Hunt has big week in store
new manager sets sights on last 32 clash in October
Wexford Youths take their second crack at European competition this week when the reigning Continental Tyres Women's National League champions host their UEFA Women's Champions League qualifying group in Ferrycarrig Park.
Three European teams make long trip to the south-east of Ireland for an historic event, showcasing the champions from Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Moldova. Youths will hosts all three in Ferrycarrig while the visitors' other matches will take place in Waterford's R.S.C.
First up for Wexford is a daunting test against Kazakh champions BIIK Kazygurt, kicking off tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m.. That is followed two nights later when Youths entertain Gintra of Lithuania in Ferrycarrig Park.
Should Wexford manage to pick up at least four points from those opening two games, the third outing against Moldovian champions Criuleni on Sunday (2 p.m. kick-off) will decide whether Wexford will make the knockout stage. Only top spot in the mini-group will advance.
Youths will need to up their performance from the league season so far, having only picked up just one point from their opening two games. Youths manager Gary Hunt explained the approach they had to the early part of the season:
'We've had league games before the Champions League so we used them as preparation games. At the same time we didn't want to lose focus on the games at hand so we approached them as we would any game, as the most important game for us.
'We got a draw against UCD but then obviously a disappointing loss to Peamount. To give them a little bit of credit they did put a good gameplan on us and got the win in the end.'
Just two games into his new position as boss, Hunt has seen a mountainous injury list grow even further. It's such a deep list that it's hard to draw parallels with any other team in any other sport, but Youths are hopeful of seeing a couple of regulars back for their opening tie, with Jessica Gleeson, Kylie Murphy and Orlaith Conlon all expected to be available.
'You'd struggle to pick up on anyone that has an injury list like we do,' admitted Hunt.
'But look, we're not going to use that as an excuse to not be able to perform on the pitch. The players we have in, when we put them into the first eleven, we have full trust in them that they'll be able to do the job.'
It's given Hunt an opportunity to address the dearth of personnel coming through from the under-age set-up, and the Tramore native has been able to do that by infusing young talent into his 22-woman squad from outside.
'Orla Casey from Kilkenny was one of the stars of this year's Under-16 Gaynor Cup,' Hunt said. 'We have Sophie Lenehan, a local girl who's coming back to us after her season with Shels. It's good to have some of the next best young talent coming through because I think that's one area that we need to address over the next couple of seasons.'
Whether the youngsters will be needed in the next week is yet to be seen, but with three games in six days it's fair to say that the squad will be tested to the fullest.
Hunt has been busy preparing for the challenges his side will face. The FAI supplied video on Kazygurt, taking some of the mystery out of the top seeds. Youths faced and beat Gintra last season, so the Lithuanians will be out for revenge, but fourth seed Criuleni will be an unfamiliar foe.
While it's sure to be an experience for everyone connected with Wexford Youths, at the end of the day, the opportunity is there to create history and advance to the next stage and go head-to-head with the competition's elite.
'They put in so much work last season, this is a reward for that,' Hunt said. 'First and foremost we've got to make sure they enjoy it but at the same time they've got to realise that this is where they want to be.
'There's no point in just making up the numbers, we are going to better ourselves, going to compete against these teams. If we get through we'll be absolutely delighted with that. I can guarantee that if we do qualify it won't be through any amount of luck, we'll be well worth it.'
Youths are looking for a bumper crowd for what should be an entertaining set of games at Ferrycarrig Park.
Hunt is hoping that the whole country will get behind his side, not just those from the south-east.
'Anyone that's seen the girls play before know the workrate, everything they put on the pitch, they leave it all out there,' explained Hunt. 'It's not only to Wexford, we've got players ranging from Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Limerick, all over the country.
'It's to the south-east, it's to all of Ireland. Get behind the team, we are Ireland's representatives in European women's football. I encourage anyone and everyone to get to Ferrycarrig and cheer the girls because it will get that extra ten per cent, 15 per cent from them and hopefully we'll have a last 32 tie here in October.'