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Monday 22 October 2018

Wexford Youths manager Mick Wallace looks forward to the big match Team who wants it most should come out on top

To be playing our fifth All-Ireland final in ten years gives me a wonderful feel-good factor.

I can still remember how it felt when we lost the semi-final to Mayo on penalties in Castlebar in 1995 - a lifetime ago.

It was our first semi-final and we dominated the game from start to finish, but failed to score.

We had two powerful strikers in Jason Lawlor and Damien Mallon who did everything but score, including missing a penalty in normal time.

At the time, I was laying paving bricks in Grafton Street in Dublin and on the following day, Monday, I arranged to meet two of the players who had been working for me - Brendan Doyle and Eoin Lacey.

The two lads arrived from different directions at exactly 5 o'clock - the three of us just stood there in the middle of the street, looking at each other before all of us burst into tears. It was the biggest heartbreak of my life.

Losing the final in 1998 to Sligo/Leitrim wasn't quite as painful, but it was tough on a very committed bunch of players who had given their all - John O'Connor, Anthony Rossiter, John Hudson, Paddy Colfer, Tommy Howlin, Myles Jordan, John Paul Traynor, Lar Lacey and Paul Culleton to name but a few.

We were delighted to get to the final but my own inexperience at that level proved costly for the team on the day.

We met the same opponents in 2000 but this time, it had to be victory. A Philip Gleeson goal half way through the second-half clinched the win for a squad that included 'Ducker' Hawkins, Eric Bradley, Darren Stamp, Leigton Gleeson, Damien Cullen, Anthony Russell, Johnny O'Leary and Kevin Doyle.

We got to the final again in 2001 but it was heartbreak time once more as we lost 3-0 to an eircom League side managed by Pete Mahon.

Wayne Walsh and Damien Cullen were taken out of the game in the first five minutes - and not a sign of a yellow card.

It was a harsh lesson, and on a personal level, it took me a while to come to terms with it.

We had to win it a second time to prove that we had what it takes to be winners.

It almost happened in 2003 when we were 2-0 up on Donegal with a half hour to play in the semi-final, but our three power players in the middle of the park all faded after the hour - David Bradley, Sean Purcell and Derek Leonard - and we lost on penalties after drawing 2-2. Our moment came in 2005 when we got the better of the eircom League. Now we were top dogs.

Five of that team played for the Wexford Youths League of Ireland side on Sunday - Conor Sinnott, Richie Fitzgerald, Gary Murphy, Joey Wadding and Paul Malone.

This year's squad has played on the confidence that grows from success.

We've played six championship games and won all six.

Didn't look great every day but we have certainly looked like a team that believes in itself and looked like a team that's very hard to beat.

As always, I've tried to develop a strong squad mentality with 23 different players used in the championship. Of the full squad of 25, 14 are under-age again next year which will give us a strong base to work from next season.

We haven't played the same team twice this season and there will be changes for the final too. All have played their part - and it's not just about those who will play in the final.

We have alternated two excellent goalkeepers all season, Lee Walker and Pa Doyle, and both have grown with the season.

I don't like tinkering with the defence too much and the three positions have been occupied by Gareth McCurtin, Ciaran O'Shea and Jamie Moore most of the season.

In midfield, Paul Rossiter and Shane Dempsey have been the core and they've been accompanied at different stages by Lee Aust, Warren Broaders, Craig Hore, Mark Cowman, Mervyn Maloney, Robbie O'Connor, Craig McGuire, Mark Frayne, Junior Somers and Aaron Kehoe.

Up front, Kyle Dempsey, who has scored in five games with a record total of seven goals, has usually had the mercurial Danny Furlong for company, but Philip Rogers, Alan Colgate, Danny Stenning and Nicky Sinnott have also taken their place in the attack.

No doubt, Sunday's game promises to be a close affair and the Wexford Youths will need to play to their maximum for the entire game if they are to bring a third All-Ireland title to Wexford since 2000.

It's going to be very difficult but no matter what differences there are between the two sides, it will be very hard to beat the team that want it the most.

If our players want it as much as I do, things will just be fine. May the Gods be with us!

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