Brought to you in association with Hanlon Kitchens
It’s championship Sunday. Wexford are coming to town to play Laois in a Leinster quarter-final. There’s a big crowd expected in O’Moore Park with Wexford on a bit of a roll at the moment having won promotion to Division 1A of the league and beaten Kilkenny in the quarter-final.
The prize for the winners today is a semi-final against Brian Cody’s men in two weeks time, June 10. The losers will have to wait until June 24 at the earliest for the All Ireland qualifiers. This year one of the beaten Leinster quarter-finalists will play the Christy Ring Cup winners.
The starting teams
The Laois team shows two changes from the side that beat Kerry in Tralee in the final game of the Round Robin two weeks ago.
Injury rules out Patrick Whelan and Ryan Mullaney and they’re replaced by Willie Dunphy and John Lennon.
The Wexford team shows three changes from the side that lost to Tipperary in the National League semi-final – injury rules out defenders Damien Reck and Willie Devereaux while David Dunne loses out in attack. The three players to come in are Harry Kehoe, Eanna Martin and Simon Donohue.
Ten of the Wexford team that started last year’s All Ireland quarter-final loss to Waterford are back again.
The Laois in full is: Enda Rowland; Dwane Palmer, Leigh Bergin, Lee Cleere; Ciaran Collier, Cha Dwyer, Matthew Whelan; Patrick Purcell, Ross King; Sean Downey, John Lennon, Willie Dunphy; Aaron Dunphy, Neil Foyle, Stephen Maher.
The Wexford team is: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohue, Liam Ryan, James Breen; Shaun Murphy, Matthew O’Hanlon, Diarmuid O’Keeffe; Eanna Martin, Aidan Nolan; Jack O’Connor, David Redmond, Harry Kehoe; Conor McDonald, Lee Chin, Paul Morris
What’s the championship history between the sides?
You have to go back to 2005 for the last clash between the sides in the championship – when Wexford beat Laois by 0-24 to 1-10 in the Leinster semi-final in Croke Park. Camross’s Damien Culleton got the Laois goal that day. The last Laois win against Wexford in the championship was in 1985, the year Laois last reached a Leinster final.
The sides met in the league earlier this year when Laois put up a very good performance before eventually going down on a scoreline of 2-24 to 2-20.
What Wexford players should we watch out for?
The reality is that Wexford have a selection of top quality players. Lee Chin and Conor McDonald are teaming up in the full-forward line and they are two excellent players though expect Chin to play further out the field and McDonald to be their main threat up front. Matthew O’Hanlon at centre-back, midfielder Eanna Martin and wing-forward Harry Kehoe are all highly-rated too. Andrew Shore is included in the bench as he makes his comeback from injury – Shore went to school in Knockbeg College and was a key player for their football teams under former Laois footballer Chris Conway.
How did Wexford get on last year?
Wexford experienced a very mixed season last year. Dublin were big 2-19 to 0-12 winners in the opening round of the Leinster championship but Wexford redeemed themselves in the Qualifiers, beating Offaly by 1-21 to 1-13 and then getting the better of Cork for the first time in 60 years on a scoreline of 0-23 to 1-17. They were well beaten by Waterford, 0-21 to 0-11 in the All Ireland quarter-final, and parted company with manager Liam Dunne at the end of the season.
Davy Fitzgerald, who had only finished up with Clare, came in and has made an instant impact. Wins over Limerick and Galway in the opening two rounds of the league earned them promotion to Division 1A and they took Kilkenny’s scalp in the league quarter-final before going down to Tipperary in the semi-final.
They have been playing with a sweeper throughout the league and are expected to go with a similar system against Laois.
So what is the story with Davy?
Fitzgerald grabs the headlines no matter where he goes and he really became the centre of attention in the recent league semi-final against Tipperary when he ran onto the field to remonstrate with referee Diarmuid Kirwan after he felt a couple of big decisions went against his side. That pitch incursion came at a price as he was slapped with an eight-week ban, meaning he can’t be on the sideline for today’s game.
Wexford player Lee Chin claimed in an interview this week that Fitzgerald isn’t even attending training, instead opting to communicate with players privately after watching their sessions on video. However, those claims have been met with derision in various quarters with Galway’s Damian Hayes, Dublin’s Conal Keaney and Kilkenny’s Eoin Larkin among those to rubbish them.
In any case Fitzgerald won’t be allowed on the sideline today but he could be in the stand or on the terrace.
Who’s the referee and what sort of history has he with Laois?
Cork whistler Cathal McAllister takes charge of today’s game and he brings a wealth of experience to the role. He was omitted from last year’s championship panel of referees but has been brought back into the loop again for this campaign. Among the Laois games that he previously refereed was the famous clash against Galway in 2014 in O’Moore Park when Laois only lost by 1-22 to 0-23.
McAllister famously fell foul of Davy Fitzgerald that same season when he red-carded Clare’s Podge Collins against Wexford in the All Ireland qualifier in Ennis. Clare were All Ireland champions at the time but while that game would end in a draw, Wexford would win the replay seven days later.
What are they saying in Wexford about the game?
The Wexford People newspaper carried a low-key enough buildup to the game, opting just for a front-page piece on their sports pullout under the headline ‘Hurlers need to lay down a big marker on Sunday’. Brendan Furlong wrote that “the learning curve is over for Wexford, now the time has arrived to deliver”. Furlong adds that “you can sense Wexford will be somewhat nervous going into this game” but that they should be happy to “meet whatever challenge Laois have to offer”.
“The backroom team have prepared the players all they can. Now it’s up to them to go to O’Moore Park and lay down the marker that they will be serious Leinster contenders”.
Writing inside, former Wexford manager Tom Dempsey is slightly cautious in his column but ventures that he is “fully confident that we are at a higher level and should comfortably see off the challenge”.
On a separate topic, Brendan Furlong’s take on the Wexford footballer’s loss to Carlow last Sunday was that it was “pathetic to watch”.
What’s the betting?
Wexford are the hottest of favourites at a price of 1/9 with Laois at 9/1 and the draw at 14/1. The handicap betting is Laois +8 at even money. Our betting columnists – The Bear in the Square – are going for Wexford to score two goals or more at a price of 5/6.
How much does it cost to get in?
It’s €20 to get into the stand and €15 for the terrace. And all U-16s are now €5. Delegates at the recent Laois County Board meeting hit out at the €20 charge while it appears that all children no matter how young will be charged €5. Laois GAA were keen to point out that the decision on the pricing rests with Leinster Council. Students and OAPs can claim €5 back if the produce a valid card.
Where can I follow the game? Is it on the telly?
The game isn’t on TV – RTE are showing Tyrone v Derry in the Ulster football pulling and dragging festival as well as Galway v Dublin in the other Leinster hurling championship clash. There will be updates across a variety of radio stations including RTE, Newstalk and, of course, our friends in Midlands 103 with Jack Nolan on the mic.
We’ll also be live blogging the action – minute by minute – so we’ll keep you informed as best we can.