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Acid test for Wexford but pressure on Galway to deliver - Leinster hurling final talking points

The counties lock horns at Croke Park today, with a 4pm throw-in time.

JUST A SECOND ever title for Galway or a 21st for Wexford?

All will be revealed at Croke Park this afternoon when the counties lock horns in the Leinster senior hurling final.

Galway are aiming for their first title in the Eastern province since 2012, with Wexford aiming to bridge a 13-year gap.

It’s a novel decider between two counties who have already met this year in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League, when Wexford claimed a crucial victory that effectively secured promotion.

Michael Donoghue and Davy Fitzgerald Micheál Donoghue and Galway emerged victorious against a Clare side managed by Davy Fitzgerald in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

But that’s the only time that Galway have lost in League or championship this year and the Tribesmen are now favourites to lift the All-Ireland title in September.

But before they can set their sights on Liam MacCarthy Cup glory, the Bob O’Keeffe Cup is the prize on offer at GAA HQ today.

Here, we take a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the game…

1. Acid test for Davy Fitz and Wexford

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Wexford’s progress under Davy Fitzgerald this year has been nothing short of phenomenal.

They gained promotion from Division 1B of the Allianz League, emerging from a group that contained today’s opponents and Limerick, no mean feat indeed.

Wexford, let’s not forget, are the only team to beat Galway in League or championship this year, although the Tribesmen frittered away a six-point lead late on in Salthill back in February.

Galway recovered from that and went on to win the League title outright, before racking up a combined total of 2-61 in their championship games with Dublin and Offaly.

With last year’s All-Ireland finalists Kilkenny and Tipperary sent through the back door, Galway are now the bookies’ favourites to win a first All-Ireland title since 1988.

Winning a Leinster crown and progressing straight through to an All-Ireland semi-final is viewed as central to their hopes – and Wexford must produce their best performance of the year to stop them.

2. Stand duty for Fitzy?

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Davy Fitzgerald’s eight-week suspension expired just hours after Wexford claimed a famous Leinster semi-final victory over Kilkenny.

The Clare man was hit with the ban following an altercation with Tipperary’s Jason Forde during the Allianz League semi-final, and it was a punishment he decided not to contest. 

Fitzgerald had a successful dry run in the stands when Wexford beat Laois in the provincial quarter-final, before taking up station in a custom-made box at Innovate Wexford Park for the Kilkenny clash.

Fitzgerald has since admitted that he’s tempted to remain at a high vantage point for the Croke Park showdown with Galway.

It’s perhaps surprising that more managers don’t opt to view games from the stands as there’s a much clearer view of the entire pitch from up there.

3. Wexford sweeper system tailor-made to nullify Joe Canning?

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Wexford will operate with a sweeper once again, although there are some doubts surrounding the fitness of Shaun Murphy ahead of today’s game, a player who has emerged this year as a real specialist in the role.

Operating with an extra man back should help to close down some of the pockets of space and channels in which a potentially lethal Galway attack like to operate.

But Fitzgerald will surely also be thinking about a man-marker on Joe Canning, who’s playing brilliantly in a floating number 11 role for Galway.

Matthew O’Hanlon could be the man for this task, and with Murphy sitting deeper behind him, that would allow O’Hanlon to track Canning while also maintaining a pretty solid defensive shape.

But Fitzgerald might also opt for a quicker player to follow Canning, who’s capable of wreaking havoc from general play while also instigating scores for team-mates.

Canning, although blessed with supreme hurling skills and vision, isn’t exactly lightning quick either though, and Fitzgerald might be happy enough to let O’Hanlon pick up the Portumna man.

4. History in the offing for Galway GAA

Fergal Moore lifts Bob O'Keeffe in 2012 while Gary O'Donnell hoists the JJ Nestor Cup aloft last year.

With the hurlers heavy favourites to annex a Leinster hurling title, and the footballers set for a Connacht final with Roscommon a week from today, a unique piece of history could be created.

The Tribesmen could finish their campaigns with hurling and football titles in separate provinces – the first time that’s ever been done by any county.

Back in 2012, Galway won their one and only Leinster senior hurling title to date, but the footballers lost out to Sligo in a Connacht semi-final.

Galway lost Leinster hurling finals in 2013, 2015 and 2016, while the footballers lost their 2014 Connacht final before winning the title last year.

We’re open to correction on whether or not a county has ever achieved this kind of double before in the same year but it’s certainly one for the anoraks.

5. Galway well placed to cope with Wexford’s twin terrors

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

For the first time in a long number of years, there’s a really settled feel about Galway’s defensive spine.

Daithi Burke’s an All-Star and renowned as one of the finest defenders in the modern game, while Gearóid McInerney has slotted seamlessly into the centre back role.

Burke’s expected to pick up Conor McDonald while there are a number of options for Chin.

David Burke could be asked to follow the Faythe Harriers man, who’ll look to roam around the middle third and wreak the type of havoc that helped to floor Kilkenny, while McInerney and Adrian Tuohy are other possible choices.

McDonald and Chin have been tearing it up for Wexford this year and when the sides met in the League earlier this year, the duo contributed ten points between them.

Championship is a totally different kettle of fish, however, and Galway know that if they can put the clamps on McDonald and Chin, they’ll be a long way down the road to victory.

Galway boss Micheál Donoghue is a man who puts huge emphasis on getting his defensive match-ups right and in this regard, he’ll target Chin and McDonald specifically.

6. Pressure on Galway to deliver

Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

Having achieved promotion, before steering Wexford to a first Leinster final appearance since 2008, it’s already pretty much a case of ‘job done’ for Davy Fitzgerald in 2017.

The Model County are now operating very much in bonus territory, and with an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance as a safety net to fall back on even if they do lose at Croke Park today.

That’s not to suggest, of course, that Wexford aren’t targeting anything other than a first provincial senior title since 2004.

But the bigger pressure is on Galway to produce a display which would back up their status as All-Ireland favourites.

Lose, and those old vulnerabilities could surface again, while they would be pitched into an All-Ireland quarter-final against a county with real momentum through the qualifiers.

Galway want the straight route to a semi-final and today’s Leinster final provides them with the opportunity to grab it.

With three of the last four from the 2016 All-Ireland series – holders Tipperary, runners-up Kilkenny and Waterford – showing early-season frailty, this is a huge summer of opportunity for Micheál Donoghue’s men in maroon.

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