Saturday 16 December 2017

Alan Aherne's On The Line column

Alan Aherne.
Alan Aherne.

Every team or individual dreams of that perfect sporting season when it all goes according to plan and the hard work is richly rewarded.

That's easier said than done of course, and the highs are a lot more difficult to come by than the lows. However, when it all does come right it's one of the best feelings in the world.

Wexford Youths savoured that special experience on an emotional night on Friday, and it was a pleasure to be there and witness their unbridled joy at entering soccer's top tier in this country.

It couldn't have been scripted any better, with so many boxes ticked before a fine attendance.

The fact that the Youths grabbed the win that secured the title in front of their own fans was most appropriate and fitting.

And to add to the celebrations, the goal which broke the deadlock also guaranteed the prolific Danny Furlong a place in the record books as it brought his tally for the season to 28 after just 26 games: an all-time high for the division which surpassed the 27 scored by Andy Myler of Athlone Town in 2000-'01.

I was also delighted to see the team staying true to its core values despite the high stakes. They weren't interested in sitting back and consolidating that one-goal lead; instead they continued doing what they have done so well all season, entertaining and attacking at pace.

The last ten minutes were memorable as the lead was doubled before a third goal followed in added time.

It's one thing to win a title at any level, but to do so in such impressive style is the hallmark of a classy team, and that's exactly what Shane Keegan has created.

And as the celebrations began in earnest in front of the stand, the genial manager from Laois stood back from his players with his infant son in his arms and took it all in from a short distance away.

He has done a magnificent job since taking the reins in 2012, and his shrewd guidance has brought the players to new heights.

An incredible 22 points from a possible 24 have been garnered from the last eight games, with 14 goals scored in the process.

I can recall making the long drive home from Athlone on July 24 after witnessing a comprehensive 3-1 win for the midlanders. I reckoned, like most observers at that stage, that it would all go down to the wire and that Youths would be travelling to Ballybofey on October 17 needing a result against Finn Harps to either clinch the title or secure a play-off place.

In hindsight though, that result was the best thing that ever happened as it galvanised the players into producing that marvellous run since which has included four clean sheets and four come-from-behind victories.

Naturally the gifted Danny Furlong deserves huge plaudits for his finishing prowess, but the modest striker will be the first to admit that he didn't do it alone.

A lot of crowd favourites adorn the Ferrycarrig Park playing squad, and I was particularly delighted to see Eric Molloy getting his name on the scoresheet on Friday.

The Rathvilly lad simply doesn't know the meaning of a lost cause as he chases everything down the flanks, and his appetite for hard work typifies the positive approach which has guided Youths to the top flight.

As for centre-half Gary Delaney, he must be one of the coolest customers in the business. If it was announced that the world was ending tomorrow, I'm convinced that the towering number four would be the one telling everyone else to keep calm and not to worry. His composure at the heart of the defence was admirable.

And team captain Graham Doyle deserves a special mention too. Back in the 1950s when Wexford hurling was in its pomp, I'm reliably informed that fans revered Kilkenny imports Nick O'Donnell and Tom Ryan; it's no exaggeration to say that the Youths faithful feel the exact same way about their Noreside number one who has played in more than one hundred consecutive league games at this stage.

Finally I must mention Mick Wallace. It was his dream initially, and it didn't start in 2007, rather back in 1991 when he first got involved in youths football. Without him we wouldn't have been able to savour Friday night, and for that we should be very grateful.

Wexford People

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