An intriguing battle
Gorey Rangers and Shamrock Rovers going for glory
Shamrock Rovers and Gorey Rangers will lock horns in an intriguing Wexford Volkswagen Cup final at Ferrycarrig Park on Sunday, with both clubs vying to win the prize for a second time.
The Gorey side's sole victory came way back in 1964, while Rovers finally got their hands on the cup in 2015 after four heartbreaking final defeats in the previous ten years.
Shamrock Rovers are still in with a chance of pipping old rivals North End United to the Premier Division crown, while a talented young Gorey Rangers have fallen away in the final furlong in the league, having made much of the running during the campaign.
However, Rangers have taken a creditable third spot in the top flight, and if they could bring the Wexford Cup back to the north county town they would surely be satisfied with their season's work.
Their manager, Ben Casserly, is certainly looking forward to the excitement that a cup final brings and says it is a massive day for the town.
'We've finished third in the league so the cup is now the priority for the club. There's going to be a massive support down there for us and there's a big buzz around the town.
'We're preparing well. It's a fantastic achievement. We've been working hard to get there and it's the first time in 54 years that Gorey Rangers have been in the final.'
Casserly believes Rangers are the up and coming team in Wexford football and that cup success could be just the catalyst they need to propel them to a new level.
'The average age of the squad is 23. It's a fairly young team, a team I think will go on and do things over the next few years if we stay together.
'We're adding to the squad next year. We have four new players coming in, two from the Leinster Senior League and two from other clubs around Wexford, so we're just getting stronger and stronger. We're hoping the cup final will give us the kick-start to make a real solid challenge for the league next season,' he said.
Rangers cruised through the early rounds, but they really had to pull out all the stops to overcome Courtown Hibs in a hard-fought semi-final, eventually prevailing 2-1 after extra-time, and the manager says getting through was all that mattered.
'Semi-finals are not all about performances, they're all about results. It was a very tight game as you'd expect from a local derby but we dug it out in the end and David Behan's goal was a spectacular goal to win a semi-final. We probably just about deserved it, but you'd have to feel sorry for Hibs as well, they played their part,' he said.
Their battle with Shamrock Rovers is sure to be another war of attrition and it's likely that there will be little to separate the sides, having already drawn 0-0 in the league in Ramstown earlier this season.
'It was a game we should have won. Their 'keeper pulled off some spectacular saves. Our own 'keeper pulled off one save to keep us in the game at one point but after that we slighted shaded the game. It was a cracking game of football between the two teams,' he said.
Casserly believes his charges are more than capable of toppling Shamrock Rovers if they play to their strengths, although he does point to experience of the big occasion as one thing the Enniscorthy outfit have in their favour.
'They're not a team we fear any more. We haven't been beaten by Rovers in something like 18 months. We're going into the game really focused on ourselves, knowing that we are capable of turning them over, but of course one thing we have to remember is that Rovers have bags of experience. We have quite a few players in our squad who have been to big finals as well over the years, but collectively Rovers would have more experience. They would start as favourites and the fact they don't concede many goals makes them hard to beat,' he said.
However, there's no sense that Gorey Rangers are going to Ferrycarrig Park to make up the numbers, as they'll be travelling to win and expect to be heading back up the N11 with the cup.
'We believe in ourselves, we're a very good side and on our day we're capable of beating anybody. We look forward to the game, to putting in a good performance and hopefully bringing the cup home,' said Casserly.
Shamrock Rovers supremo Nicky Murphy has been there and done it before, but the joy of cup final day has certainly lost none of its appeal.
'It's lovely to be in it and in with a shout of getting our hands on another one. It's a great occasion, so hopefully things will go right for us on the day,' he said.
Shamrock Rovers have definitely had a trickier path to the final, and apart from a comfortable win over Shelburne 'B' in the third round they've been made work hard by all of their opponents.
Rovers are the only side to stop North End's monopoly on the competition in the past five years, when they beat them in the 2015 final, and they again scuppered the Sky Blues this year, with two Eamon O'Brien goals earning them a 2-0 win over the Wexford town men in Curracloe.
They were also pushed all the way by Raheen in the second round, while Forth Celtic and Moyne Rangers were tough nuts to crack in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.
'To get to the final we haven't even had a game at home. We had to beat Division 3A winners Raheen away and they were excellent on the day we played them. They ran us very close and we ended up going through 4-2.
'We got past North End and the Moyne, who are both tough to beat, and if we want to win it we'll have to beat Gorey as well, so we'll definitely have to do it the hard way,' he said.
Murphy is certainly under no illusions about the tough challenge they face in the final and is expecting a tight tussle on Sunday.
'Gorey Rangers have been coming for the last number of years and they're improving all the time. They're a young side, but they have a bit of experience in there as well. They'll be very tough to beat.
'You'd be hoping that it's going to be wide open and a good game that we'd come out on the right side of, but it will probably be a tight, close affair. Both sides have good defences and we wouldn't expect to give up a whole lot of chances,' he said.
Shamrock Rovers are famous for their team spirit and willingness to put their bodies on the line for each other, something which makes them very difficult to beat, but they also have match-winners in their squad, and Murphy backs up that assertion.
'Our biggest strength is that we're a team. We're always together. We work hard, there's a great work ethic in the lads and they're honest. We pride ourselves on the hard work and hopefully then our talent will carry us through,' he said.
The final promises to be a fascinating encounter between two of the top sides in Wexford football, and it could be decided on the bounce of a ball.
There's sure to be very little to separate the sides and a moment of magic or a lucky break could be the difference on the day.
Both sides have match-winners in their midst, with the likes of Joe Bolger, Mark Woods or Eric Quinn capable of turning the tie in the Gorey men's favour, while players of the calibre of Eamon O'Brien, Marty Kelly or Ricky Fox, to name just a few, could do something special for Rovers, but given the quality of both teams a winning goal could come from almost any source.
It's to be a titantic tussle between two evenly-matched teams and it could well take extra-time, or even penalties, to separate the sides.