Friday 15 December 2017

Youths' fixtures programme puts GAA to shame

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

The appointment of Jason Ryan to the Wexford Youths backroom staff was one of the more interesting sporting stories of the past week.

He will bring a lot of experience to his strength and conditioning role, and I've no doubt that manager Shane Keegan will draw on the Waterford man's vast wealth of knowledge built up in the cauldron of top level Gaelic football in many aspects of his team's preparation.

Something else really caught my eye though over the Christmas period, and that's the Youths' impressive fixtures schedule which starts on Friday, March 4, with a home game against Longford Town.

That will be the first of no fewer than 33 games in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division. And if any sort of a run is added in the F.A.I. Cup, EA Sports Cup and/or Leinster Senior Cup, there's a good chance that Keegan will be patrolling the sidelines for 40 competitive outings this calendar year.

Compare that position for a moment with his counterpart in charge of the Wexford Senior hurling team, Liam Dunne.

Last week I bemoaned the absence of so many of his squad from the Walsh Cup due to the third level colleges having first call on their considerable talents.

And without wishing to labour the point, but certainly to emphasise it, there's a reasonable chance if the pattern of recent seasons continues that Dunne will be denied the services of that large cohort for as many as one-quarter of his competitive outings in 2016.

Wexford only played eleven games last year between Walsh Cup, National League, Leinster and All-Ireland Championships, which is a staggeringly low tally when weighed up against what the Youths fans have to look forward to.

I'm particularly delighted for the soccer stalwarts who have followed the team from day one in 2007. Finally they will get the opportunity to either visit or greet the big guns of the sport in this country every second week, and no doubt they are counting down the days until that first fixture.

The G.A.A. will never be able to offer a similar schedule of games for just one team at its highest level, simply because the cross-over of players performing in different grades, and with their clubs as well, renders it impossible.

Nevertheless, just eleven competitive outings in a calendar year is an unacceptably low figure given the training to games ratio which has gone completely out of hand.

Already the prospects of at least a few more matches than in 2015 would appear to be bright given that the hurlers will be in the Walsh Cup semi-final at least, barring a catastrophe in Carlow on Sunday.

Four games would be two more than last season when they exited to Laois in the second round, but the time until that crucial first fortnight of the National League is whittling away with every passing week and Liam Dunne can't be any the wiser about his best 15.

By my reckoning, at least 14 young Wexford hurlers have featured with their colleges to date in the Walsh Cup. U.C.D. went down to Dublin in Belfield on Thursday by 4-15 to 3-12 with the wing-back berths manned by Conor Devitt and Jack O'Connor (0-2, 1 free). Seán Murphy of Buffers Alley was full-back, while Eoin Conroy came on and Michael O'Brien of St. Patrick's was on the bench.

Jack Guiney, Conor McDonald and HWH-Bunclody's Billy Kelly have figured with D.I.T., while Pádraig Foley, Tony French and Daire Barden (Fethard) were on duty with D.C.U., and the I.T. Carlow crew includes Sam Kelly, Michael Redmond and Seán Stafford.

I'm not privy to the inner workings of the county camp, nor Oulart-The Ballagh's for that matter, but the thought occurred to me on the drive home from Navan Sunday that a couple of full-blooded challenges between the two sides in the next fortnight might represent the best opportunity for Dunne to see all of the players at his disposal.

Perhaps this is in the pipeline already because let's face it: Wexford will learn nothing from their trip to Carlow, and while the prospect of a semi-final against Kilkenny is enticing, it would be so much better if Dunne had access to everyone with the excepwtion of the Oulart-The Ballagh crew who hopefully will go all the way.

Wexford People

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