Wexford FC goalkeeper Graham Doyle speaks to Between the Stripes
An ever present in the Wexford Youths starting eleven since arriving at the South-East club in 2012, Graham Doyle has seen more than most. Promotion as champions in 2015, a run to the Leinster Senior Cup final in 2016, subsequent relegation just months later, followed by a change from "Youths" to "FC". Yet despite all that, Doyle never expected to wait so long for a first win in the second tier this season. Last Friday's 1-0 win at home to Shelbourne may have seemed insignificant to most, but around the picturesque surroundings of Ferrycarrig Park it was celebrated as a new beginning, for what is technically a new football club.
Having entered the League of Ireland family back in 2007, Mick Wallace's Wexford Youths soon became one of the most recognisable clubs in the land, thanks to their luminous pink-strip and Wallace's eye-catching hairstyle, as the current Wexford TD took the reigns from the dugout for the clubs first three seasons in the First Division. While crowds were modest and results slow to turn their way, eventually the Youths project began to spring into life as a first major cup final in 2008 saw a bumper crowd turn out at the now FAI owned venue, and despite the 6-1 hammering handed down by Derry City the future looked bright for this fledgling club.
The arrival of current Galway United boss Shane Keegan in 2012 would prove to be a real turning point for a now stagnating Youths. The former FC Carlow boss implemented a three-year plan which would come to fruition in 2015 as the Youths claimed the First Division title for the first-time in their brief history and with it a seat at the table of Irish football's finest. Despite a promising start to life in the top flight, it all became too much for a club still operating off a largely amateur budget and set-up and the Youths final game, not just in the top-fight but as a club would come in a heart-breaking play-off final second leg defeat to Drogheda United.
As Shane Keegan departed for pastures new along with many of the clubs key on field assets, a new name was also in the offing. Financial issues had always dogged this small yet gracious football club and the only way to keep League of Ireland football on the map in Wexford was to rebirth under the name Wexford FC.
So not only was Friday's 1-0 triumph over one of Irish football's most historic names a season first, it was in fact a first ever win for Wexford FC under their new banner. Given all the ups and downs of the past twelve months perhaps it was unsurprising to see this new Wexford venture slow to take off? Not in the opinion of long-time servant Doyle, who despite his shock at going twelve league games without a win did offer his thoughts on the reasoning behind it.
"Yeah, it's been surprising that we have taken so long to get a win, but it's a very young inexperienced squad compared to the others in the division. That said we've been unfortunate in a lot of games."
With three of their last four defeats coming with just a one-goal margin it is easy to see Doyle's frustrations, although a heavy 5-0 defeat at the hands of Waterford FC in the EA Sports Cup perhaps does show the difference between the has and the has nots of this division.
With just six points from the opening thirteen league encounters, any hopes of an instant return to the Premier Division for Wexford football are long gone. When questioned on the goals for the remainder of the season as a result, Doyle responded by saying:
"I think the goal is the same as the start of the season, finish as high as possible and try to improve the squad so that next year we are in a position to push for a playoff spot."
At 38 years of age many may be surprised to see the veteran goalkeeper discussing plans for next-season already and when quizzed on possible thoughts post-playing days and a possible coaching role, Doyle gave little away.
"At the moment I'm just thinking about playing but you never know."
Sadly, given the FAI's wreckless decision to restructure the divisions to two sets of ten teams starting from next season, the loss of a play-off system this campaign has saw many teams promotions dreams crumpled long before they could ever really get under-way. When asked for his thoughts on the lack of a play-off route for First Division sides this season, Doyle replied:
"For us this season was always about starting fresh as a squad so I don't think it affects us as much as others, but I do believe that a playoff place should still be in the division. The three teams coming down I'm sure would love the chance to playoff to stay in the division, a ridiculous decision to get rid of playoff!"
Saturday's opponents Longford are perhaps one of the second tier clubs most affected by the changes in policy this season. Hotly tipped to contend for promotion this campaign, "De Town" have flopped to date and find themselves with an Everest-like mountain of fifteen-points to climb, with free-spending Waterford FC currently looking down from the submit. Appearing to now have nothing other than pride to play for, attendances are expected to take a dramatic nose dive at the Midlands club, while they may also find it hard to attract match-day sponsors given the subsequent lack of interest locally. When asked if he was surprised by Longford's fortunes this season, particularly given the signings they made, Doyle was honest in his assessment.
"Being honest....yes, I had them down as joint favorite with Waterford. Football is a strange game and sometimes it takes time to adjust to different situations. I'm sure that Longford will come right eventually and will certainly push higher in the league before it ends.....hopefully starting next week."
In a follow on to that response, Doyle was asked where he saw Saturday's game decided but appeared keen to not give too much away, while also wanting to remain respectful to the hosts.
"Tough question....The squad that longford have means we can only try to perform at our best and hope they have an off night. I've played a good few games against them and haven't been on the winning side as much as I would have liked."
Despite the longest wait for a win in both divisions, Doyle revealed a sense of confidence among the Wexford FC locker-room this season, while also going on to praise the impact of new boss Damien Locke.
"Believe it or not we've been confident going into all of our games and this match will be no different."
"Things will always be different under a new manager but with Damien (Locke) it's a little bit easier as he was assistant to Shane (Keegan) for a couple of seasons. He has a lot of the same traits as Shane and I'm sure he'll be as much of a success as he was."
Wanting to round of the discussion on a positive and reflective note, the legendary Wexford shot-stopper spoke of his finest memory between the sticks at Ferrycarrig Park in years gone by, while also wanting to dismiss the rumor that the name change at the club had changed anything.
"My best memory to date is winning the First Division in 2015, an unbelievable achievement for a club like ours!"
"The name change and things like that doesn't really affect players, we just go out and try to perform on the pitch, that stuff is for the committee and owners."