Jack Guiney and Wexford gearing up to take next leap forward

Under-21 hurling championship final – Dublin v Wexford, Parnell Park

Wexford are on the cusp of making believers of us all. Defending champions, they are littered with hurlers who played leading roles in the unfathomable failure to put Clare away in Ennis last Saturday.

That draw still doesn't make any sense. Presuming the bodies of Conor McDonald , Liam Ryan and Jack Guiney – a thrilling impact sub so full of thunderous physicality – hold up then Dublin may well go the way of Kilkenny and Offaly.

Wexford beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park so a trip to Dublin's primary lair won't faze them. Next they drilled the life out of Offaly in the semi-final – with 14 men having lost corner back Garret Foley to a red card after just eight minutes. Suspension means they are without Foley this evening.

McDonald is already an established marksman, as proved by registering 1-1 against the senior All-Ireland champions. He also destroyed Dublin fullback Peter Kelly in the Leinster semi-final before Paul Schutte took over.


“He is a fantastic player with great skill, great eye for a ball and a great strike,” said Guiney. “If a lad can come in and perform as an unknown quantity he can clean up as he has been doing. You might find that for the rest of the year or maybe next year his level might go down a bit but it won’t be because he’s not trying, it’s just the way it goes. Peter Kelly’s strength is catching a ball but Conor can catch a ball on anyone.

“Maybe it was Peter Kelly’s pride or his knowledge in his own ability he can catch a ball that stopped him from sticking up the hurl and knocking it away like Schutte did. Teams are going to be looking to do that to Conor but you’ll find he won’t be too long changing it up again and he’ll go up and down and once he finds a level of consistency then he’s going to be a top class player.”

Tough task

It’s Cian O’Callaghan’s task tonight. The Cuala defender seems ready for what falls out of the sky. “We would have played against them underage, in friendlies and under-16 and minor so we know they’re a good team but they know our players and we know theirs,” said O’Callaghan. “We’re expecting a tough match.”

Cian Boland comes into Dublin's midfield – having reeled off a crucial 1-1 in the close shave against Westmeath – but it is the players no longer part of the group that need a mention. When this team marched to a minor All-Ireland final they were able to call on Ciarán Kilkenny, Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes and Emmet Ó Conghaile.

Senior football panelists all, it must grate with the capital's hurling fraternity that Lowndes and Ó Conghaile are some way off starting for Jim Gavin yet they remain fully focused on the bigger ball. Kilkenny is injured for the season but Costello has yet to cement a starting role in football.

"I'm not sure what the craic was with Ciarán was before he got injured but you have lads like Oisín O'Rorke and Colm Cronin so we have some serious forwards," O'Callaghan noted. "When one lad is out, another lad steps in."

Cronin proved his seriousness in grabbing Dublin's only goal in the decimation by Kilkenny in Croke Park. Paul Winters is another genuine underage talent. So Dublin arrive into this game shook while Wexford, kind of suddenly, are a coming force. "This year is supposed to be where we take the step and better one of these big teams," said Guiney. "We are not waiting for it to happen, we are gearing towards it happening."

Dublin tonight, Clare replay on Saturday, here they come.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent