Sunday 25 August 2019

Division 4 can be a stepping stone for youthful team

Alan Aherne.
Alan Aherne.

Alan Aherne's On The Line column

It was the moment when Wexford football's past met its future, and with a devastating impact.

Just over 15 minutes had elapsed in the second-half of Saturday's All-Ireland Junior football semi-final in Dungarvan when the gifted Matty Forde fed Mikie Dwyer who was running off his shoulder, and the talented teenager rattled the Kerry net.

It was Roy of the Rovers stuff as the county's greatest modern-day footballer combined with a youngster who wasn't even born when the former All Star first caught our eye to score a goal against the aristocrats of the game.

And while the momentum was quickly halted and the Kingdom finished with a barrage of scores, it was nonetheless a moment that encapsulated the worth of focusing on young players in the Junior grade.

Indeed, it might be said that David Power took this policy to extremes as Dwyer was one of four Minors in all to feature along with Shane Doyle, Mark Rossiter and Aaron Maddock, while another in that category - Ronan Devereux - also played a part in the campaign.

And while detractors may point to the return of a veteran as flying in the face of the development squad concept, in all fairness nobody was disappointed at the chance to see such a supreme talent as Forde donning the purple and gold jersey for one last time.

He confirmed it was definitely his last game for Wexford in a tweet afterwards and, as an aside, he manned the posts for the Ballyfad Intermediate hurlers in their All-County League final loss to Monageer-Boolavogue in Monamolin later on a busy day.

Forde first made a serious impact in a Leinster Club game for Kilanerin against St. Sylvester's of Malahide in 1996 when Dwyer, Doyle, Rossiter, Maddock and Devereux weren't born.

He was more than likely an idol to those youngsters during the height of his powers in the mid-noughties, so it must have been a special experience to play on the same Wexford team as the attacking ace on Saturday.

I won't lie to you, when the Seniors were relegated to Division 4 of the National League earlier this year it filled me with gloom.

It's hard to stomach the prospect of potential away games against the likes of Antrim and Leitrim, not to mention dour local derbies versus Wicklow, Carlow and Waterford watched by paltry crowds.

However, given the manner in which the rest of the season panned out, I now believe our involvement in the lowest tier will offer the perfect opportunity for these young players to develop.

The championship victory over Down underlined the potential of this rookie group, and the provincial Junior success offered further evidence that David Power is moulding a new generation of footballers who will represent the county with distinction.

I heard a suggestion that the Tipperary man might also take up the reins of the Under-21 squad in 2016, and if he's interested I hope the County Board delegates let him at it.

Two-thirds of the Juniors will be eligible for that grade, so it would be a seamless transition if Power was to manage all three Wexford teams above the Minor grade.

It was encouraging to hear team captain Ciarán Lyng stress in the immediate aftermath of the Derry defeat that he has no intention of retiring, even though his final accountancy exams will occupy a lot of his time in the new year.

Hopefully that other great stalwart of the last decade, Brian Malone, will also remain with the squad because the presence of footballers of this calibre will be crucial to assist with the ongoing development of their younger colleagues.

Nobody is under any illusions regarding the size of the task facing Wexford and the vast gulf in standards between top and bottom.

Nonetheless, Power is creating a culture and an environment whereby the details on a player's birth cert. are irrelevant once enough natural ability and commitment is shown to warrant a chance.

And while the thoughts of possibly standing on a sideline in the freezing cold in Aughrim or Lemybrien is still not appealing right now and never will be, Division 4 has the potential to be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things for Power and his crew.

Wexford People

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