Youths mark cup presentation with resounding win
The Wexford Youths supporters arrived in their droves to Ferrycarrig Park on Friday in the mood for a party, and the players certainly didn't let them down as their last home outing of a memorable season was marked by a commanding victory over play-off chasing Shelbourne.
Wexford Youths 4 Shelbourne 1
A carnival atmosphere marked the game as a crowd of 1,035 arrived in good spirits and left on a real high after witnessing the presentation of the First Division trophy amid joyous after-match scenes.
In between they had watched another impressive performance by Shane Keegan's side which put paid to Shelbourne's campaign. They needed a win to stay in the hunt with UCD for the second and third team play-off versus Finn Harps, but this 4-1 thumping means that the students cannot be caught and will now face the Donegal club in a two-way contest.
Before that happens, the newly-crowned champions will travel to Ballybofey for their final outing of the season this Saturday (7.45 p.m.). And after being flagged as a potentially huge encounter for so long, it now effectively means nothing as no matter what happens Youths and Harps will end the regulation season first and second respectively.
Friday's victory underlined the strength in depth within the Youths ranks which has served them so well all season. Aidan Keenan was attending a family wedding while other key figures like Gary Delaney, Lee Grace and Peter Higgins were kept in reserve, not to mention the fact that Shelbourne had so much to play for.
Despite that, the Youths were intent on giving their supporters another night to remember after their title-winning exploits against Athlone Town a fortnight earlier, and they didn't disappoint.
Danny Furlong and Ryan Delaney tested netminder Greg Murray early on before a good tackle by Chris Kenny ended a Shelbourne attack launched by Dylan McGlade in the fourth minute.
Eric Molloy fired over the bar from a John Peare pass, while Ryan Delaney and Peare then linked up but the chance was lost when the ball got caught under Conor English's feet.
The breakthrough came in the tenth minute after a forceful tackle on Chris Kenny yielded a corner. Conor English floated it in beautifully from the left, and rising high to meet it at the far post with a perfect header back across goal was towering teenager Ryan Delaney.
It was the New Ross lad's first Senior goal for the club and it was undoubtedly the crowning glory after a superb second-half of the season when he firmly established himself at first choice left-back. He was moved to a central role on Friday and looked equally at home.
Youths continued to press as Conor English earned another corner which he sent towards the head of Willie Tyrrell, but Shelbourne netminder Greg Murray made a comfortable catch.
A Shelbourne corner was headed wide by Seán Heaney before Dylan McGlade's cross found the head of James English. Graham Doyle made the initial save before Willie Tyrrell completed the mopping up process, but it was a close call for the leaders.
Doyle tipped another effort over his crossbar and the resultant corner was headed wide by Gareth Coughlan in the 17th minute. Jimmy Dermody then entered the notebook for a tackle on Coughlan on the endline, but Youths quickly regained a foothold.
Their quick counter-attacks posed endless problems for the Dubliners, with Eric Molloy and Conor English linking up in the 23rd minute before John Peare's shot was saved by the feet of netminder Greg Murray.
Less than 40 seconds later the net was bulging again though when a long Craig McCabe throw into the box from the right was gathered by John Peare who set up Conor English for a clinical finish and his second league goal of the season.
Rather than resting on their laurels, Youths were in the mood for more goals as Eric Molloy tested goalkeeper Murray once more after good work by John Peare.
And a brilliant team move saw Peare find fellow Enniscorthy man Chris Kenny who squared the ball to Danny Furlong for a tap-in after nearly 34 minutes, but unfortunately the league's leading scorer was offside.
There was another chance to make it 3-0 in the 36th minute when English passed to Peare who was tripped by Seán Heaney in the box. Danny Furlong normally finishes clinically from the spot, and in fairness it was a fine save rather than a bad miss as Greg Murray dived low to his right to frustrate the centre-forward.
The leaders forced another five corners before the break while Craig Wall fired over in added time, with Graham Doyle making one decent save at the other end to keep his net intact.
It took a while for the first chance of the second-half to arrive, with Conor English clearing the crossbar from a John Peare pass in the 55th minute. Gareth Coughlan wasn't too far off the mark for Shelbourne before their goalkeeper, Greg Murray, advanced smartly to boot the ball out for a throw as Conor English tried to latch on to Chris Kenny's pass.
Kenny came close to getting the third in the 65th minute after Eric Molloy put him through and his clever effort struck the netminder and then the post. Shelbourne came more into the game midway through the half, creating some half-chances before Willie Tyrrell kept their overworked 'keeper busy at the other end.
Gareth Coughlan whipped in a cross which nearly got the touch it needed from James English before the Tolka Park crew did pull a goal back in the 77th minute. It came from a Conor Earley free-kick after Coughlan was tripped, with the substitute's effort from the right going all the way to the far corner of Graham Doyle's net.
Any hopes Shelbourne entertained of first drawing level and then driving on for the win they needed lasted less than six minutes though as Danny Furlong headed home a remarkable 29th goal of the season to put the outcome beyond any doubt.
The Dubliners were a beaten docket, and further salt was rubbed into their gaping wounds with six minutes left when substitute Conor Whittle rounded netminder Murray at the second attempt and fired calmly into the corner of the net.
Conor English was denied number five while Graham Doyle saved smartly late on from Alan Kehoe before the action concluded and the celebrations took hold. Ferrycarrig Park has witnessed some great nights in recent times, and here's hoping for more of the same in 2016 when the cream of football talent on the domestic scene will be visiting the well-kept venue every fortnight.
It's a tantalising prospect, but for now there's still one game to be played as the Youths bandwagon prepares to take Ballybofey by storm on Saturday night.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.), Craig McCabe, Ryan Delaney, Willie Tyrrell, Jimmy Dermody, Chris Kenny, Eric Molloy, Craig Wall, John Peare, Conor English, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Conor Whittle for Molloy (74), Shane Dunne for Wall (78), Andy Mulligan for Peare (89), also Gary Delaney, Lee Grace, Peter Higgins, Gavin Dowling.
Shelbourne: Greg Murray, Adam O'Connor, Paul Andrews, Seán Heaney, Evan Osam, Daire Doyle (capt.), Gareth Coughlan, Jake Donnelly, Carl Walshe, James English, Dylan McGlade. Subs. - Conor Earley for Donnelly (50), Alan Kehoe for McGlade (56), also Jack Brady, Simon Dixon, Philip Hughes, Alan O'Sullivan, Darragh Gannon.
Referee: John McLoughlin.