Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Fruits of Wexford

In stark contrast to the Dublin Derby at Tolka Park a week previously, both innocent and ignorant passers-by would be hard pressed to notice the imminent event in Drumcondra. Wexford Youths were in town; normally such a statement conjures up images of yellabellies wielding hurleys having imbibed heavily and stumbling towards Croker.

Maybe that's what happened to the Youths' support, because they were as difficult to spot as pork ribs at a tree hugger's barbecue on the Richmond Road. It must be said that the players look the part...Mick Wallace's fascination with all things Italian has resulted in an elegant and well-cut black outfit for away occasions. Signor Wallace betrays a more laidback personal style.

This was my first viewing as far as the newcomers were concerned and I was intrigued at the prospect of seeing a First Division side attempt to play the beautiful game. I've long been an admirer of the Italian style of play; Paolo Maldini is a particular hero of mine.

The Reds took to the field with a rash of new signings; just like the last time I saw them. Kieran Harte caused the first flutter in the ground. His rasping volley flew centimetres over the bar, much to the relief of his goalkeeper. The game flowed freely, with little tactical shackling. Both sides made a decent attempt at playing football.

Alan Keely confirmed his lineage with a trademark centre half's tackle - just 14 minutes into his Shels career he had seen yellow. Having inserted a probe into their youthful opponents the more battle hardened Shels began to impose themselves in the physical stakes. The efforts of the men in black regularly ran aground in the opposition half. Two lightweight, and slightly hesitant, strikers were still attempting to find their way with little consideration from their hosts.

Not to say that Dermot Keely's side were rampant in the first half. At one stage three Reds congealed at their own near post to clear a cross - unchallenged. If anything, the quality of the opposition compensated for the lack of cohesion from the newly collated Shels. DK's side have ability, but obviously will need some time to gel.

There is a naivete about the Wexford side; a lack of urgency and tempo in their play and a penchant for losing possession just about anywhere. The streetwise Shels had no reservations about exploiting their opponents' shortcomings. In situations such as these a young side must have a rallying point - Conor Sinnott was more ornamental than peripheral.

He was quick to present himself when there was a dead ball that needed resuscitation; otherwise he drifted lazily about the centre of midfield barely raising a sweat. Very Francesco Totti. Alongside him Patsy Malone did the work of three men, covering every corner of the pitch from the first whistle to the last. Should there be a test for driving force he will pass with colours flying.

Regarding the touchline persona of Dermot Keely - a man who has done it all in the domestic game. He is fly on the wall gold; stubbornly refusing to encourage or compliment his charges throughout. Just like having your father on the sideline; nothing is ever good enough for him. His head flicks from left to right like a panicked pigeon as he seeks out another target for his frustration. Of course, the antics of Derek Tomney soaked up a lot of Dermot's energies last Friday. Here was a man hell bent on abuse; stoically refusing to give anything to the Reds, and causing the faithful to howl at almost every decision.

And faithful they are. It was evident on my previous trip to Drumcondra early in the campaign, and could be assigned to the realms of early season exuberance. Not so at this juncture. The enthusiasm and raw support from the remaining Shelbourne fans exceeds anything I have experienced during the club's wonder years; and I am not the first to say it.

The second half of this encounter will have lifted their little hearts... their red-eared heroes began to produce some flowing football, and the flow was very much one-way. The Youths struggled young manfully to cope - I'm loath to mention the little boy with his finger in the dyke - a Shelbourne goal was inevitable. Lee Roche was sparkling down the right hand side, Harte likewise down the left.

A fine piece of interplay on the left wing resulted in a centimetre perfect cross for Mark Leech. At times he had looked disinterested in his surroundings but mustered a leap for this cross. He was too close to miss, he didn't. Invariably the visitors came close to equalising in the game's flailing moments but they didn't deserve an equaliser.

Mick Wallace was almost silent on the sideline throughout as he watched his side further their education. It's a tough first season for these boys. Every so often they pick up a point or three- enough to maintain their belief in what Wallace is trying to create in Wexford. They will get better, and will be an asset to the league. Whether that means they will provide plenty of talented young footballers for the sharks, or will eventually gain promotion remains unanswered.




So off I trooped to get myself a burger- a burger big and juicy with beautifully a fresh and crisp salad - just like the one in the picture; again the reality failed to live up to my anticipation.

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