The teams meet on Satuday in Croke Park
Dublin are good, but not so good that a win against Wexford is guaranteed, while Wexford have struggled but not so much that they can’t beat Dublin. That seems to be the general view of this Saturday's Leinster Hurling Quarter-Final at Croke Park.
Form is hard to gauge as neither side have played a competitive game since the league quarter-finals in April and while both lost, the learnings for the two will have been different. The Dubs lost to Limerick at home having collapsed in the last 15 minutes while Wexford also suffered a late drop off in their defeat to Waterford at Wexford park-whom they were leading by six points at one stage.
Ger Cunningham admits he doesn’t know where his side are, given the long gap and lack of competitive games.
"You’re not sure where you're at until throw in because you don’t have the players all the time. Your momentum can be broken when you don’t have the players all the time and sometimes that can be a good thing but it’s difficult and we’re all waiting now and looking forward to the first game."
Injuries have hit the Dubs hard and during the week Cunningham confirmed to us that Peter Kelly, Ben Quinn, Cian and Rian Mc Bride and Cian Boland are all out while medical student Colm Cronin is doing exams. Cronin who played Under-21 last year is a loss given his ability to get scores as anyone who watched Cuala's run to the Leinster club final last year will tell you – also he showed a flash of his potential in 2014 scoring a goal against Kilkenny in the Leinster Senior Final.
All-Star Peter Kelly’s absence is obviously a massive blow regardless of how long the Dubs may have known about it. His presence might have allowed Liam Rushe to go further forward to win ball – something the Dubs desperately needed in the closing stages against Limerick in this years quarter-final of the league and against Waterford last year in the closing stages of the Championship.
Cunningham was speaking this week at the launch of the Bord Gais Under-21 Hurling Championship
Ryan O’Dwyer was missing for the entire league campaign but played the full 60 in both of Kilmaud Crokes recent championship games – The wielding half-forward looked back to his usual brave and abrasive self and even showed a few classy touches while slipping over good scores against Cuala and St Vincent’s respectively.
Cunningham admits it’s frustrating that since he’s taken over from Anthony Daly, he’s never really got the best of Peter Kelly due to injury but added it’s even more frustrating for the player himself. The last line of defence in four All-Ireland final victories with his native Cork, Cunningham knows a good defender when he see’s one and he’s cited the return of Oisin Gough this season as a major plus, one which in some ways counter acts the negative of Kelly’s absence. Gough has carried his good club form back into the county set up after a hiatus even on a tough opening night in Thurles, Gough stood firm against a Tipp attack that came in waves.
Dublin is an ever evolving project under Ger Cunningham who hasn’t been afraid to make bold calls in his time in charge so far recognising from the start that tweaking was required after Anthony Daly’s mostly successful time in charge. Those big calls even extended to his backroom team which he changed radically this year.
When the Dublin team is named expect many casual observers to says “who?” when they see many of the names in the 15 and larger squad- don’t worry though Dublin fans. Cunningham knows exactly who they are and more importantly what they are capable of. As we outlined at start, Wexford when on form can put it up to the teams such as the draw with Clare at Cusack Park in 2014 and the win over a young Waterford side at Nowlan Park- the bulk of their best displays though come at Wexford Park.
A first Championship appearance in Croke Park since 2008 and trying to compensate for the loss of the injured Lee Chin – by far their most important player – might prove about too much for Liam Dunne’s side who will probably be planning a qualifier route after this weekend.
In Chin's absence, Conor McDonald becomes even more important and the three-in-a-row Bord Gais Energy Leinster Under-21 winner says the young guns can fire in headquarters. Get the ball to McDonald and they have a chance but it’s hard to imagine Dublin letting that happen. The Under-21 production line will benefit the Yellow Bellies but this clash against Dublin may not be the night we see that happen.
Dublin v Wexford is live on Off the Ball this Saturday.