Waiting game over as real contest finally arrives
Manager Paul Bealin tells Ian O'Riordanhe is concerned about the lengthy delay to Wexford's championship start
In sport as in life what goes around comes around. In 1991 Paul Bealin played for Dublin in the famous four-game epic against Meath, which ran for five weeks and in the process delayed the entire Leinster football championship.
Now, as manager of Wexford, he's experienced the flipside. While Louth and Wicklow played out their three-game epic, Bealin had his championship start delayed as he waited on one of them to come through to provide the opposition. So, two weeks later than planned, Wexford finally get to take on Louth in Croke Park and they're madly eager for it.
"I know from playing in those four games against Meath in 1991 you never realise there are other teams waiting for you to finish," says Bealin. "You don't mind as long as you're getting matches.
"Of course Louth's delay has presented some difficulties for us. But the big plus has been that Matty Forde and Philip Wallace are now 100 per cent fit. They would have been all right to start if the game had gone ahead as scheduled, but at least now they've managed to get more training behind them.
"It's also worked out well in that we're playing in Croke Park, where we were originally meant to play. Overall I think the players have coped with the delay quite well. Obviously we can't wait to play at this stage, because it's been 10 weeks now since our last competitive game, which is a long, long time."
Wexford's last competitive game was against Meath, in the last round of the National League on April 8th. Despite Wexford's convincing seven-point win, it was Meath who went on make the Division Two play-offs - and subsequently claim the title - while Wexford missed out on scoring averages.
Bealin is a little concerned about Wexford's long lay-off, and reckons the team with the run-in of games will be at an advantage: "Even looking at Dublin's first performance against Meath," he suggests, "I think one of the main reasons they struggled a little is that they were coming off a similarly long lay-off. It does take a while to adjust to championship pace again.
"That's also why we'll have to start very well on Sunday, compete from the very start, because Louth have three hard matches behind them. They'll be well sharp for this and well versed in championship pace.
"We've been training hard in the meantime, although I'm just not a firm believer in challenge games, they really tell you very little about where you're at, especially if both teams are trying out new players.
"We did play a challenge against Sligo two weeks ago, but we didn't take much from that, especially as we had a very hard training session the same week. In many cases you're better off playing the As and Bs and making that as competitive as possible."
Having Forde back to his best brings obvious comforts, and Bealin is happy with the blend of youth and experience within Sunday's line-up. There are two debutants. Dublin-based schoolteacher Adrian Morrissey, who plays with Kilmacud Crokes, is named at right wing back, and Ciarán Lyng, brother of county hurler Diarmuid Lyng, is named at right corner forward.
"It is close to our strongest line-up," says Bealin. "Our main difficulty is that we're without five or six regular players, who are either injured or away - the likes of PJ Banville, John Hudson, Diarmuid Kinsella, Shane Cullen and Graham Molloy. I'd love to have had all those players available to me, but we're still happy with the strength of the panel we have.
"Matty did go through a difficult patch last year, but he's out of it now, and playing his best football again. But I have to say as well that he has a lot of players around him now taking more responsibility, the likes of Adrian Flynn, Ciarán Deely and Redmond Barry, who have taken some of the pressure and reliance off of Matty.
"It's also great to have John Cooper back in goal, who last year had a domestic accident that necessitated nine stitches on the back of his arm."