Saturday 21 September 2019

Lots left in the tank

Flying winger Linda relishing big task

Talented winger Linda Douglas in action against Pearl Slattery of Shelbourne
Talented winger Linda Douglas in action against Pearl Slattery of Shelbourne

Dean Goodison

Benjamin Franklin famously said that 'in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes'. Had Benji boy lived another couple of hundred years, he would surely have altered his narrow thinking.

For everyone who watches Wexford Youths knows, whether there's nine or 90 minutes on the clock, Linda Douglas is certain to be haring up and down the right wing, pigtail bobbing like an antenna that's directed by some external force with only one setting - full tilt, attack the ball.

'She's just super fit, a super athlete, a super worker and you'd see that when you see her on the pitch, she never stops working and she's an extremely important player to us,' team-mate Nicola Sinnott said.

'She's provided a huge amount of assists for goals, she has a super cross of the ball, you don't find anyone on the pitch there who works as hard as Linda.'

Slightly embarrassed by her reputation as the one who never stops, Douglas herself said: 'I've always been an energetic person. I've always been sporty, I love being active. I suppose for me that's a lot of my game, you know putting pressure on the full-backs, using my energy in the game to drive other players on'.

Despite a youthful outlook, at 29, Douglas is actually one of the older Youths players. Just a hint of her Waterford background is evident in the accent of a player who lined up for the Ferrycarrig Park side in their first-ever game back in 2011.

'I remember the crowd that was at it, walking out to see that we actually had supporters at our games,' Douglas beamed.

'Walking out to an amazing pitch to play on, it was all a bit overwhelming, I think, at the time. But again as a youngster you take it in your stride as well, and little did we know that we had these next few years of amazing growth in the sport.'

Working in Dublin and travelling to Wexford on her own started to take its toll on Douglas and she made what she calls 'my toughest decision in terms of sport' to move to Peamount United at the start of the 2014-'15 season. Incredibly, Youths went on to win their first Women's National League title in her absence.

'I won't lie, there were times where it was really hard for me,' she admitted. 'I was still in touch with the girls a lot, especially with Kylie (Murphy) and say Nicola (Sinnott) and the senior players. It was always a bittersweet feeling, I was so happy for them because I knew that the work they put in is second to none.

'But I suppose it was hard on me because it was always a dream of mine to get to Champions League football. It happened to be the match that they got presented with the trophy was against Peamount, I will never forget it.

'That's a very, very vivid image, we gave Wexford the guard of honour and they walked out and they picked up the trophy that day. The feeling of happiness inside me for those girls, especially the girls that I'd played with for the past four, five years or some of them even longer in the Wexford League, I was so happy for them.'

Understandably, after missing the historic season and seeing how Youths were turning into the standard-bearers of women's football in Ireland, there was a yearning for Douglas to return to what she calls her 'soccer family'.

The Dublin-based P.E. and Business teacher made the decision to return to the hard nights of travelling south soon after the phone call came to ask her back. She bounced straight back to a side ready to compete in the Champions League.

'It was always a massive dream of mine to get to the qualifiers of the Champions League, especially with this group of girls,' explained Douglas. 'Just the fact when you go over there you see how professional the set up is. We were treated very well over there and police escorts to all our games showed like "okay, you know it is the real deal now". The nerves were high but excitement was really high.'

After returning home to league action, Linda and her side kept winning and, despite the injuries and the fixture congestion, they moved top of the table in the latter weeks of the season and looked set to wrap up the title in Galway, but it didn't happen. The next chance came and went away to Shelbourne.

'That was mentally and physically the toughest part of my football life because I found that I was mentally wrecked. You're trying to obviously work every day, eat right, sleep right, train right, travel right, then perform and perform at your best,' she explained.

'It was quite emotional because we knew how hard we'd worked to get this and it nearly slipped away from us. I think that made us fight harder and it made it sweeter to be honest. If we had won it in Galway, of course it would have been amazing.

'But the fact that we won it the way we did, and with the injuries we had, that showed us what a team we are, that showed us who we are and it showed what kind of players we are. It made it all the sweeter really to be able to finally get my hands on that cup.'

Douglas admitted to watching her cross for the equaliser against Shelbourne. 'At the time, a few times, I was a bit happy!' The whipped ball that picked out Claire O'Riordan for the leveller was the culmination of two months of superb form from the Wexford winger.

Indeed, while others around her were wilting under the strain of an endless string of matches, it was Douglas who was the inspiration, saving her best form for when it mattered most. If there was such an award as a 'player of the last six weeks', it would surely have been hers for keeps.

The next goal is to continue that level of play into this season and, while her team has had a slow start to the campaign, the excitement of the UEFA Women's Champions League coming to Wexford is quickly taking over.

'I'm really excited,' Douglas said. 'I think the fact that we're hosts makes it more exciting as well. I know everyone wants to travel but having done that now I think I'd rather have the support behind us on the sidelines. I just want it to get started now.

'They (the opposition) are going to be extremely high quality and I think we've learned a lot from last year. We prefer to be an attacking team but we're going to have to have a look and analyse each team. We might set up a little bit more defensively this year after the Konin game (last year). But our aim is to win all three games, obviously.'

For Youths to win all three games, they will certainly need Douglas to be at her energetic best on the wing. Given her form at the end of last season it would be no surprise if the waltzing winger runs the three visitors right out of town.

Wexford People