Eddie Brennan: 'Laois will look to keep it tight at the back'
By Ben Bernie
Wexford and Laois head to Kilkenny on Saturday evening eager to right the wrongs of recent performances. Laois to prove they are better than the results they achieved in the 2021 National League, where they lost all five games and shipped some heavy beatings. And Wexford to prove their performances in the winter championship of 2020 were just a blip, and is not where they are really at.
Both sides were outstanding in 2019, Wexford were Leinster Champions and on the cusp of an All-Ireland final, while Laois were Joe McDonagh Champions and defeated Dublin to reach a quarter final. Since then, neither side has won a championship game, but for one that will change on Saturday. Speaking to The Hurling Podcast, former Laois manager Eddie Brennan thinks they are up against it.
“Once you step up to the Leinster Championship, you really need your good preseason, you need to get your injuries right, and they have a couple of significant injuries at the moment, Covid has definitely hampered them making progress. There’s probably concern because they haven’t played with any real fluency, there have been patches in matches where they played quite well, but they have taken some decent beatings.”
In the first round of the league this year Wexford hammered Laois by 19 points, it was a day where neither side looked great. Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald clearly wasn’t happy that day, and they have had mixed performances since then.
“Wexford need to tidy up” says Brennan. “There was an element of untidiness that was in their play against Kilkenny, they looked off the pace, maybe they had a big training session the day before which Davy Fitz likes to do when the match was of no significance really, championship is everything for them now, I’d imagine his key is tidying up pieces of housekeeping. They’ll be expected to do the job, if they have all their big guns firing and on the pitch.
“They haven’t had a good run in, take the three years that everything went well for Wexford, they had some good run ins and some good matches. Covid this year and last year has hampered them a small bit. They looked to be that little bit better against Dublin, look to be coming back to themselves. If you were to take 2 big positives from it, they played Dublin and won, also went to Clare and turned over a sizable lead.
“The positives are a few of the guys, Rory and Lee, Conor Mac, they’re all playing matches so their match sharpness should be decent, I would expect them to put it together, to be a little bit more organised and to be really at it. Realistically they should be getting through this match. From a Laois point of view I hope to god they go out and give a mighty performance and put their best foot forward. And that they don’t ship a big beating in that match.”
Wexford have in the past been criticised for their style of play, and in particular their use of an out and out sweeper. But Brennan sees the nuances of the system. “There’s that break forward element, the big loss is Páidí Foley, he gives them that, he gives you those couple of points in matches, 2 years ago in that semi Shaun Murphy was flying up and down the field, The set up is that it gives lads licence to get up the field knowing that Kevin Foley sits back. “I love to see Rory (O’Connor) get on the ball, and Conor Mac is a good target man, if you have someone as good as Conor Macdonald in there, for me you’re going to get the ball into him as much as possible. He’ll take it whatever way it goes into him, he’s good in the air, he’s physically strong, he has an eye for a goal. There’s still a place for hitting (the ball) on the edge of the square, we’ve seen a lot of goals coming from that this year.
Laois have not been playing well and have significant injuries which has disrupted their campaign thus far. John Lennon, Podge Delaney and sharpshooter Mark Kavanagh are missing to name a few. So Brennan thinks they may be quite conservative. “Laois are probably not playing with enough fluency to really go at them, what Cheddar might look to do is keep it tight at the back, stack it with bodies, then use the likes of Paddy Purcell, who is very athletic to maybe carry the ball up the field, and get it inside to the likes of Ross (King) who is dangerous, I worked with him, he’s a really good player, well able to deal with the ball, well able to score.” Podge Delaney did a decent job on Tony Kelly when they met Clare last November, but injuries seem to have been hampering him this season.
With Rory O’Connor being Wexford’s main threat in the forwards, you would expect Laois to try and curtail him, so someone else may have to take up the man marking mantle. “Donncha Hartnett is a guy with real discipline and can shut a lad down, but probably better in the full line. I think Donncha is a guy that’s capable of marking someone like conor mac, he has that real full back discipline in him or corner back discipline. “Jack Kelly has athleticism, bue he gives you something going up the field as well, he’s a guy that’s able to carry the ball, it’s hard to know after that because Rory plays in so many areas of the pitch, these guys will pull a good defender out to open a door for somebody else and that’s one thing that Wexford do at times.
If you decide to man mark someone like Rory and he’s playing full forward, well he’s going to go for a run and bring you out. Some defenders are very comfortable in that danger zone in front of the goal and when you take them out it leaves you a little bit exposed.”
Venue: UPMC Nowlan Park
Day: Saturday 26th June