Preview and team news ahead of the Allianz National Hurling League Division 1B clash between Wexford and Offaly
It would seem that almost every hurling game we preview this year has two new managers at the helm and this clash between the age old Leinster rivals in Wexford Park on Sunday. These two counties have spent the best part of the last decade fighting it out to be second best to Kilkenny in Leinster and are likely to have their noses slightly out of joint with the emergence of Dublin in the last couple of seasons.
It is a long time since either side has managed to reach the heights of the mid to late 1990s when they regularly dined at hurling’s top table with Offaly winning the All-Ireland in 1994 and 1998 and Wexford under the magician, Liam Griffin winning it in 1996.
All that must seem like a million years ago now for younger supporters from the two counties who will only have known lean times. Wexford are currently their lowest ebb in generations with their Leinster title success of 2004 a long time ago now. Not only have they been hugely disappointing on the field but there have been controversies off it as well. Hurling folk in the county have not been happy with some of their younger players deciding to play with the county footballers rather than the hurling team.
They got off to the worst possible start to the campaign when they were surprisingly beaten by Antrim up in Casement Park in a game in which manager, Liam Dunne admitted Antrim were by far the better team. From the outset, Wexford would have been hoping to get in amongst the big boys and try to gain a place in the league final. If they are going to do that now, they really have a mountain to climb as following this game they have to go to Limerick next week. The return of Diarmuid Lyng to the panel in the last few weeks is a boost but he will not be able to do it on his own and they will need the likes of Jim Berry, Rory Jacob and newcomer Gareth Sinnott to ease the scoring burden.
It is a long time ago now since the heady days of Brian Whelahan, Michael Duignan and the Dooleys for Offaly hurling supporters.
Offaly have not won a Leinster hurling title since 1995 and have not appeared in an All-Ireland final since they were well beaten by Kilkenny in 2000. The intervening decade or so has seen a steady decline in Offaly’s hurling fortunes. They have rarely threatened to beat any of the big boys with only a draw against Galway two years ago showing any sign of them returning to the big time. The success of Birr and now Coolderry shows that there is some hurling talent in the county.
Under Joe Dooley they did at least show some signs of improvement and now the baton has been passed to Ollie Baker to bring them to the next level. In their opening round game against Laois, Offaly were certainly in top gear as they put 12 points on their neighbours. Baker will have been very happy with the form of big full-forward Joe Bergin who grabbed 4 points on the day. With the Coolderry players due to return after St Patrick’s Day, things are looking up for Offaly and I expect that progress to continue with a win in Wexford this Sunday.
Wexford make two changes to the side that lost to Antrim with Redmond and Harry Kehoe coming in for Darren Stamp and Gary Moore while Eoin Quigley will move from midfield to the forward line after his two goals against Antrim.
Wexford team: – Éanna Martin; Bobby Kenny, Matthew O’Hanlon, Barry Kehoe; Keith Rossiter, John Leacy, Ciaran Kenny; David Redmond, Harry Kehoe; Richie Kehoe, Eoin Quigley, P.J. Nolan; Tomás O’Leary, Gareth Sinnott, Diarmuid O’Keefe
Offaly team: TBC