The hurlers of Galway and Wexford will go head to head for the sixth time in just over two years on Sunday afternoon in Pearse Stadium (4pm ) with a lot on the line for both counties as the Leinster championship round robin series begins to heat up.
Galway have battled through to the last four or better in the race for the Liam McCarthy Cup in each of the last four seasons, a remarkable feat of consistency which no other side in the country has matched. The big question now is whether they have the resilience to go again, despite the absence of their top scorer and spiritual leader Joe Canning.
Wexford will be desperate for a positive result on the back of their 2-19 to 1-22 draw with Dublin last weekend when Seán Moran’s last puck of the game salvaged a draw for the home side. Davy Fitzgerald’s men should have hung on for a win after turning around a five-point deficit in the second half, and he will have his side primed for a right cut at Galway.
Galway have won four of those six recent encounters, including this year’s Walsh Cup final and a league quarter-final in Salthill in which Wexford led by one at half time despite having played against a gale force wind. Canning was the catalyst for that turnaround, and manager Micheál Donoghue is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
“We are well accustomed to playing Wexford, so they will come, and they will bring a massive intensity to the game, like they always do, and we know that's going to be a huge challenge,” Donoghue believes. “It is going to be another huge task, but we will just keep the head down in training and look forward to it."
Grafters and ball winners
Whether Joseph Cooney and Johnny Glynn have shown enough in training to be in line for selection could prove to be critical to Galway’s hopes on Sunday.
Galway have undoubtedly got plenty of skill in a forward division, including Conor Whelan, Davy Glennon, Conor Cooney, and Jason Flynn, but grafters and ball-winners are a necessity against Wexford.
Donoghue was exasperated his side were out-worked by Carlow on their first outing, and Kilkenny’s first-half demolition of the minnows last weekend throws no favourable light on Galway’s efforts. Daithí Burke’s return after a toe injury should tighten up the full back line, but Padraic Mannion and Gearóid McInerney will need to exert their influence more in the half-back line.
David Burke will be hoping to recapture his best form in the middle third, while the positioning of Cathal Mannion continues to be an interesting subplot. Wexford will flood that sector with bodies and try to keep Galway from getting into any sort of attacking rhythm, so Mannion’s ability to find space in the tightest of confines will be invaluable.
Sunday will be the last chance to see the Galway senior hurlers perform on home soil in 2019, so a large crowd is expected. Wexford will be well supported despite the arduous journey and that the game is live on television.
Home games were craved for many years, but also bring extra pressure, and Galway desperately need a convincing win to ignite their season.