Caution required, but Youths within reach of big time
Published 14/07/2015 | 00:00
Whisper it, but something special may be in the pipeline in Ferrycarrig Park.
Based on current form and the trend of the season to date, it looks like Wexford Youths are in with their best chance yet of gaining promotion to the Premier Division of the SSE Airtricity League for the first time since the formation of the club in 2007.
However, that opening paragraph is penned with a degree of caution, as a lot can happen in the last eleven games of the season.
And judging by the programme notes of manager Shane Keegan ahead of the recent 4-0 home win over Waterford United, he feels exactly the same way.
Indeed, it was refreshing to read his considered opinion as he stressed his preference for having people with level heads around him. That's because, in his view, there's a tendency to think the team is unstoppable after a few wins, whereas a couple of losses may give the impression that 'the whole world is caving in'.
Keegan is placed firmly in the middle between those contrasting viewpoints and, while he feels his players are capable of maintaining their fine form, he also reckons that at some stage they'll lose two games on the trot.
Does that make him a pessimist? Far from it I would contend, rather a pragmatist. If and when a bleak spell arrives between now and October 17, Keegan's calm approach will be just what his players require to keep them focused.
Given how the season has panned out since, it's somewhat ironic to note that the only double defeat to date came in the first two games against lowly Cabinteely and Waterford United who now occupy the bottom two places. Those ghosts have been well and truly exorcised since with home wins over the same opponents by 7-0 and 4-0 margins respectively.
Clearly the goal for Youths is to maintain top spot in the division as this would ensure automatic promotion to the top flight. The second potential route is a real minefield, although it would be accepted with open arms if the team happens to slip out of pole position.
In that scenario, the second- and third-placed clubs would play each other home and away on the last two weekends of October. The winner on aggregate would then meet the eleventh-placed Premier club, again home and away, to determine the last place among the bright lights for 2016.
In other words, four tough games in a fortnight, compared to the satisfaction of being crowned champions against Finn Harps in Ballybofey on October 17.
That may prove to be a huge game for both clubs given that the Donegal side, and Europa League surprise packets U.C.D., are the Youths' main rivals. Shelbourne currently lie fourth but it would be a disappointment to any of the top three if they allowed the Tolka Park crew into the mix at this stage.
With the Belfield students travelling to face Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia on Thursday, their trip to Ferrycarrig Park 24 hours later has been postponed. That will be a key encounter for Keegan's side when the re-fixture takes place.
I have attended three recent games - the FAI Cup loss to Premier title-chasing Cork City, and the league victories over Shelbourne and Waterford United. The lively atmosphere at the latter, and good-natured banter between fans, made for an enjoyable night on and off the field, and hopefully the buzz will be maintained until the end of the season.
It was notable too that no fewer than eight Wexford natives lined out in that south-east derby. That's a gradual return to the way it used to be, and it will ensure that more locals give up their Friday nights to watch the Youths.
My interest in programme collecting is well known to regular readers of this column, and I recently obtained some for Youths' away fixtures during their first year in the league (2007).
For the trip to Dundalk on April 26 of that year, all 24 squad members had signed from Wexford clubs; with county footballers Ben Brosnan, Joey Wadding and Conor Sinnott the stand-out names!
A lot of players have donned the distinctive pink jersey since then; let's hope it adorns the Premier Division next season.