Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball column
Published 29/09/2015 | 00:00
It may not have been the perfect weekend but it got off to the ideal start, with Wexford Youths celebrating promotion to the Premier Division of the SSE Airtricity League.
Shane Keegan's side will ply their trade in the top flight next season after chalking up a massive 3-0 victory over Athlone Town on Friday night - setting off scenes of celebration which Ferrycarrig Park had never witnessed in their nine years in senior football.
On the final whistle of Andrew Mullally, supporters rejoiced in what were incredible scenes, while the backdrop in the stand saw a huge group of loyal Youths supporters celebrate in song - bringing a long journey to an end as they at long last can now look forward to top flight football at the venue.
It just goes to show how much this group support their football club. They've given their backing to the players throughout the seasons, and have have travelled the length and breadth of the country, which is a magnificent thing to witness. Last Friday night was an incredible show of support.
It's been such an amazing season. Having witnessed every home game, bar one, this season took on a whole new meaning as it progressed through the rounds. Always in the top three or four teams challenging at the top, the Youths under the expert management of 33-year-old Shane Keegan, one of the youngest bosses in the league, eventually masterminded a run of victories that saw them leap-frog their rivals, getting them into a title-winning position and seeing them lift the title and gain promotion with two games still to play.
Although they had three games still to play prior to kick-off to lift the title, they got the three points required, as they steamrolled over Athlone Town in the closing half hour with a display fitting for the occasion.
It was a night of records, the Youths bringing Premier football to the county for the very first time, while Danny Furlong capped a joyous occasion with his 28th goal of the season, setting a league record, beating the 27 goals of Andy Myler (Athlone Town) back in 2000-'01.
Spraying champagne around and being surrounded by girls in bikinis, as AFC Bournemouth were last season when achieving promotion to the Premier flight in England, may not have been the scene at Ferrycarrig Park - but it this was an evening of fun and drama enjoyed by young and old, along with the middle aged.
The Youths had the white-haired Mick Wallace, the man who brought senior soccer to the county, to contend with as he joined in the celebrations. Russian billionaire Maxim Demin threw a four-day bender for his party of players and staff to mark their promotion - but for the Youths it was a simple night of merriment in the clubhouse as supporters and players mingled with club personnel. And who had the biggest smile of the night? Mick Wallace.
Friday night capped a magical season for the Youths but they still have two games to play. We may not have street parades or a civic reception to mark the achievement, but the sports-loving people of Wexford still have an opportunity to show their support with a final home game against third place-chasing Shelbourne on Friday week, October 9, with an 8 p.m. kick-off.
It will be another magical night, capping a magical season for the Youths, as they will be presented with the Division 1 trophy by the National League officers, which should set off another night of celebrations.
In just over two weeks' time, Shane Keegan will be back at his desk, planning a way forward for the 2016 season in top flight football.
Keegan will obviously need to improve his squad, but no doubt he will remain loyal to his current bunch of players, whose commitment and improvement all season has been quite remarkable.
The club now plan to invest more in the structures of the club, work harder on and off the pitch during the off-season, but they will not start just throwing money at it just because they are in the Premier Division. Wexford Youths will retain its amateur ethos. While they will look for quality, they are well aware of the plight that befell other clubs when the purse strings were loosened.
So just for now let's celebrate an historic time in Wexford Youths' history. The personnel are at the helm to look after the club for their vibrant march into Premier soccer next season.