I love local derby games. I love the banter during game week with friends who support your opposition at the weekend. I love it that players of each side raised their game to another level for the sake of local bragging rights. I love the fact that form goes out the window in a local derby. A South-East derby which should produce fireworks. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
A key pregame point is the morale levels of the vanquished provincial finalists. The expectancy of provincial glory suddenly taken out of reach and the prospect of facing an opponent who has built form and confidence in a short space of time. Let us be honest. The Leinster final loss probably told Davy Fitzgerald more about his side than any game this season. A big occasion, a big expectant supporter base looking for a performance but the team were exposed by an efficient Galway outfit who exposed vulnerabilities defensively, midfield and the lack of scoring options upfront.
Big issues arose in the corner back positions for Wexford. Devereux and Breen were given torrid afternoons by Galway’s free flowing forward line unit where Conor Cooney was outstanding. The corner backs were exposed due to issues further up field where midfield failed to assert dominance. David Burke in particular produced a superb performance and his link up play with Joe Canning and distribution to the full forward line was a dagger to the Wexford heart.
The forward line misfired. Lee Chin and Paul Morris tried to take the game and scoring duties to Galway. Conor McDonald may have scored five points (three from frees) but he was an anonymous figure in open play. Wexford needed the talisman to step up to the plate but it failed to materialize. Jack Guiney struck an isolated figure in the full forward line; a player with an eye for goal but seldom was quality fast ball sent into his direction.
Once Galway settled to the task and tempo just before half-time, the final was over as a contest. Wexford look labored for periods of that second half and a reluctance to ditch the defensive sweeper system could be perceived as damage control than a realistic attempt to win the final. Disappointing final. Nerves played their part but the development of this team was exposed; they are far from the finished product after that final showing.
Waterford have everything going for them ahead of this quarter final encounter. A historic championship win over Kilkenny in the last round; the emphatic finish to that contest caught the eye; the return to form of Walsh, Gleeson and Moran. This is a championship game which Waterford could set down a defining marker for the rest of the championship.
Prior to the Kilkenny encounter, massive questions were circling on the All Ireland chances of the side after the Cork loss which lacked bite, tempo and intensity. The performance looked stale, speed issues were exposed by Cork. The bite, tempo and intensity were certainly back for their local derby clash with Kilkenny. They exposed Kilkenny with their speed in the forward and midfield lines.
Jamie Barron’s performance in the extra time of this fixture cannot be understated. His relentless energy and work rate were too much for Kilkenny and his goal was the defining score of the contest. Waterford regain confidence and most importantly composure thereafter and the game was decided.
The form of the key trio Gleeson, Walsh and Moran were positive signs for Waterford in this win. Gleeson produced a performance full of skill and endeavor. His scores were breathtaking and his running lines were too much for Kilkenny; more of the same this weekend and Wexford will be in serious trouble. Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh were outstanding against Kilkenny. Their work rate and leadership set the tone for the rest of the side.
The only worrying sign for Waterford was the inability to close out their victory against Kilkenny in normal time. They were cruising with ten minutes to go but decided to fall back defensively and give Kilkenny an opportunity to create dominance which they took. The best form of defense is attack and Wateford need to embrace this mantra but whether they do that for the rest of the championship is another story.
This is a game which has sweeper system written all over it. The traditionalist hurling fan will be tearing their hair out looking at the closed space in each forward line. It will be ability of the outside shooters to score which will open this contest for either side. I hope I am proved wrong but this contest is going to be intensely attritional with minimal goal scoring threat.
Form goes out the window for this fixture but the morale in the camps could be the pivotal factor. Wexford’s ability to pick themselves up from a very disappointing provincial final reversal looks arduous at best. I am not convinced that the side has the where with all to breakdown Waterford defensively and with questions defensively with the corner backs, Waterford may look to go for the juggler early and seal the game. Waterford’s outside shooting looks better than Wexford’s. Conor McDonald has to produce an outstanding open play performance for Wexford to have a chance to win this contest, have my doubts this will happen given the defensive setup of Waterford. Lee Chin aerially will provide a massive threat but one man upfront cannot win this game on his own. Waterford are further along in their development. Waterford morale is on the up, form and confidence restored. Wexford have had a good season but it ends at the weekend. Waterford to win by five points with a performance which will show flashes of brilliance but frustrating periods of defensive ambiguity.