Putting the 2008 League Cup final aside, there is no doubt that 2014 was the best in Wexford Youths’ short eight year history. Masterminded by one of the country’s top young up and coming managers, Shane Keegan lead the Youths to a fourth placed finish, with only three points separating them from Galway United in the final play-off position.
Former FC Carlow boss, Keegan was shrewd in his transfer dealings with the Youths last season and that was one of the major cornerstones of his team’s success with the likes of Peter Higgins and Stephen Last adding great league experience to the Ferrycarrig Park outfit.
However, it was the return of the clubs all-time leading goalscorer, Danny Furlong from Cork City that really got the bandwagon rolling and with all three of the above mentioned players signed on the dotted line again for 2015, Wexford Youths are many a mans outside bet for First Division glory this season.
The famous Men in Pink started pre-season as they ended last term with some hugely impressive victories and performances to boot, most notably a 2-1 victory at Dalymount Park on February 1.
The first visitors of the new year to Ferrycarrig Park were none other than 2014 FAI cup champions St.Patrick’s Athletic, and to the Youths’ credit they only came away with a 1-0 defeat after an extremely well organised and tactical display.
A moral boosting penalty shoot-out triumph over local side North End was to follow in the first competitive outing of the year, the 4th round of the Leinster Senior Cup. In perhaps the only set back of pre-season, a proposed friendly away to Premier Division side, Drogheda United was canceled due to the inclement weather of recent weeks.
However, with under a week to go until the league opener against new boys Cabinteely, a 3-2 victory over another top flight side, Bray Wanderers, is sure to have followers of Wexford buzzing with excitement, anticipation and perhaps for the first time in eight years, expectation.
When you look at Wexford’s opening few First Division fixtures, putting the wonderful occasion of hosting League of Ireland football for the first time aside for Cabinteely, you would expect the Youths to not only take all three points but to notch up a number of goals in the process.
Following a favourable looking home EA Sports Cup tie to U.C.C., Keegan’s men then play the derby at home to Waterford United prior to a trip to St.Colman’s Park to tackle Cobh.
While on paper those fixtures are far from a given, the lack of long distance travel, in a division sometimes branded the ”Discover Ireland” league, could play to Wexford’s advantage in the weeks after with ties against title favourites Athlone Town and Shelbourne a real acid test for the Youths.
Overall, when you look at the starting eleven Shane Keegan is likely to pick for the majority of the season, you would have to say it’s strong enough to challenge again in the higher reaches of the division.
Starting right from between the sticks with one of the leagues most athletic goalkeepers in Graham Doyle, all the way up to the star man of this team up top in Danny Furlong who is set to break all kinds of records again this season, this is a Wexford team that can upset the big boys once more.
However, the great footballing cliche is that it’s squads that win titles not elevens and when I look at this Wexford Youths squad as a whole, I just get the feeling an opportunity was lost after the great strides made last season to just push on by adding a couple more players in the mould of Higgins, Last and Eric Molloy; players with proven qualities at this level.
As a result, I think that this Wexford Youths squad is just a player or two short of really making a go of things in 2015 and that is why I am predicting a matched finish of fourth for them this season.
Predicted finish: 4th
Player to watch: Danny Furlong
Greatest strength: A well organised team with a lethal hit man up front, always a chance.
Greatest weakness: Lacking quality in the fringes of the squad.
Make sure to check out this week’s Hold the Back Page podcast for our audio preview of the season.