grounds, a repeat of that first-half display against Laois for the full 70 minutes is what will be required to turn this game in their favour.
Wexford will have major worries going into this clash. Number one is that their defence has been sorely found wanting in the league.
Number two is discipline through the team, as they must play with composure, and restrict their free count, particularly in dangerous scoring zones.
Wexford may be wound up for this game but they cannot forego discipline if they hope to achieve victory.
Both sides will be ready to rock from the throw-in. Wexford will be hoping that Colin Kelly, in his limited time with the side in a coaching capacity, will bring that composure, along with defensive and attacking ideas, in order to stifle his native Louth, for whom he played and managed in the past.
Louth used the league as a platform to bring consistency to their game which was in stark contrast to Wexford, whose inconsistency and lack of results left football in a dismal place.
Manager Paul McLoughlin is in his second year in charge, but he has been given little time to prepare his side for their biggest game so far this year, a factor that could impinge on the eventual result.
But should Wexford have made progress under Kelly, becoming more organised and sticking to a gameplan, it would give them a half chance of shocking Louth, particularly given that they have home advantage.
However, looking at football in the county, serious re-building is required. This is a new and inexperienced management in inter-county terms, but patience is something that is currently not part of the current game. One is now expecting almost instant success.
The perceived 'crisis' in Wexford football is all to do with the lack of under-age success, with the county's only silverware in recent times coming in the form of two provincial Junior titles.
But for some strange reason, the current County Board has decided not to enter Junior football over the past two years, which is an indication of the lack of support for the game in the county, particularly in a grade that has brought success, and is an ideal grooming ground for young players, even more so now that the Under-21 grade is no more, having been replaced with Under-20.
The big challenge now facing Wexford is the Louth clash. Can you imagine any more pressure on players attempting to achieve a victory under their current new management set-up, who are also seeking a first championship victory?
After what was an agonising league campaign, manager McLoughlin will feel there's more to this squad of players.
The progress of some of the younger players has been immense, and Wexford are not threadbare when it comes to quality.
Following the league we know exactly where both teams are at. Wexford will be expected to mount a strong challenge on home soil.
A repeat of that Laois display could be sufficient to spring them into a home quarter-final against All-Ireland five-in-a-row seeking Dublin.