Youths have held their own against the heavyweights
Published 24/03/2016 | 00:00
The reminders of the brave new world inhabited by Wexford Youths are everywhere.
From the quality of opponents to the history behind some of the away venues, it's clear that the innocents from the south-east have ventured into uncharted waters.
I was reminded of that fact when I arrived early in Dalymount Park on Friday and took a long stroll around the venue widely regarded as being the true home of Irish football.
Certain parts of the ground are dilapidated and in need of remedial work, but there's no denying that the place reeks of history.
The setting itself is striking, right in the heart of Phibsborough and surrounded by rows of terraced houses, with access to the main stand gained via a narrow laneway.
I always associate Dalymount with that iconic Ireland match from 1974 when Russia came to town and Don Givens scored a hat-trick.
It was the day when a youngster called Liam Brady announced himself to the nation as a midfielder of undoubted quality, linking up with veteran captain Johnny Giles long before they shared a television studio as Ireland romped to a 3-0 victory.
I am always struck by the vast crowd any time footage of the game is shown, with people packed into the ground like sardines in an era when safety concerns were very low on the list of priorities.
Sure enough, a quick check confirms that an incredible 31,758 supporters made their way down those narrow sidestreets to turn Dalymount into a cauldron that afternoon.
And while there was only 1,336 people there on Friday, the history of the famous old ground - now documented in book form - ensures it is a daunting place to visit for newcomers.
Seven nights earlier the experience was somewhat different as Tallaght Stadium, home of Shamrock Rovers, is a product of more recent times and a very attractive modern venue with all the necessary spectator comforts.
A glance at the Hoops roll of honour in the impressive match programme adequately summed up the task facing Youths this season. I counted the grand total of 122 titles won by the famous Dublin club since its formation, covering the full range of domestic competitions and including 17 leagues and 24 FAI Cups.
In contrast, Bohemians 'only' have 76 successes to boast about! And as for Youths? Well, they just have last year's First Division crown in the bag if you leave the notable achievements of Mick Wallace's teenage ground-breakers and the women's section of the club to one side for the moment.
Despite that clear disparity in history, experience, honours and tradition, not to mention the fact that their amateurs are now facing professionals practically every week, Youths are holding their own so far and long may it continue.
Clearly there are issues to address, such as the concession of nine goals in four outings, but several players have stepped up to the plate already to suggest that the underdogs have what it takes to survive at this level.
I thought Donegal-born midfielder Jonny Bonner was excellent on the first night against Longford, and my stand-out performer in Tallaght was centre-half Lee Grace. Indeed, a closer look three nights later on 'Soccer Republic' confirmed that Rovers substitute Pat Cregg made the most of whatever contact there was between the pair to secure that late penalty.
The main man last Monday when champions Dundalk visited Ferrycarrig was attacker Paul Murphy without a doubt. He was just as good in Dalymount, and if he maintains this form I reckon some of the leading clubs will be chasing him sooner rather than later.
Overall though, Gary Delaney shaded my personal man of the match verdict against Bohs. It may seem strange to give that accolade to a centre-half when three goals were conceded, but the young defender scored one, provided the assist for another, and repeatedly cleared his lines in the second-half with a series of thumping headers.
Next up to visit Ferrycarrig will be Derry City on Saturday. With that first point now secured, let's hope that a win will quickly follow, and a few more supporters through the turnstiles wouldn't go amiss either.