An ever present in the Wexford Youths starting eleven since arriving at the South-East club in 2012, Graham Doyle has seen more than most. Promotion as champions in 2015, a run to the Leinster Senior Cup final in 2016, subsequent relegation just months later, followed by a change from “Youths” to “FC”. Yet despite all that, Doyle never expected to wait so long for a first win in the second tier this season. Last Friday’s 1-0 win at home to Shelbourne may have seemed insignificant to most, but around the picturesque surroundings of Ferrycarrig Park it was celebrated as a new beginning, for what is technically a new football club.
Having entered the League of Ireland family back in 2007, Mick Wallace’s Wexford Youths soon became one of the most recognisable clubs in the land, thanks to their luminous pink-strip and Wallace’s eye-catching hairstyle, as the current Wexford TD took the reigns from the dugout for the clubs first three seasons in the First Division. While crowds were modest and results slow to turn their way, eventually the Youths project began to spring into life as a first major cup final in 2008 saw a bumper crowd turn out at the now FAI owned venue, and despite the 6-1 hammering handed down by Derry City the future looked bright for this fledgling club.
The arrival of current Galway United boss Shane Keegan in 2012 would prove to be a real turning point for a now stagnating Youths. The former FC Carlow boss implemented a three-year plan which would come to fruition in 2015 as the Youths claimed the First Division title for the first-time in their brief history and with it a seat at the table of Irish football’s finest. Despite a promising start to life in the top flight, it all became too much for a club still operating off a largely amateur budget and set-up and the Youths final game, not just in the top-fight but as a club would come in a heart-breaking play-off final second leg defeat to Drogheda United.
As Shane Keegan departed for pastures new along with many of the clubs key on field assets, a new name was also in the offing. Financial issues had always dogged this small yet gracious football club and the only way to keep League of Ireland football on the map in Wexford was to rebirth under the name Wexford FC.
So not only was Friday’s 1-0 triumph over one of Irish football’s most historic names a season first, it was in fact a first ever win for Wexford FC under their new banner. Given all the ups and downs of the past twelve months perhaps it was unsurprising to see this new Wexford venture slow to take off? Not in the opinion of long-time servant Doyle, who despite his shock at going twelve league games without a win did offer his thoughts on the reasoning behind it.
“Yeah, it’s been surprising that we have taken so long to get a win, but it’s a very young inexperienced squad compared to the others in the division. That said we’ve been unfortunate in a lot of games.”
With three of their last four defeats coming with just a one-goal margin it is easy to see Doyle’s frustrations, although a heavy 5-0 defeat at the hands of Waterford FC in the EA Sports Cup perhaps does show the difference between the has and the has nots of this division.
With just six points from the opening thirteen league encounters, any hopes of an instant return to the Premier Division for Wexford football are long gone. When questioned on the goals for the remainder of the season as a result, Doyle responded by saying:
“I think the goal is the same as the start of the season, finish as high as possible and try to improve the squad so that next year we are in a position to push for a playoff spot.”
At 38 years of age many may be surprised to see the veteran goalkeeper discussing plans for next-season already and when quizzed on possible thoughts post-playing days and a possible coaching role, Doyle gave little away.
“At the moment I’m just thinking about playing but you never know.”
Sadly, given the FAI’s wreckless decision to restructure the divisions to two sets of ten teams starting from next season, the loss of a play-off system this campaign has saw many teams promotions dreams crumpled long before they could ever really get under-way. When asked for his thoughts on the lack of a play-off route for First Division sides this season, Doyle replied:
“For us this season was always about starting fresh as a squad so I don’t think it affects us as much as others, but I do believe that a playoff place should still be in the division. The three teams coming down I’m sure would love the chance to playoff to stay in the division, a ridiculous decision to get rid of playoff!”
Saturday’s opponents Longford are perhaps one of the second tier clubs most affected by the changes in policy this season. Hotly tipped to contend for promotion this campaign, “De Town” have flopped to date and find themselves with an Everest-like mountain of fifteen-points to climb, with free-spending Waterford FC currently looking down from the submit. Appearing to now have nothing other than pride to play for, attendances are expected to take a dramatic nose dive at the Midlands club, while they may also find it hard to attract match-day sponsors given the subsequent lack of interest locally. When asked if he was surprised by Longford’s fortunes this season, particularly given the signings they made, Doyle was honest in his assessment.
“Being honest….yes, I had them down as joint favorite with Waterford. Football is a strange game and sometimes it takes time to adjust to different situations. I’m sure that Longford will come right eventually and will certainly push higher in the league before it ends…..hopefully starting next week.”
In a follow on to that response, Doyle was asked where he saw Saturday’s game decided but appeared keen to not give too much away, while also wanting to remain respectful to the hosts.
“Tough question….The squad that longford have means we can only try to perform at our best and hope they have an off night. I’ve played a good few games against them and haven’t been on the winning side as much as I would have liked.”
Despite the longest wait for a win in both divisions, Doyle revealed a sense of confidence among the Wexford FC locker-room this season, while also going on to praise the impact of new boss Damien Locke.
“Believe it or not we’ve been confident going into all of our games and this match will be no different.”
“Things will always be different under a new manager but with Damien (Locke) it’s a little bit easier as he was assistant to Shane (Keegan) for a couple of seasons. He has a lot of the same traits as Shane and I’m sure he’ll be as much of a success as he was.”
Wanting to round of the discussion on a positive and reflective note, the legendary Wexford shot-stopper spoke of his finest memory between the sticks at Ferrycarrig Park in years gone by, while also wanting to dismiss the rumor that the name change at the club had changed anything.
“My best memory to date is winning the First Division in 2015, an unbelievable achievement for a club like ours!”
“The name change and things like that doesn’t really affect players, we just go out and try to perform on the pitch, that stuff is for the committee and owners.”
Prior to the start of the 2017 season, not too many would have envisaged this meeting of Longford Town and Wexford FC as being a bottom-of the table encounter, however after respective poor runs of form nothing more than pride is realistically on the line in the Midlands on Saturday night (kick-off 7:30PM).
Alan Mathews Longford Town team come into this home-tie off the back of a horrendous couple of weeks which has saw “De Town” go not only four games in all competitions without a win but also without scoring a single goal. The last time the “Red and Black” of Longford successfully found the back of the opposition net was on April 29th, in the now infamous Midlands derby against Athlone Town as Enda Curran bagged a hat-trick. That result had saw the Midlands outfit claim back to back home wins for the first-time in 2017, however hopes of a treble failed dramatically when UCD left with all three points and 1-0 win just a fortnight ago.
Last Friday’s defeat away to league leaders Waterford FC, also a 1-0 scoreline, sees “De Town” enter this weekends round of fixtures an astonishing fifteen-points off the pace, with manager Alan Mathews admitting it is now extremely unlikely his side will play Premier Division football next season. Continue reading →
It was heart-breaking to me personally, and a shock to us all when the news broke regarding the end of Wexford Youths. It was a well-run club, with great people involved. But in football, as in life, things move on, and as much as we can sometimes want them to, things cannot stay the same forever. You have to just pull up your socks, and get on with things.
Having started the season as joint bookies favorites for promotion alongside free-spending Waterford FC, defeat to the ”Blues” at the RSC last night effectively ended the already slim remaining hopes of seeing Longford Town return to the Premier Division at the first attempt. A Thirteenth minute long-range strike from Derek Daly condemned ”De Town” to a sixth league defeat of the season, only the two sides below them have lost more, Athlone Town with seven losses and Wexford with eight. The questions that must now be asked by followers of the Midlands club is why the total non event of a season to date and where do ”De Town” go from here? Are there any quick-fixes available or is a long-term remedy the only solution?
Tackling the first of those two questions, Longford’s problems this season are clear. Unfortunately for manager Alan Mathews, his side have found themselves stuck in the lethal combination of not conceding soft goals at one end while failing to convert glorious opportunities at the other side of the pitch. With a record of conceding a goal a game so far this season, the importance of been ruthless in front of goals is massive for Longford, but with only nine goals on the charts after thirteen games the results are only ever going to go one way sadly.
Perhaps fingers can be pointed at the backroom staff for not signing enough cover in forward areas should injuries occur, as they have done this season. However, when you look at the pedigree of players such as David O’Sullivan and Enda Curran and consider the fact that wide men Don Cowan, Cody Mulhall and Jake Kelly can all play up front too, it was hard for anyone to envisage such a lack of goals.
As mentioned, injuries have taken their toll yet again this season at the City Calling Stadium, where attendances have hit desperate lows, with attacking units O’Sullivan, Curran, Cowan, Kelly, Boyne and Mulhall all spending time of the treatment table this season. Other new arrivals such as Dylan McGlade, who so much was expected of have totally failed to perform and that has led to calls from the fanbase for local players such as Dan Beya and Aodh Dervin to be given their chance, especially now that any hopes of promotion are seemingly dead in the water.
While chances have been spurned on a regular basis this season by the likes of Curran and O’Sullivan, overall the lack of creativity in this Longford team is startling. Alan Mathews has opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the 2017 campaign, with an emphasis on possession football. However, while Longford undoubtedly have one of the higher possession rates in the First Division, the majority of their play is coming in their own half and as a result they are inviting pressure on themselves. When the ball eventually does reach the final third the move more often that not breaks down in an aimless lofted ball over the top and it is easy to see why the likes of Enda Curran in particular, who appears more and more isolated at the top of the pitch each week, are becoming visibility animated by the week.
Tony Cousins was often lambasted for his direct style of play, particularly when he had a target man in Gary Shaw at his disposal but at least there was a clear style of play (or lack of it as his critics argued). However, when you watch Alan Mathews current side it all appears just too nice, with pointless passing across the back four and no needle where it is needed in the centre of the park and further on. While new signing Dean Zambra has grown into a holding role stronger and stronger by the game, his midfield partner Kevin O’Connor just can’t seem to rediscover his 2014 form.
With O’Connor reaching the latter stage of his career and Zambra more of a destructor than creator, there is a clear lack of mobility in the Longford midfield, which has been overrun on multiple occasions by opposition sides this season.
So can these issues be fixed by a couple of simple tweaks in the upcoming transfer window? A young box to box midfielder similar in style to when Mark Salmon signed from Athlone would certainly add some much needed mobility to a robotic looking Longford midfield. In wide areas ”De Town” are crying out for some much needed quality but unless the club are willing to let go of some of the current squad already at their disposal, it is unlikely the board would be willing to spend any more on a wage bill that is already the second highest in the league.
Despite Longford’s troubles this season, the back four has looked a lot more solid than it did at the start of the campaign with Langtry, O’Reilly, Walsh and particularly Hofmann impressing greatly. With Noel Haverty out injured at present and Rhys Gorman and Aidan Friel ready made options on the Longford bench, that part of the squad needs no real adjustment. In fact, If the coaching staff can find a way to just cut out the needless unforced errors at the back, it would be among one of the more solid back-fours in the division.
At the far end of the pitch, O’Sullivan has failed to rediscover the First Division form that brought him to prominence in 2013 and 2014, while Enda Curran has been a real disappointment since arriving from Galway United in the off-season. With free scoring strikers at a premium, Mathews may be forced to look outside of the League of Ireland if he is to consider a new front man and that constitutes a gamble in itself, although David O’Sullivan is a prime example of the talent that can be found in the non-leagues, having signed from Wayside Celtic in 2013 prior to becoming Longford Town’s all-time leading goalscorer by the mid-way point of the 2014 season!
However, even if Longford were to make adjustments in the transfer window it is unlikely they will ever claw back the fifteen-point gap that now separates themselves and Waterford, who occupy the only promotion place on offer this season. That begs the question, with nothing of note to play for, attendances on a dramatic slide and sponsors unlikely to get involved between now and the end of the season, would a more dramatic approach make sense?
The issue of local players, more so the lack of them within the senior set-up at the club has been a talking point ever since Longford Town joined the League of Ireland in the mid-eightees. While Darragh Doherty, Aodh Dervin and Dan Beya have all represented the club in pre-season and in a Leinster Senior cup tie away to Firhouse Clover, they have yet to feature in the league.
Bar Tristan Noack Hofmann, no local player has represented the club at senior LOI level since Michael Lee. The fact that four local players saw action against the likes of champions Dundalk in pre-season garnered great attention on both social media and local press so you would have to imagine that would be amplified if they were to play a number of First Division games in the second half of the season. With only 245 people turning out for the last home game at City Calling Stadium versus UCD, it is possible that figure could fall even lower when bottom side Wexford visit on Saturday. Prior to the UCD clash there was still a faint hope Longford could mount a title challenge this season but following that defeat to UCD and now to Waterford, those hopes are now long gone and with no relegation from the second tier, Saturday’s tie is now effectively a dead rubber.
As already mentioned, only Waterford spent more on their playing squad than Longford for the 2017 season. With attendances as low as they are, the end of season prize money not even worth mentioning and a lack of match day/pub sponsors now likely given the lack of interest in the club locally, one would have to question if the wages been paid out are worth it going forward? Sitting third from bottom in an eight-team division and level on points with a side who are currently subject of an FAI investigation into irregular betting patterns, it does raise the question if a predominantly locally based side could do much worse?
Sadly senior local league football in Longford is a far cry from the strength it experienced decades ago, with a lack of suitable playing surfaces available within the county and the standard suffering greatly as a result. However, with the under 17’s and under 19’s LOI now in place, there is finally a proper pathway on offer to talented youngsters with an ambition of playing LOI football. However, even those young players will admit the gap between under-age and First Division football is a large one to bridge so the club would have to explore other options.
Nearby counties such as Westmeath and this season in particular Roscommon have grabbed attention with their local sides performing well on a national level. Boyle Celtic’s FAI junior cup run saw them surpass any local media coverage Longford Town have gained this season and the fact that a huge crowd came to show their support at their semi-final at the Showgrounds in Sligo shows the feel good factor that can be generated by a local team. Recently, Boyle had two of their players selected to represent the Republic of Ireland’s amateur international side, a team that David O’Sullivan was a key player for during his non league days. Perhaps these are the sort of players Longford could look to add in around young local lads such as Doherty, Beya, Dervin and Hofmann?
These suggestions are of course just that, they would require a hell of a lot more thinking and analysing by the powers that be at Longford Town Football club, however we all saw the consequences of a lack of action at the top last season, when though decisions clearly had to be made but in-action followed. While there are no sporting consequences for finishing towards the bottom of the First Division, it would be a dangerous move for the club to just allow this season to drift away without some sort of plan for the future in place, other than just tossing money at another new manager and squad of players next season. Now is the time for a long term plan at Longford Town and perhaps a local emphasis is the way to go both on and off the pitch?
When the fixtures were announced ahead of the 2017 season many saw this Friday’s game at the RSC as being a potential promotion six-pointer. With both Waterford and Longford spending freely during the off-season, the bookmakers made the two joint favorites for the First Division title. However, while Lee Power’s “Blues” have won seven of their opening twelve league games, Longford Town already find themselves twelve-points behind the early leaders with just three wins to their credit this season. Continue reading →
Charlie Walker Tribute by Marty Stapleton, Longford Town FC Statistician and historian.
It was very sad to hear the news of Charlie Walker’s passing earlier this week. He was manager of Longford Town FC way before I first started going to games but considering his high standing within the game with St. Patrick’s Athletic, who he brought to the FAI cup final in 1980 and won a Leinster Senior Cup with in ’83, with Home Farm and an Irish junior international side that contained the likes of Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, Charlie Walker deserves to be remembered for his services to the game here in Ireland. For those who may not remember Charlie Walker’s time in charge of “De Town”, below is a timeline of major events during his spell in the Midlands Continue reading →