Tribe to make a lie of statistics
Galway could hardly be more ready to finally annex Wexford in summer
WEXFORD v GALWAY
(Nowlan Park, Tonight, 7.0, Live RTé 2)
THE case for the Slaneyside defence: Wexford have never, ever, lost to Galway in the senior hurling championship. And now for the Galway prosecution: all good things must come to an end some time, and that time will be approximately 8.30 tonight.
Joe Canning was only a young prodigy -- still shy of his eighth birthday -- when Galway last faced Wexford in summer combat. Knowing Joe, he was doubtless already nailing 65s in between afternoon naps, but that's another story.
Even Canning's venerable older brother, Ollie, hadn't been born when these counties previously clashed on the championship stage -- they played out a high-scoring semi-final draw in 1976 before Wexford booked their All-Ireland place in the replay.
What the above paragraphs hopefully illustrate is that, while Wexford traditionally enjoy the Indian sign over Galway, we are talking about semi-ancient history. That lopsided record (six Wexford wins and one draw) should have no relevance to events on Noreside this evening.
Of far greater relevance, surely, are recent form guides and the depth of talent at the disposal of the respective managers. On that score, the odds tilt heavily in favour of Galway -- even though their actual odds of 1/10 suggest a cakewalk that is unlikely to materialise.
Suffice to say, Wexford's progression in claiming promotion from Division Two was relatively impressive but their form cannot compare with Galway's annexation of a first NHL Division One title since 2004.
Observers of those two league finals in Thurles cannot fail to have been struck by the gulf in pace, physicality and stickwork speed. The Division Two final was marred by a horrendous glut of wides from both teams (Wexford hit 18, Clare 15) whereas the top-flight finale between Galway and Cork was truly invigorating stuff, especially that breathless first-half scorefest.
Afterwards, the underlying message was clear: if both sides replicated these performances when they actually meet on the same pitch, there could be only one outcome.
Of course, championship hurling doesn't follow such linear logic -- thank heavens for that -- and Wexford will instead try and glean the positives coming out of spring and then try and bridge the gap in terms of speed and sharpness.
So what are those positives? Well, the season could have gone one way for Wexford after that shock league defeat by Carlow -- instead they regrouped, made it safely into the final and there produced most of the positive hurling on offer. They only won by four points, aided by a gift-wrapped injury-time goal, yet that close-run result masks their overall superiority -- on three separate occasions they seemed to have the game won, on a day when Colm Farrell showcased his credentials with three fine points from midfield.
One can only surmise the psychological damage if Wexford had conspired to find themselves mired in Division Two for another 12 months.
It's true that after losing last year's Division Two final they quickly avenged that by beating Offaly come the championship.
But then Offaly were in the same Division Two boat whereas Galway have been road tested against quality opposition. Moreover, with the return of the Portumna crew, the form of skipper Shane Kavanagh in that notorious full-back trouble spot, the growing influence of Ger Farragher in happier midfield haunts, and the emergence of Gort forward Aidan Harte they now carry the look of a team that could -- we stress could -- challenge the ruling Black and Amber classes.
The latter, doubtless, will be keeping a close watching brief this evening. Wexford will hope that their greater familiarity with Nowlan Park will work to their advantage, but then Galway can cite their thrilling Division 1 league victory at the same venue only two months ago.
Even their monumental injury problems appear to have miraculously cleared in the nick of time, even though the loss of Fergal Moore could well hurt them further into summer.
At one stage last week John McIntyre cancelled a training session because he had just 12 fit players and 21 nursing knocks -- yet the Galway boss was able to name a team this week showing just one change from the league final, as Joe Gantley gets his big chance alongside that other big Joe.
Which brings us back to young Canning. The best and final reason why Galway will now finally break their summer duck against Wexford.
WEXFORD: N Carton; L Prendergast, K Rossiter, C Kenny; R Kehoe, D Stamp, M Travers; H Kehoe, C Farrell; M Jacob, E Quigley, D Lyng; R Jacob, S Banville, P Atkinson.
GALWAY: C Callanan; D Joyce, S Kavanagh, O Canning; D Barry, T Óg Regan, D Collins; G Farragher, D Burke; D Hayes, C Donnellan, A Smith; A Harte, J Canning, J Gantley.
ODDS: Wexford 7/1, Draw 14/1, Galway 1/10