In his latest column for Leinster GAA, Kilkenny legend DJ Carey looks ahead to Sunday’s Leinster SHC final between Galway and Wexford:
The fact that we’re looking at a crowd of up to 60,000 in Croke Park on Sunday is magnificent for the Leinster Championship and it’s creating a level of excitement that we haven’t seen for a long time.
In recent years, with a couple of exceptions, we were always expecting Kilkenny to win the title and maybe Galway giving them a rattle. But now we have two new contenders with a genuine chance of success – Galway being favourites after their league success but Wexford achieving promotion from Division 1B and knocking-out Kilkenny in a thrilling semi-final.
From my own point of view, in the rare occasions when Kilkenny are not in the final you might considering not travelling up. But not this year – I know lots of hurling supporters from outside Wexford and Galway who have bought tickets for the game.
Of course, I’ve also a big interest in the minor final with my son playing on the full back line for Kilkenny against Dublin.
There’s a huge buzz in Wexford and, collectively, their management and players are doing a fantastic job. There doesn’t seem to be any egos on the field and everyone has a certain role they have to do.
I really think Davy Fitzgerald has got criticised a little too much at times. He’s a great tactician and has already achieved so much with all the teams he’s been with. What he puts into the game is massive – I’ve seen it myself at close quarters in the Fitzgibbon Cup when he was in charge of Limerick IT.
Some people say they don’t like certain tactics, but just because the style of hurling is more coached and maybe less natural doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting. The bottom line is you still need to be a very skilful hurler and have plenty of speed to make it in the modern game.
Davy arrived in Wexford with a big profile to a county starving for success and, in fairness, the players bought into his plan. And the supporters have bought into it too.
Over the course of my playing career and even in recent seasons, there was a lack of consistency in Galway, both with management and players, and there seemed to be disharmony and problems, even within club hurling.
This year, though, I’ve noticed a calmness about Galway. If there’s a setback on the field, it doesn’t matter and there’s no antics when they clear a ball or get a big score. They’re tough, very big and strong, but exceptional hurlers as well.
Offaly brought back a couple of sweepers in the semi-final, in an effort to keep the score down, not to win the match. Galway didn’t score a goal but their point scoring was top-class.
Wexford, obviously are playing with a much different attitude. More than likely they will have a sweeper, but they play with such energy, working the ball out, varying their play, and lots of running.
In fact, I think Kilkenny might have been a bit fortunate that their semi-final wasn’t in Croke Park, because Wexford are so fit and fast they could have blown them away on a bigger pitch.
Even so, I think Wexford will still have to improve on that performance to beat Galway. They’ll need to score goals again and Davy Fitzgerald will have to stop Joe Canning from dictating the game. Galway are not just favourites for Sunday, but to win the All-Ireland as well, though Wexford will be roared on by a huge support and it promises to be a fantastic occasion.