Posted by Shane Stapleton

Pat Gilroy does not know what he will face yet as goal-chasing Longford and ball-playing Wexford provide very different hurdles - as we saw last Sunday

2012 Longford v Wexford

Pat Gilroy does not know what he will face yet as goal-chasing Longford and ball-playing Wexford provide very different hurdles - as we saw last Sunday

It’s funny. There is a feeling that it would be best for the championship if Wexford went through to the Leinster semi-final at the expense of Longford.

You know, the idea that it would give Dublin a proper hurdle in the semi-final, something the Model County showed they are capable of when they might well have put down the eventual All-Ireland champions a year ago.

In 2010, Jason Ryan’s side had Dublin all but beaten as the Hill booed the boys in blue. Bernard Brogan had scored all two of his side’s first-half points before they eventually levelled despite finishing the game with 13 men before, having been reinstated to 15 men for extra time, they romped home.

It’s exactly that type of fitness that will be put forth as reason why Dublin won’t be stopped, certainly not in Leinster, in 2012. It’s hard to argue against that but it’s not always that simple.

For Dublin as reigning champs to be enthusiastic on day one was a given but, for a team chasing Sam and Sam most dearly, there is the grind in between. That’s the same for every team but, as top dogs, it’s a fresh issue for Pat Gilroy to deal with.

Wexford manager Ryan has a recurring issue to deal with: his side’s vulnerability at the back. Yes they controlled much of the game on Sunday against Longford because they had more of the ball but they looked vulnerable once they lost it.

On Sunday, the Model County let Longford in for goal opportunities on five separate occasions, including a swift move from Sean McCormack and Donal McElligott which resulted in Niall Mulligan skewing a ball wide on 25 minutes. One of a few let-offs.

McCormack had a goal chance a couple of minutes earlier but was too slow in getting his effort away while more neat interplay from McCormack and Mulligan allowed Paul Barden tuck a penalty away.

The Clonguish man was a constant menace for Wexford, who will on Saturday face his threat for a fourth successive competitive game.

“Paul Barden was just a nightmare,” said Wexford boss Ryan after the game. “He keeps on bouncing back. You think you have him under control and all of a sudden he comes away and causes problems.”

Colm Smyth and John Keegan also helped open up goal opportunities for the Barden brothers in the second half: Paul scoring his second on 54 minutes and David being denied shortly afterwards.

The point being that it wasn’t just isolated areas that were causing Wexford problems. This continues a rotten trend for them at the back; Kilkenny were the only side in all four leagues to concede more goals. Wexford let in 13 during the regulation rounds and another to Longford in the league final - a goal that ultimately cost them silverware.

When a game is tight, goals are what often decide the result. Without them on Sunday, there is little to suggest Wexford would not already be through to the next round in Leinster. Stretching back a little further, Anthony Masterson’s mistake a year ago probably cost them a Leinster title.

But to stick with what we’ve seen recently, there is a worry that their attacking wont could be their undoing, though that would be to ignore that Jason Ryan would inevitably tweak his side’s tactics.

Longford didn’t cough up goal chances but you’d suspect they might come up against the same issues as Louth if they played Dublin. Trying to soak up pressure but drowning because of it.

It’s interesting to look at the statistics from Longford v Wexford on Sunday. Jason Ryan’s side converted 15 of 29 chances (52%) to Glenn Ryan seeing his men put away 11 of 24 (46%). Yet Glenn’s side created goalscoring opportunities on 21% of those occasions while Jason can’t really say his side got clean through.

Longford were cynical at times - as well as being set up to counterattack - and it was notable how often they fouled in non-scoring positions to slow down Wexford. It gave them time to put the bricks of their defensive wall in place.

But back to tactics and it would be no surprise to see both sides tweak for the replay. Certainly Jason Ryan did for the drawn match: “When you play against a team that has a lot of bodies behind the ball, you have two options. If you win enough primary possession you can deliver the ball nice and fast inside, but if that option isn't on.

“And with the way that they play with (Declan) Reilly, (Dermot) Brady and (Barry) Gilleran, they are right. (Colm) Smyth is tight. And if they are tight and a player looks up to deliver a ball and there is nothing to hit, you have to recycle it. So recycling means handpassing it.

“When we played them in the league final, I think we gave away 24 balls in the first half. Today (ie Sunday), that was one of our focus. We knew some of the play was going to be slow. We had to make sure we kept on recycling the ball.

“I would imagine compared to a lot of teams we play, we will handpass the ball more than some of the teams. So, a combination then of men behind the ball and attacking them and then with us playing, we will handpass the ball a lot.”

As they may do again. Before one of these two sides gets a crack at the champs. Gilroy won’t know what to prepare for until then, because it’ll be against a team either happy to let his side have the ball, or one looking to keeping it away from them.

 

Chat to Shane Stapleton on Twitter @shanesaint