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Saturday 20 July 2019

'We have a real chance'

Leinster Hurling Final: Fitzy stresses importance of coping with the occasion

Davy Fitzgerald getting his message across during the drawn round-robin encounter
Davy Fitzgerald getting his message across during the drawn round-robin encounter

Brendan Furlong

Many believe that Wexford's year is very much on the line when they meet Kilkenny in the Leinster Senior hurling championship final in Croke Park on Sunday (4pm).

A win would send the Slaneysiders into the All-Ireland semi-final, while a defeat would once again dispatch the county into the quarter-final, where the record is anything but positive.

However, there is much hope that this final can provide a fitting climax to what has been an enthralling provincial hurling championship, with the final destination of places going down to scoring difference.

At this stage of the championship every side will be hoping to have a full complement of players.

While Kilkenny will be looking towards improved displays from Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh, both of whom returned from injuries in the drawn match, for Wexford's it's a waiting game regarding the availability or otherwise of HWH-Bunclody clubman, Aidan Nolan.

Nolan received a straight red card following the final whistle, amidst confusion regarding the additional time played, with the decision of match official, Fergal Horgan, leading to a recommended two-game ban.

Wexford lodged an appeal against this which was due to be heard last night (Monday). Unless the appeal is successful, Nolan's season is at a premature end unless the county qualifies for the All-Ireland final.

Apart from Nolan, Fitzgerald and his backroom team are hoping to pick from a full squad, although a couple of players are carrying slight injuries.

Croke Park is almost a second home venue to Kilkenny players given the number of occasions they have played there both at under-age and adult levels, but Wexford have a fine record at headquarters - a factor that should not be discarded.

However, Fitzgerald is putting huge emphasis on the team settling into the task ahead of them.

'It's important how we handle the occasion. It's a huge occasion for the players, but they should benefit from being there in 2017, in the final against Galway. Should they settle and cope with the occasion, everything will be fine.'

Are they there with a winning chance? 'Yes, we have a realistic chance, we have a real chance of winning, of that there is no doubt.

'The drawn game was massive, the hits went in hard and fast, but we coped. Now can we repeat that?

'I feel we can and bring it up another level. No doubt Kilkenny will be feeling the same, but we'll just think about ourselves at this time.

'Barring something untoward happens, we'll be sticking to our plan. We're becoming more and more difficult to beat, so let's hope that sticks on Sunday,' he said.

'I've been saying to the lads, let's go out and enjoy it. It's a big occasion but once we cope with it, absiolutely we won't be far away.

'We know what to expect from Kilkenny. We knew before the drawn round-robin game but we matched that. Now, it's up to us to match it again. I believe we can.

'We really feel that training has gone well. We are looking forward to the game, the players are looking forward to the game. That's important in the whole build-up.

'We'll wind down with training on Wednesday and Friday evening. Then we'll settle down and look forward to the occasion.'

Meanwhile, the Wexford Minor hurlers have no injury concerns ahead of their final clash with Kilkenny, a side they lost out narrowly to in the group stages. Having gathered an impressive semi-final victory over Dublin, the players will be confident of avenging that earlier defeat.

It will be an early start and long day for Wexford's loyal supporters, with the Minor final scheduled for 11.30 a.m. while the Senior final is down for 4 p.m., with the Joe McDonagh Cup final involving Laois and Westmeath sandwiched in between at 1.45 p.m.

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