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.
Longford Town will make the trip to Dalymount Park on Friday night in rarely confident mood this season, having claimed only their second win of the campaign away to fellow relegation threatened Finn Harps last weekend. A Kevin O’Connor wonder goal just shy of the twenty minute mark at Finn Park on Friday night last gave Alan Mathews his first success with Town since his last stint in charge back in 2007. The Town boss will be hoping that newly found confidence carries through against a ”Bohs” side who will be facing into their second game of the week Continue reading →
The Longford Town FC supporters club notes summed up Friday’s upcoming game wonderfully earlier this week when the anonymous scribe declared the match in Ferrycarrig Park as not a relegation six-pointer but an eight-pointer. Without a win in 21 games, “De Town” go into this away trip knowing another defeat will surely end their already slim hopes of survival as an eight point gap would open up between themselves and the play-off position currently occupied by Friday’s hosts. However, Town fans will of course point to the fact that this is the ground where Longford picked up their opening and only win of the 2016 league campaign and hope will be high of repeating that feat given the Youths recent poor form.
Despite surpassing all expectations so far this season, voices of unrest have been emulating from the Wexford fan base for quite a few weeks now and that came to a head last weekend when Shane Keegan’s men were hammered 5-0 at home to Sligo Rovers. It should be noted however, that despite only two wins from their last six outings, those two wins were huge six pointers against Bray Wanderers and Finn Harps respectively and that form would suggest last seasons First Division champions can pull off another big result on Friday against rock bottom Longford.
As for Tony Cousins side, “De Town” have lost four of their last six matches and despite improved performances thanks to the arrival of a couple of new signings, it’s been a disastrous season on and off the pitch for the Midlands club who will surely have to reevaluate things regardless of how the season ends from here on in. The lowest attendances in the top flight, the second lowest amount of goals scored and crucially the most conceded, a real lack of grit in midfield has cost “De Town” dear. Cousins decision to release both Stephen Rice and Mark Salmon, with the latter scoring a crucial goal against the Champions Dundalk last night, has been criticsed by fans and pundits a like all season long and even should new man Gaius Makouta live up to the hype, it may well prove to be too little to late for the manager to redeem the support of the fanbase.
In terms of team selection, Cousins has some big decisions to make with a fully fit and suspension free squad to chose from. The goalkeeping situation has been another area highlighted as a weakness all season with the Town boss already on his third first-choice this season. Paul Skinner and Ian Molloy both tried and failed to nail down the position with new arrival Ryan Coulter pulling off some impressive saves in recent matches.However, Coulter’s reluctance to come off his goal line at key moments coupled with his poor kicking ability has lead to calls for Skinner to be thrown back in, and many have questioned the timing of his removal from the starting eleven with the former Athlone ‘keeper being one of the teams better performers prior to being dropped. At the back, under-19 player Tristan Noak Hofmann not only gained great acclaim but an underage Ireland call up when he was thrown into the first-team earlier this season but for a reason unknown, Hofmann has not been in the first team squad since. Experienced centre-half Pat Flynn has had a poor season due to injury but his aerial strength may suit against a direct team like Wexford and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him recalled to the starting eleven. In Midfield, the central partnership of Gannon and Hughes was nothing short of a disaster against Shamrock Rovers last time out and as a result Makouta may make his full debut, while the experienced Kevin O’Connor is a real option after he served a three match suspension. Up top the partnership of O’Sullivan and new man Dsane worked a treat in Tallaght but with Don Cowan available again after illness, Cousins may be tempted to rustle the pack with Cowan’s pace and power a real game changer when used correctly.
Wexford Youths appear to be struggling to replace a big name departure of their own with centre-back Ryan Delaney having left for Burton Albion in the Football League. Delaney was not only a rock in the Wexford defence but the youngster was also a huge fans favorite and his departure seems to have taken a bit of the early season buzz out of the atmosphere around Ferrycarrig Park. What is certain ahead of Friday’s game is the hosts have little to lose. With a five point gap already in place, Keegan’s men can afford to go for the win in front of their own fans and effectively kill of Longford’s hopes of catching them. Three home points would also close the gap on tenth placed Bray to just two with one more meeting between the sides to come towards the end of the season meaning Wexford may not need to go through the uncertainty of the relegation play-offs in their first ever season in the top flight…What an achievement that would be for what is effectively the only amateur side in the top-flight.
In the clubs most recent meeting, Wexford Youths scored six times but only four of them in the right net as two own-goals saw the scoreline end 4-2 to the visitors at City Calling Stadium. The aggression shown towards Town boss Tony Cousins at the full-time whistle from the small home crowd that night would have lead any neutrals looking on to believe the former Galway United managers time would soon be up, but despite not winning a game since, Cousins still remains in the Longford hotseat. With a home game against St.Pat’s on Monday, back to back victories for “De Town” would see them overtake the Youths in the battle for survival, but having not done so all season would suggest this may be the only chance the Red and Black of Longford get. It’s do or die at Ferrycarrig Park on Friday night and the old cliche of whoever wants it more may actually be true in this instance.
PREDICTION: Wexford Youths 1-2 Longford Town (Don Cowan with a late winner).
The sunshine has arrived just in-time for the ground staff at City Calling Stadium, where a football match resembling a water-polo contest took place against Shamrock Rovers on Saturday evening, and supporters of the Midlands club will be hoping the turn in weather will coincide with a turn in fortune for Tony Cousins rock-bottom side. Continue reading →