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Monday 14 October 2019

Dismal year ends with a loss

SSE Airtricity First Division: Wexford FC1 Cabinteely FC 2

Goalscorer Conor English shields the ball from Cabinteely captain Kevin Knight
Goalscorer Conor English shields the ball from Cabinteely captain Kevin Knight

Alan Aherne in Ferrycarrig Park

The poorest campaign in the county's history of League of Ireland football concluded along predictable lines in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday, with the misery extending from the weather to the outcome as Wexford F.C. succumbed to promotion-chasing Cabinteely F.C. on a 2-1 scoreline.

It did look like the long-suffering small band of loyal home supporters might have something small to celebrate when Conor English equalised from the penalty spot in the 78th minute, getting his first goal of the season in the process.

However, not for the first time in a year to forget, Wexford conceded a goal in double-quick time after registering themselves.

And the Cabinteely winner came from a diminutive footballer who, it appears, has travelled across the world with the aim of inflicting as much misery as possible on the south-east crew.

Japanese import Yuta Sasaki scored with his first touch on his debut to become an instant crowd favourite at Stradbrook when Cabo won the previous meeting of the sides 2-0 in late June.

And he was up to his old tricks once more in the 81st minute on Friday, stooping to head a Ronan O'Kelly cross from the left that bounced in front of him into the top corner of the net, even though he was the smallest man on the field.

It was a fruitful night on the whole for O'Kelly too, as he had earlier availed of a Keith Dalton cross from the right to give the visitors the lead in the 71st minute.

Effectively, there was nothing at stake in this game, and it showed in a very dull first-half.

Wexford F.C. knew that they were destined to finish rock bottom for the first time regardless of the outcome, while Cabo were set to meet Longford Town in a two-leg play-off.

The game saw popular Waterford man Thomas Croke bid a fond farewell to the club he has served with distinction in a total of 62 league games over three seasons, having previously featured in the old Youths set-up.

He is likely to head to the United States in pursuit of his next football adventure, and he was given the captain's armband for the night before getting a generous round of applause when he was substituted in the 68th minute.

The only chance worth recording for Wexford in an opening half lacking quality came early in the second quarter when right winger Emmet Nugent shot across goal, high and wide.

Corey Chambers had saved well from Ferrycarrig Park old boy Shane Barnes early on, while the latter was only inches away from getting a telling touch on a left-wing cross from Dean Casey in the 14th minute.

Chambers again did well to deny Keith Dalton from close range at the expense of the first Cabo corner midway through the half, while their second yielded nothing in the 43rd minute.

In between, there had been bookings for Wexford duo Andrew O'Connor and Thomas Croke, with the latter consistent to the bitter end as he has always been fond of a yellow card!

The game opened up more on the re-start, with Emmet Nugent afforded plenty of space down the right flank by a Cabinteely side which saw manager Pat Devlin giving chances to some fringe players while resting several regulars in advance of the play-offs.

The new half was just over four minutes old when one such run and through ball by Nugent gave Seán Roche a chance for his second league goal of the season, and third in all.

However, his shot was saved by Benjamin Clark, and Shane Griffin went on to shoot left and wide as Wexford continued to show some early promise on the re-start.

Cabinteely exerted lots of pressure around the opposing box too, although without getting any shots away or creating any notable chances.

Alex Aspil went on to fire a long-range effort wide, before a Nugent cut-back was well intercepted by central defender Jack Hudson.

Yellow cards followed for Shane Barnes and Conor English in separate incidents before the first of three Wexford corners after the break was cleared.

Paddy Cahill headed over from the next flag-kick, taken by Shane Griffin in the 69th minute.

It was a decent chance, and it was followed quickly by that lead goal for the visitors from Ronan O'Kelly.

With the rain getting worse with every passing minute, Cahill saw yellow before the equaliser arrived in the 78th minute.

Emmet Nugent played the ball into the right edge of the penalty area where Conor English was needlessly nudged by defender Kevin Knight, and he got off the ground to send Benjamin Clark the wrong way from the penalty spot.

In doing so, he became only the sixth player to contribute to Wexford's miserable 22-goal haul from their 27 games, following in the footsteps of Danny Furlong (nine), Jack Doherty (six), Emmet Nugent (three), Seán Roche (two), and Owen McCormack (one).

In contrast, when Cabinteely regained a lead they went on to hold to the bitter end, it was the 65th conceded by a side which managed just two victories all season from 30 games across all four competitions - a truly abysmal record.

After that decisive goal from Sasaki, Shane Barnes didn't get hold of a shot that was comfortably saved by Corey Chambers, while Emmet Nugent picked out Andy Mulligan whose effort was beaten away to safety by netminder Benjamin Clark.

Karl Manahan was booked for Cabo, and Barnes missed his connection on an O'Kelly cross that would have well and truly wrapped up the points before the victors did survive one late scare.

Substitute Andrew Farrell had a chance for goal in added time that eventually led to a corner, and his delivery from the right was headed over at the near post by Nugent.

With the 2020 season not set to start until February, some serious soul-searching will be required to determine what the future might hold for the club as a whole.

The three years of Wexford F.C. have featured two ninth-place finishes, followed by tenth and last this time around.

Manager Brian O'Sullivan will remain in his role for a second campaign which suggests that club officials aren't as concerned by the results as perhaps they ought to be.

Another factor worth considering is that none of the starting eleven last Saturday were Wexford-born.

The wheel has turned full circle since the county's first-ever League of Ireland game on March 9, 2007, when Wexford Youths travelled to Monaghan United and forged a 2-2 draw with goals from Conor Sinnott and Anthony Russell.

On that occasion, the entire squad of 18 hailed from Slaneyside. And while I completely accept that it was never going to be sustainable to continue fielding an all-Wexford side over the years, it seems that the current club is fielding a south-east representative team that happens to have a base in Ferrycarrig Park.

When a side is heavily populated by players from Waterford and Kilkenny in particular, after a significant Carlow contingent in recent years too, it's hard to expect local followers of football to turn out once a fortnight to watch players they have no real connection with.

And therein lies one of the chief issues that must be addressed if League of Ireland football is to survive in Wexford.

Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Paddy Cahill, Daibhid Corish, Lee Costello, Andrew O'Connor; Thomas Croke (capt.), Shane Griffin; Emmet Nugent, Andy Mulligan, Conor English; Seán Roche. Subs. - Liam Berry for Croke (68), Brody Murphy for Roche (73), Andrew Farrell for Mulligan (85), also Colum Feeney, Josh Murphy, Ciarán Paige.

Cabinteely F.C.: Benjamin Clark; Eoin Massey, Jack Hudson, Kevin Knight (capt.), Ronan O'Kelly; Keith Dalton, Karl Manahan, Alex Aspil, Dean Casey; Luke Clucas, Shane Barnes. Subs. - Cian Lynch for Clucas (74), Yuta Sasaki for Casey (74), Rob Manley for Barnes (90+1), also Stephen McGuinness, Conor Keeley, Kieran Waters, Vilius Labutis.

Referee: David Keeler (Cork).

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