Friday 24 November 2017

Time for Wexford players to stand up and be counted

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

There is a creeping restlessness in Wexford hurling for some months which was exacerbated following the heavy opening round Allianz National League Division 1B defeat to Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.

But while the result cannot be ignored, Wexford had a lengthy list of absentees, with up to one-fifth of what would have been Liam Dunne's intended starting 15 missing. It left supporters under no illusion as to the huge challenge facing his team, which was always going to be very difficult even with a full strength side given the county's recent record against the Shannonsiders at adult, Under-21 and more recently club level.

Wexford didn't lose this match due to poor preparations. They had put in many months of toil and hard training both in the gym and on the pitch, while they also had the Walsh Cup games to prepare for what they were presented with in the league - successive games against two of the promotion favourites, firstly Limerick, and then Clare to come next Sunday in Innovate Wexford Park.

Manager Liam Dunne should not be judged harshly on this one result. While injury played its part, the players have to accept more than a share of responsibility for what was the poorest display during that opening 35 minutes that I have ever witnessed from a Model county hurling team in league or championship.

The players looked tactically inept, and lacked the grit and spirit that so encompasses Wexford hurling. In essence what was missing through that first-half was the passionate, direct hurling for which Wexford are so renowned and so much hated for by opponents.

In its place was a tip-tapping exhibition whenever they did manage to win possession as they were completely over-run and over-powered by a slick-moving Limerick outfit who were also without up to six of their more experienced players.

Wexford showed a reaction on the resumption, whittling down a twelve-point interval deficit to six points. This was achieved through changes in personnel at the interval, positional switches, but more importantly through 15 on 15 hurling.

This is what is suited best to Model county hurling, as they looked totally out of place and uncomfortable with their short passing first-half game which is foreign to Wexford's traditional approach.

In making the case that Liam Dunne and his backroom team had presented every opportunity for the players to be ready for this game, now is the time for the players to reflect, albeit within just seven days before they encounter Clare.

Wexford is a proud hurling county. What the players presented in the first-half is totally unacceptable at any level of the game in the county. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch as Limerick simply blew away the challenge with such ease that the Wexford game was the subject of much ridicule by commentators.

Indeed, one described it as one of the poorest Wexford teams he had seen. On the first-half evidence it would be hard to disagree.

But taking in all the circumstances, it's now the players who are on trial come next Sunday's huge clash with Clare. Liam Dunne and his backroom can only prepare the team to the best of their ability, and have them in the proper frame of mind to meet the challenge, but once the players cross that white line the responsibility lies with them and them only to deliver a type of hurling that Clare will not like, and that is man-to-man direct hurling.

Having listened in to the RTE Radio reaction to the various league games over the weekend, it became increasingly clear from the panellists that Liam Dunne has a huge task and is doing everything possible with the players that he has at his disposal.

Tony Considine may have written Wexford off as a hurling force, but Kilkenny pair Brian Hogan and Michael Kavanagh were more pragmatic, clearly emphasising that Liam Dunne cannot afford to be without up to five first team players.

Kavanagh was at pains to stress that Dunne was putting in a huge effort, but he simply lacks the physical playing power through the centre, making it all the more important for Wexford to respond next Sunday.

The former Kilkenny players have made a clear case that Dunne needs his full hand so perhaps the critics (locally) - the majority of whom contribute so little positively to trying to bring Wexford hurling to a better place, but prefer the back seat with negative and personal attacks - can have a re-think.

Wexford People

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