Tuesday, 10 November 2020, 09.30
A lot at stake for the managers. Lohan was publicly critical of Fitzgerald during his time as Clare manager and, by return, Fitzgerald was open in his annoyance. Crossing swords on Saturday, the venomous energy will be channeled into their teams.
Unfortunately for Lohan, while his criticisms of Fitzgerald's management of Clare in the post-2013 years were valid, he'll be coming to the table with the weaker hand. Lohan has had very limited time to work with his Clare team, while Fitzgerald is in year 4 of his Wexford project and, on the whole, it has been coming along nicely.
Image: Tony Kelly and Paudie Foley.
Clare scraped past Laois. To be fair, Clare played with 14 men for most of the game, conceded three goals and scored none, so it was always likely to be somewhat close. Also, two of Laois' goals were directly from Clare errors, and Enda Rowland made two excellent saves, so, one could argue, that Clare could have won with a bit more ease. However, zooming out and looking at the wider context, this is a patchy Clare team and it's hard to see them beating Wexford, unless Wexford underperform again.
Given that the end of Fitzgerald's term as Clare manager has its genesis in a player's meeting where they decided to seek new management, and that several of those Clare players are still playing, there is a huge amount of pride at stake. Players like Tony Kelly and Séadna Morey will be at maximum motivation to win, or, more precisely, to avoid losing to their old manager.
Moreover, for this Clare team, a win against Wexford would propel them to an All-Ireland quarter-final probably against Waterford or Kilkenny (if Galway win Leinster, which I think they will). Clare v. Waterford would be a 50-50 game, while Clare v. Kilkenny would be a tricky proportion, but Clare would quietly fancy themselves as outsiders against an unconvincing Kilkenny team. A win this weekend would paper over the general state of Clare hurling.
Image: David Fitzgerald and Brian Lohan.
For Wexford, for whom most see Fitzgerald's management as the secret sauce, more is at stake. A loss would probably end Fitzgerald's time as manager, and therefore usher in a new era for this promising team, one that would need another strong appointment to see them continue on an upward trajectory. This, of course, poses the question: how much more is in this Wexford team? I would see them as a team that have hit their optimum and don't have much scope for progress. Their best players are well established and, in the absence of significant new talent, it's hard to see what would propel this team on to being potential All-Ireland winners, rather than a team that can pick off an occasional provincial title.
Wexford misfired considerably against Galway, and took a good beating. Their intricate passing and unconventional, alternative running game looked faulty and unpracticed. It probably requires a lot of training, which hasn't been possible this year. But, as against that, the group has been together for four years and should be able to draw on that bank of experience to up their performance sufficiently.
Prediction: If the teams play to form, which I expect they will, Wexford should win with a few points to spare. For this to be a tight game, Wexford would have to continue their misfiring form. It's quite possible that Wexford will be substantially better this weekend; the performance against Galway being explained as rustiness. For Clare to win, they'd have to score 2-3 goals and hold Wexford to 1 or none. Wexford should win by 4+ points, leaving Lohan sorely disappointed and Fitzgerald momentarily vindicated.