Wexford await as neighbours meet for only second time in the championship

Right: Wexford’s Michael Jacob gets away from Seamus Prendergast during their National League clash at Walsh Park back in February, which Waterford lost by 3-8 to the visitors’ 2-12.   | Photo: Sean Byrne<br />

Right: Wexford’s Michael Jacob gets away from Seamus Prendergast during their National League clash at Walsh Park back in February, which Waterford lost by 3-8 to the visitors’ 2-12. | Photo: Sean Byrne

It has been a funny old championship season so far. With perhaps the possible exception of last Saturday, the title race has failed to come anywhere close to the exceptional heights scaled last year. Sunday’s All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship quarter-finals have thrown up an all-Munster clash on the one hand involving Cork and Clare, with Waterford renewing rivalry with next-door neighbours Wexford on the other.

This will be only the second time that Waterford and Wexford have clashed at championship level: a remarkable fact considering that they have been constant and staunch League opponents ever since they first crossed camáns at New Ross all of 70 years ago when the visitors came out on top by 5-7 to 3-4. Since then he adjoining counties have clashed 48 times, with the Munster men victorious on 24 occasions, and four matches drawn.

2003 defeat

Their only championship meeting took place in the third round of the newly inaugurated All-Ireland qualifiers in 2003 at Nowlan Park. Waterford, who had beaten Limerick at the second attempt in their initial Munster test, later lost their bid to retain their provincial crown to Cork.

Wexford whose last provincial success was in 1996, had high hopes of ending their seven-year drought – and having survived a close run from Offaly before losing to Kilkenny in the Leinster decider, they shocked Waterford with a strong finish (1-20 to 0-18), with John Mullane the losers’ man-of-the-match, despite picking up an eye injury, on a rain-lashed evening in the Marble City.

This year Wexford had the added benefit of an extra championship game before encountering Kilkenny. They somewhat luckily drew with Dublin at Nowlan Park but played much better in the replay a week later in Croker to win by 2-15 to 1-15.

On the first Sunday in July they started promisingly enough against Kilkenny, trailing by only 1-9 to 0-10 at the halfway stage. But they soon started to leak goals as the Cats romped to a 5-21 to 0-17 victory.

According to reliable reports Wexford are quietly optimistic about their chances of again putting a stop to Waterford’s gallop, and after a four-week break are raring to go.

Oddly enough only seven of the side that played in 2003 remain, namely, ever-reliable goalie Damien Fitzhenry, David ‘Doc’ O’Connor, Michael and Rory Jacob, Darren Stamp, Malachy Travers, and Barry Lambert; while other current regulars such as PJ Nolan, Diarmuid Lyng, Keith Rossiter and Eoin Quigley, along with a number of promising young players, will pose serious problems for the Decies.

A great deal has changed in the Waterford camp of course. After last Saturday’s unconvincing showing, changes, however minimal, can be anticipated. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Stephen Molumphy, Paul Flynn and Brian Phelan handed starting places, and Kevin Moran and Wayne Hutchinson are equally pushing strong for first-team inclusion.

If Waterford are to win this local derby and secure a place in next month’s semi-final against Tipperary, it will require top-notch performances from all and sundry.

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