Saturday, 31 October 2020, 17.35
A huge match for Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford. After all of the progress made over the past three years, it's important for this group that they continue upwards. However, it's hard to imagine there's too much more in this team, now at full evolution in fitness, tactics, familiarity with each other, and with a few huge wins over the years that have bolstered confidence. If they are to kick on again this year, success would mean securing another Leinster title, which is entirely possible, but it would also mean going one further and beating a top team in a knockout match. I find it very hard to see them beating Limerick or Tipperary.
Last year against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, Wexford led and had the appearance of a side who might push on, but the tank was already critically low and Tipperary ultimately took them on the straight. Wexford's high-octane game and inventive, novel tactics make them a bit of a wild card for anyone, but with inter-county games taking almost 80 minutes, sustainability of the plan is of the essence. And I'm not sure it's there.
Against Galway, Wexford should be sufficiently advanced in their style of play, to apply themselves in a practical, intelligent fashion and get a win. Galway will probably be somewhat new-look. That is, a new, untested manager who'll be learning on the fly and didn't even get a full league campaign to cut his teeth, probably a new goalkeeper, and a few more new players, will do well to arrive in Croke Park and beat a team who have shown strong form over the past years.
Image: David Burke and Lee Chin.
Under new management, it'll be interesting to see the structural changes implemented by Galway. Earlier in the year, Eanna Murphy looked tasty in goal, while at full-back Fintan Burke will be in learning mode in the absence of injured Daithí Burke. Otherwise, the team looks pretty familiar. Where Joe Canning is deployed will be crucial. Micheál Donoghue settled on a centre-forward role for Canning which worked excellently. While it reduced his goal threat, it gave Galway both a fulcrum and an anchor in the forward line, and also balanced the forward line in such a way that other forwards were given their positions to play safe in the knowledge that Canning would be playing almost entirely at 11 and not shifted around. Instead of a basic philosophy of "how to we get the most out of Canning?", it nailed Canning down as the centre-forward and implied that the other forwards were given their spot and it was up to them to win their duel with their defender. Canning has been named 11 again, but it'll be interesting if that's a settled position for Joe or just a number.
Galway will be looking to the likes of Conor Cooney to regain some form, and, on the whole, it looks like a strong forward unit. At the back, Aidan Harte at corner-back is unusual and I doubt he has the instincts for it, so Wexford will aim to probe that position. Perhaps he has been pushed back there to bring some experience to the line, but that could also have been supplied by Adrian Touhy, so it's probable Harte is in their on merit. That said, I wouldn't see him as a natural corner-back and making Rory O'Connor or Paul Morris will be testing.
Wexford line out as they did in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. They do have the look of a group at full evolution and, although not spectacular, they are well bonded as a group, ultra fit, and one of the hardest teams to beat. They also have some streaky forwards who can hurt opposition, while Conor McDonald at full-forward is a threat for his size and hurling ability.
Prediction: I'd fancy Wexford to get a win. Galway have slid since their 2017 All-Ireland win, reliant on many of the same players, and will probably be finding their feet under new management. Moreover, the loss of Daithí Burke is very hard to absorb. Wexford should be able to perform in an organised, systematic fashion, and win by a few points.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Damien Reck; Paudie Foley, Matthew O’Hanlon, Shaun Murphy; Kevin Foley, Diarmuid O’Keeffe; Jack O’Connor, Lee Chin, Liam Óg McGovern; Rory O’Connor, Conor McDonald, Paul Morris
Galway: Eanna Murphy; Sean Loftus, Fintan Burke, Aidan Harte; Padraic Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Shane Cooney; Cathal Mannion, Johnny Coen; Conor Cooney, Joe Canning, Joseph Cooney; Brian Concannon, Conor Whelan, Jason Flynn