herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Small ball romance is alive and well and living in Wexford

IT'S a fair achievement for any championship match involving the Limerick hurlers to be categorised as a romantic story in which the long-suffering Shannonsiders play the role of potential party-poopers.

That's how it is in Thurles tomorrow, however, and that tells you plenty about Wexford's remarkable journey to the last-six stage.

This Slaneyside renaissance has been an overnight sensation many months in the making. Liam Dunne's men showed flashes of promise during a solid if unspectacular league in Division 1B; and during their two Leinster outings, against Antrim and Dublin.

Yet, leaving Wexford Park having witnessed a controlled Dublin performance deliver a merited five-point win, there was no suspicion that the beaten side would become the 'back door' story of 2014.

Dunne and his players deserve enormous credit for how they've embraced their second chance.

For too long, Wexford have been a toothless tiger against the elite. But you can't say that any more about a team containing some of that old Tony Doran magic in the guise of teenage assassin Conor McDonald and a host of willing assassins.

It's true that Wexford are missing too much for their own comfort; even against Waterford last weekend, their initial economy eroded as the pressure intensified and the wides mounted to 16.

The flip side, however, is that they're creating a multitude of chances and at different stages of the two-game Clare saga and the Waterford game, different forwards have emerged as match-saviours or winners - the jet-heeled Liam Óg McGovern, Paul Morris, Jack Guiney and of course McDonald.

Meanwhile, Lee Chin has been a midfield phenomenon, ably abetted by David Redmond. The defence has likewise grown into the championship, backing up their primary duties with patient, precise delivery to more advanced colleagues.

Will all the above be enough to carry the day against Limerick? Hard call. It would be misleading to say Wexford haven't scalped a team of Limerick's stature yet (eh, care to mention Clare?) but they haven't beaten such a team that also happens to be in decent form.

Whereas the Banner toiled throughout their shortlived All-Ireland defence, Limerick showed supreme character - and no little skill - to edge out Tipperary at tomorrow's venue. Even in the Munster final, their real downfall was the failure to translate early domination into a more emphatic lead, allowing Cork to eventually kill them with those two second half goals.

And goals could be the ultimate arbiter tomorrow too. In such a scenario, we believe Wexford carry the greater threat and unless they suddenly run out of gas, they'll be dancing at the crossroads.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Wexford 6/4, Draw 10/1, Limerick 4/6

VERDICT: Wexford

ALL-IRELAND SHC Q-FINAL

WEXFORD v LIMERICK

(Thurles, Tomorrow 2.0, live RTÉ2)

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